How to Touch What Is Beautiful

How to Touch What Is Beautiful

‘I did not survive to be untouched.’ – Mark Nepo

Today, my friends, is my 52nd birthday. I know, right? I don’t look a day over 50.

The past year has been a mix of magic and mayhem. I count among the highs my discovery of ocean swimming and the return of my writing fire. A serious back injury, and the loss of a beloved friend, Carol Thomas took me into some deep grief that keeps coming back and nudging me, reminding me how impermanent everything is.

2019 has also been the year when we’ve finally woke up to what’s happening on our planet. 

It’s so difficult not to feel overwhelmed with indifference, anxiety, anger and sadness. You may find yourself escaping into food, drink, shopping, travelling or Netflix just to get some relief. We’re all looking for ways to stay untouched by what is going awry around us.  

It’s a simple wish, isn’t it? The desire to feel happy and well. But in a world that is diseased and poisoned, perhaps it’s impossible to feel truly well or happy when everything is so askew.

So maybe we can’t have ‘happiness,’ but what is certain is that we can touch it. Now and then. Maybe we can’t be ‘calm’ or ‘peaceful’ all the time but we can taste it, here and there. We owe it to ourselves to touch what is beautiful and meaningful. If we can keep returning to touch and be touched by awe, gratitude and wonder, we stay connected, alive, in tune with what is both painful and the grace that helps us overcome pain.

For a while, I’ve been thinking about how to create something that could bring pleasure or joy or mindfulness to others – through writing. Not a big project like a book, something small, manageable and designed to be fun.

So I put together a little joy-bundle called Just A Touch – it’s 24 writing exercises over 24 weeks. Each exercise takes you somewhere, just for a while, and lets you play.

Just a Touch Online Writing Course - Exercises

Just a Touch is designed to:
– bring the kindness of writing into your life;
– connect you to your heart through writing even if you don’t know where to start;
– tickle your writing bone and take you by surprise.

It would help me immensely to cover the costs of the creation of the course if you’re able to purchase it for $39.95 AUD.
However, if for any reason, you cannot afford this, please don’t let this stop you.
You can pay whatever you like for it over $1 AUD. 

 

About Joanne

Joanne Fedler is an internationally bestselling author of 10 books, writing mentor and publisher. In the past seven years, she’s facilitated 12 writing retreats all over the world, mentored hundreds of writers (both face to face and in her online writing courses), set up her own publishing company, Joanne Fedler Media, and published four debut authors (with many lined up to follow). She’s passionate about publishing midlife memoirs and knows how to help people succeed in reaching their goal to become a published author.

Joanne Fedler birthday

‘I write and I feel how the tenderness and intimacy I maintain with language, with its different layers, its eroticism and humor and soul, give me back the person I used to be, me, before my self became nationalized and confiscated by the conflict, by governments and armies, by despair and tragedy.’ – David Grossman

 

It would give me such pleasure to know you’ve chosen to touch your writing over the next 24 weeks, and that you’ve committed to the radical act of being touched by the grief and grace of your life.

Get Just a Touch here.

It’s super-easy:

* purchase the Just A Touch course by clicking the button below or click here;

* you will receive your first writing exercise immediately;

* every week, for the next 23 weeks, you’ll receive a new writing exercise in your inbox

(if you can’t find it in your inbox, please check your spam/promotions folder).

I had so much fun creating these exercises, I hope they’ll keep you in touch with the part of you that needs nurturing in these troubled times.

What Writers Can Learn from a Cake Mix

In the 1950s, General Mills launched cake mix under the Betty Crocker brand. Everything was in powdered form. It was aimed at the busy housewife – all she had to do was add water and bake. But surprisingly, the cake mix didn’t sell. A team of psychologists was...

The Turning: Reflections on Reaching 50

I am taking the business of turning 50 terribly seriously. I am dedicating the twelve months since my 49th birthday to this incongruous milestone, given that the actual age of my physical body – half a freaking century – and how I feel inside couldn’t be further...

Writing About Writing About Writing

I have recommitted to writing. This is the anthem I have been singing for the last two-thirds of a year—a requiem for wasted time, claimed during the approach of my son’s first birthday. I was in a place of relative peace as this promise to myself was made, and...

Where the Fight Is Won or Lost

You can learn the craft of writing any way you choose: you can take a course, you can read a book about writing, you can read great writers until your eyeballs bleed. There is no one way to learn what you need to know about writing. And that's because the craft of...

Surviving Teenagers

I call my kids to come see this YouTube video of some father in the US who ends his rant against his teenage daughter’s ‘I-hate-my-parents’ Facebook post, by emptying the barrel of a gun into her laptop. I suppose I’m hoping it’ll dawn on them I’m not such a...

Instant Turn Offs and Ons

Fairy stories have a lot to answer for. Those anything-but-innocuous tales parents glibly recite at bedtime invariably rely on a single moment where two (generally outstandingly good looking) people fall instantly in love with as much volition as a carbon atom bonds...

Show Don’t Tell: A Golden Rule of Writing for Aspiring Authors

Show Don’t Tell: A Golden Rule of Writing for Aspiring Authors

One of the trickier ‘golden rules of great writing’ that can be difficult to understand and execute is the ‘show don’t tell’ rule.

Anton Chekhov wrote, ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.’

What does it mean to show not tell?

It’s the technique of painting a picture for the reader rather than spelling out what a character is sensing or feeling.

When should we use the ‘show don’t tell’ rule?

Generally, when we’re writing about emotions and senses, showing works well. However, we need a balance of showing and telling in a text. Telling is more effective when we’re summarizing backstory or describing action.

Why should we use it?

When we show, we paint an image for the reader (like in movies) so the reader gets to interpret and feel his or her own emotional response. This is how we create rich, vivid text that is open to interpretation. It makes writing inviting, not didactic.

E.g. She was grief struck (telling) versus ‘Something cold flickered inside her, memories of her mother moved like minnows beneath a dark surface.’(showing)

When we ‘show’ we leave spaces for the reader to fill in with his or her imagination.

The movie director, David Mamet talks about ‘telling the story in cuts…through a juxtaposition of images that are basically uninflected…a shot of a teacup. A shot of a spoon. A shot of a fork. A shot of a door. Let the cut tell the story. Because otherwise you have not got dramatic action, you have narration. If you slip into narration, you are saying, ‘you’ll never guess why what I just told you is important to the story.’ It’s unimportant that the audience should guess why it’s important to the story. It’s important simply to tell the story. Let the audience be surprised.’

Telling robs the reader of his or her own emotional take on the situation. It flattens instead of expands the text.

‘She is lonely’ versus ‘She looks for a kind face but never sees one.’

When we ‘show’ we’re letting the reader in, we’re writing for the reader. Showing opens rather than closes the text.

‘He felt hot’ versus ‘Large half moons of sweat grew at his armpits.’

The writer Adam Robinson’s exercise for showing not telling is: drop an adjective into a sentence like this ‘He was so….. that he once.’ Or ‘the day was so cold that…’ Then delete the first half of the sentence.

Have fun experimenting.

Keep writing – the sentences you don’t write keep you where you are. The ones you do, take you places.

PS: Show Don’t Tell is just one key element of writing. For more tips and exercises to strengthen your craft, sign up for my 7 Day Free Writing Challenge.

Join the 7 Day FREE Writing Challenge

 

This writing journey over one week will serve those who are new to writing and don’t know where to begin or what to write about. As well as seasoned writers, we all need to reignite an old flame with words to see if there’s any chemistry.

Join me for my next 7 Day Free Writing Challenge and learn simple but profound writing tricks.

Are You Using Protection?

In my early twenties, I went on a self-defence course, where I learned how to puncture someone’s Adam’s apple with a key and to perfect the knee-to-groin move should such unfriendly gestures be called for. I swallowed little pills and purchased boxes of...

8 Reasons to Write Your Story

As an author and writing mentor, my days are spent writing stories and helping others to write theirs. But every writer I’ve ever worked with (myself included) throws themselves down this emotional garbage chute: why should I write my story? Who will care? What does it matter?

Bedrock

Virginia can’t say if she is claustrophobic herself. She’s never been this far inside a cave before. The little spelunking she did as a child along the coast of the Western Cape was hide-and-seek with bare-footed cousins, in sea-carved rocky alcoves.

How Do You Say the Thing You Are Not Allowed to Say?

“What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak....it was born in the moments when we accumulated silent things within us.” - Gaston Bachelard There are things we are allowed to say and things we are not allowed to say....

Vision Quest

When I was two, I almost went blind in my right eye. A close friend of my mother`s had noticed that my left eye was not tracking properly. It was turning out so that it appeared misaligned, and so a trip to the eye doctor`s was quickly arranged. I was examined and...

How to Love Time with Every Passing Birthday

We’re all just walking each other home. – Ram Dass   It's funny how much we fret about nonsense in the light of Ram Dass's insight, isn't it? How different would we behave if we lived each day with that as our premise? So when the 31st August comes around, I...

Getting Lost in Our Own Bullsh*t – the Excuses We Use to Not Write

Getting Lost in Our Own Bullsh*t – the Excuses We Use to Not Write

Honestly I’ve heard them all. Hell, I’ve used them all.

I’ve had ten books published, have six or seven partially-written manuscripts saved in three different computers and dozens of journals, have mentored hundreds of writers, and even published a few through Joanne Fedler Media. There isn’t a ‘why-I-can’t-write’ excuse I haven’t cross-examined close-up.

But I’m at the stage of life where I’m over my own – and other people’s – bullsh*t.  We just don’t have the kind of time these excuses waste.

Here are some of the guises we use to duck and weave out of writing:

1. ‘And how shall I begin?

Most of us never get past the thought, ‘I’d love to write.’ Why? Because we don’t know where to start. We just want someone to point out the entrance as if there is only one. The truth is you can start anywhere. Where you start writing and where your book or story begins are not one and the same. You do not need to know where your book begins until if you’re lucky, your sixty-fourth rewrite.  I’m telling you this because you need to hear it – dilly-dallying over where to begin is your way of delaying your dream of being a writer. 

2. ‘I’m stuck.’

Anyone – and this is true – can write a good opening chapter. It’s what happens after that, that counts. We may get stuck after a couple of chapters and don’t know how to move through the sludgy bits beyond the honeymoon phase. This is where infatuation becomes real intimacy. This is where we have to navigate ‘the seven-chapter roadblock.’ First – get clear on why you’re writing. Second, connect with your character or the message of your book. Third, keep writing. Or stay stuck. It’s up to you. 

3. ‘I can’t finish this.

At the outset we don’t realise there are stages to the writing process. Finishing can be the trickiest part. Finishing is about architecture, pace, consistency, the structure of revelation and pulling the narrative threads together in a way that is satisfying to a reader. Finishing strong is as important as starting powerfully. But perhaps we don’t want to finish because it means letting go of the ‘story’ (read: pain/trauma/narrative and the identity we’ve formed around them). Not finishing can be our way of staying in the same place. This is where we take a deep breath and face whatever fears finishing brings up for us. And then we finish. 

4. ‘My writing is unoriginal and clichéd.’

Our first thoughts are usually clichés. To get to the good stuff, we have to dig a little. For this we need a shovel to dig through the fluff – the platitudes, the one-dimensionality to access what is buried, hidden and utterly enthralling.  As writers our job is to go deeper, to arrive someplace interesting that takes patience to get to. Do not make readers read something they already know, like, ‘When people we love die, we feel sad.’ Like, really? What else do we feel? What emotions are layered into sorrow, and how can we express them?

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

5. ‘I’ll never get published.

Maybe we will, maybe we won’t. Worrying about getting published before we’ve started writing is premature, and immature. Everything in its time. Getting published is at the ‘mastery’ end of the writing game when we are still novices. Anticipating ‘failure’ before we’ve even attempted to learn the craft or get a first draft on the page is our way of talking ourselves out of the joy of the journey. It’s like deciding not to live because someday we’re going to die. Yes, but so? Let’s not be obdurate and miss the point on purpose.

6. ‘I don’t have a big vocabulary and my grammar is terrible.’

You don’t need to be academically smart or have a huge vocabulary to be a writer. You can be dyslexic, have ADHD, be a quadriplegic or even blind and still be a bloody good writer. Great writing comes from great feeling and being willing to be vulnerable on the page. As Bukowski says, ‘Stop insisting on clearing your head – clear your fucking heart instead.’ (But – and I cannot be dissuaded on this point – there is ZERO excuse for not being a great reader, which you must be to be a writer).

7. ‘There are things I don’t want to write about.

Fine. Try and not write about them. What you will find is that they sneak under the doorway, whisper through the keyholes and trickle through the cracks in the walls anyway. Everything we resist, appears in our writing either consciously or unconsciously. It’s our choice how we want to work with our ghosts and demons. But they will insist on getting in one way or another. Remember too, that we can only take a reader as deep as we are willing to go – writers are guides, and so the writing journey is about how fearless we are able to be with ourselves. We never have to write about our pain, but we have to write from it. Which often means writing about the things we don’t want to write about either to get them out of the way, only to discover that they really are the things we need to write about.

8. ‘I can’t decide–’

… whether to write fiction, non-fiction, short-stories or poetry. I can’t choose a name for my main character or decide where or when the story takes place.

Writing is about making decisions. It demands commitment. It’s not for the wishy-washy. Make a decision and move on. You can always come back and change your mind later if your initial decision doesn’t work. Don’t get stuck because you can’t decide whether your protagonist should be called Wayne or Wilfred. Really, don’t.

What other excuses do you have?

Whatever shape they take, label them for what they are – excuses. They are bullsh*t and you are bigger than your own bullsh*t.

How to Teach Boys to Respect Girls

Before my son was born, I didn’t think it was my problem to raise good men. I’d been working with raped and battered women as a women’s rights advocate for many years, and had seen my share of sexist atrocities by men-gone-wrong. My aim was to get justice for women...

Girlfriends

Men are good for a great number of jobs, I’m thinking specifically of killing spiders and changing tyres, but they are useless when it comes to a second opinion when shopping for a new outfit and repeating the conversation they just had on the phone which you know...

Nobody Can Do This, But Me

When I was younger, I believed I needed rescuing.One day, sitting at an airport, I realised I didn’t want to be that person. I was homeward bound, after galivanting with no purpose, when I suddenly recognised that I could take responsibility for myself, and that I...

We Gather Stars in the Dark

My whole life changed when, at the age of 27, I was suddenly diagnosed with breast cancer.  At a time when my husband and I should have been focusing on our future, we filled our days with managing the side effects of my chemotherapy. Instead of starting a family we...

In Search of Words about Writing

What is it like to write? When I first discovered Dylan Thomas in my early teens, it unbolted a mayhem of yearning inside me. I knew only that I wanted to do that with language, to cause a rousing inside another, simply by the laying down of words in a particular...

Instant Turn Offs and Ons

Fairy stories have a lot to answer for. Those anything-but-innocuous tales parents glibly recite at bedtime invariably rely on a single moment where two (generally outstandingly good looking) people fall instantly in love with as much volition as a carbon atom bonds...

Can I Show You How to Begin?

Can I Show You How to Begin?

Can I show you how to begin?

Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.
—Enid Bagnold

Some of us are better sharers than others.

I happen to be a good sharer (with limits on my capacity to share my bed, my toothbrush and a few other personal effects).

Becoming a writer – and then an author – has been ‘the answer to everything’ for me. I want to share it with as many people as I can. It arouses the same impulse in me as witnessing whales breaching and rallying passers-by to ‘Look, can you see them?’

Yet I know that many of us suffer – as TS Eliot’ protagonist in The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock does – of anxiety about where and how to begin.

We second guess ourselves, over-analyse and get stuck in the ‘how’ instead of just throwing ourselves wildly into the relationships and situations we long for.

Plato wrote in The Republic, The beginning is the most important part of the work.

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

Of course, without beginning, there is nothing more to speak of. Beginning, therefore, is everything.

Because I know what a big obstacle this is for many beginner writers, I’ve been working on a solution to help you navigate beyond the ‘where and how to begin’ roadblock.

Infographic | How to BeginBelow, you’ll find a map – an infographic – which will ask you to identify whether you’re working on fiction, memoir or self-help and will then guide you to the essential questions you need to tackle as a starting point for each one.

This may be enough to ease you into beginning. Just focus on answering those questions, and let the writing take you where it wants to.

If you find that you need supporting tools or materials to answer these essential questions, I’ve suggested a few different resources you can find on my website to help you. Each writing journey is unique, and depending on the book you’re writing, some tools are more useful than others.

I hope this infographic helps you to begin whatever you’ve been holding off on starting.

Begin, for half the deed is in beginning;
Begin the other half, and you will finish.
—Ausonius

How to Write a Book: A Focus on Conviction

How to Write a Book Part 1: A Focus on ConvictionI have a friend whose ex-husband drove an Uber for a while. As soon as there was a surge, he’d drop everything, and jump into his car to take advantage of the higher fee. It caused chaos in their family life. She...

Writing Is Not for Wusses

Writing Is Not for Wusses... so Zip Up Your Warrior Suit (You're Braver Than You Think) Being a writer is not like any other profession. Our work is literally who we are. Not to laud it over book keepers or bakers who do an honest day’s work, every time a writer...

9 Spiritual Principles to Boost Your Creativity

So many people tell me, 'I'd love to write, but I'm just not creative.' They speak as if creativity is an innate IQ or EQ or an extra nipple some people are born with which precludes the possibility of acquiring it. I think of creativity as a way of seeing, a...

The Dynamics of Manifestation… I Get It Now

A couple of years ago, I wrote a book to help other writers get their story into the world called Your Story: how to write it so others will want to read it. My aim for it was modest – I was going to self publish it, and it would be a gift to the writers I mentor...

Twelve Things Your Mum Was Right About

There’ll come a point in your life when you’ll suddenly have a flashback to your childhood. And it will be your mother’s voice. And you will concede – graciously or otherwise – that all those irritating things she used to say to you when you were a kid were...

Wednesday

My heart unsteady in my throat I wake my son, curls and squinty eyes shield his face Five more minutes becomes 10 or 15 Mornings sting for the strong-willed night owl His shoulders stiff with ire Wednesdays are heavy He packs for his dad’s I tread carefully I hold...

How to Write a Book: A Focus on Conviction

How to Write a Book: A Focus on Conviction

How to Write a Book Part 1: A Focus on Conviction

I have a friend whose ex-husband drove an Uber for a while. As soon as there was a surge, he’d drop everything, and jump into his car to take advantage of the higher fee. It caused chaos in their family life. She described it like a drug or gambling addiction. He responded to the surge notification with a dopamine hit and bolted out the door no matter whether they were in the middle of a family meal or socializing with friends.

As creative people, we have to be super vigilant about becoming reliant on externally generated dopamine hits, like the uber surge notification, to feed our creative process. Applause. Awards. Publishing deals. Facebook likes. Retweets. While it’s important to get feedback and to know that our work is connecting with an audience, I believe this validation must defer to something far more reliable. We cannot outsource self-trust, or what I call, conviction.

I know creative people who make a career out of self-doubt. They are always looking for someone else to tell them they’re good enough, or they have permission or they should give up their day job and go full tilt into their passion. Only if someone (in this case, a publishing house) tells them they can write a book, do they believe it (and not for long – this kind of feedback fetish requires ongoing maintenance – the ego, after all is a hungry ghost).

This distrust of self becomes a creative stutter.

So the first strength I teach aspiring authors who want to write and publish a book is this: self belief. It trumps so called ‘talent.’ It’s the foundation of finding your writing voice. And once you hold it energetically, it becomes a guardian of the creative process. Think of it this way: if you do not fundamentally believe you have something worth saying, it doesn’t matter how much of the craft you learn. You’ll never put anything you’ve written out there. What will people say and think?

What gets in the way of conviction is a complex matrix of self-limiting ideas and beliefs, including perfectionism, jealousy, comparison, people-pleasing, attachment to approval, vagueness and indecisiveness, playing small, taking feedback personally, hesitation, small-mindedness, feeling victimized by your life or circumstances and a fixed (as opposed to growth) mindset.

My signature Author Awakening Adventure shows writers how to self-diagnose if they suffer from a lack of conviction, and then elucidates the steps to take to harness self-assurance, a robust sense of self worth and self-esteem. I teach people to reframe ‘mistakes,’ ‘shames’ and ‘failures’ as rich repositories for their stories and their creative process. As the Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote in his poem ‘Last night as I was sleeping,’ we have to ‘make sweet honey from old failures.’ What else could all our beautiful broken pieces be for?

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

We begin by shifting our consciousness from ruthless self-critique to radical self-compassion. Once when I was spiraling into self pity about some terrible mothering mistake I had made my husband told me to ‘stop beating myself up just because it was my fault.’ Humour is a great reframer. When we can laugh – even giggle out loud – at ourselves, we lighten up. The paradox is that it’s only when we stop taking ourselves so seriously, that we actually begin to take ourselves seriously as a creative person.

The greatest strength we develop in the creative life is self-trust.

You produce something and you feel it: wow, that works. That really works.

It requires us to engage in self celebrating behaviour. To say yes to our writing. To say no to bullshit. To burrow into our intuition and to listen to its song.

I have known traditional success (book deals, #1 Amazon best sellers, international best sellers) and I have known their ugly twins – the ‘failures,’ the ‘we’re-pulping-your-book’ emails, the shitty one star reviews on Amazon. If I were to measure my worth as a writer based on either of these, I’d be flirting with the same devil – both are false positives.

Success cannot be something we let others define for us.

One of my books, Love in the Time of Contempt: consolations for parents of teenagers sold much more poorly than I had hoped, only a few thousand copies. I was bitterly disappointed given how much work I had put into not only the writing, but the launch – I’d run a campaign called A Million Connected Parents, given away free copies of the book to early adopters – it had taken up six months of my life and I invested my entire advance into the campaign.

A year after publication, long after I had gotten over the disappointment, I received an email from a woman in Korea, who wrote:

Dear Joanne,

Hello from Korea.

I have read your book(love in time of contempt)

And I’d like to say thank you so much.

I’m a mother of 32 months’ kids.

My daughter is so far until teenager.

But I was helped you.

Sometimes I left her in another room for punishment

Recently I think It’s not good.

But I don’t know how to do

In your book, I found answer.

After reading your book, I stand beside her.

It’s very good.

Thanks, Fiona

There is no algorithm that guarantees that any book will succeed or sell. So we cannot judge ourselves or our book by how it sells.

What this has taught me is that I can’t allow others to decide what value I place on my book. Not a publisher. Not reviewers. Not even buyers. You, the author, must love your book. It must be your beloved, for whom you would do anything.

When we have conviction, we don’t allow others to define what success means. Royalties are wonderful – we all want them – and godknows, authors bloody deserve them. But a book has more than commercial value in this world if it changes someone’s life.

‘In your book, I found answer…’

If you’d like to take the Author Potential Profile Assessment to see how you score on conviction, you can do so here.

If you’re ready to take your self-belief to new heights and to join the Author Awakening Adventure, you can pre-enrol for our next intake here.

Keeping Faith

You can tell when someone is hungry. People who are hungry have dry lips. Chapped with dry bits that stick every so often when they talk. They do not pause to lick them, the frayed seams at their mouths. Most of my clients at (POWA) People Opposing Women Abuse, a...

Let’s Take Care of Each Other’s Stories

They tried to bury us.They didn’t know we were seeds.- Mexican proverb On days when I didn’t have to deliver a lecture to first year law students back in the late 1990’s, I worked at People Opposing Women Abuse. It was a volunteer job two days a week. I shared...

Sharon Can’t Tell You Her Story

Sharon and I clicked the first time we met. We slipped into an intense friendship with ease and it felt as if we'd known each other forever. Sharon was the kind of girl you didn't forget after the first time you met her. She was funny, with the body of a cheer leader...

After Angie’s Example

Angie was one of those girls who seemed to have it all. People enjoyed being around her. It wasn’t just because she was kind, it was that she exuded strength. But Angie got her strength the hard way.On a warm summer evening, after all our exams were over and life...

What Every Writer Needs on Her Shelf

Finding the right word may take more than just a click of a mouse... I inherited a Roget’s Thesaurus from my late grandfather. It has one of those hard-covers made from cloth. My grandfather’s signature is on the front page with the date 10-3-36. A few pages in is...

In Search of Words about Writing

What is it like to write? When I first discovered Dylan Thomas in my early teens, it unbolted a mayhem of yearning inside me. I knew only that I wanted to do that with language, to cause a rousing inside another, simply by the laying down of words in a particular...

Mistakes to Avoid When You Write a Self-Help Book

Mistakes to Avoid When You Write a Self-Help Book

I’m such a huge fan of a great self-help book which can raise our vibrational frequency if the author wrote it with energetic integrity – not from a place of ego, but rather as a transmitter of wisdom and as an act of service to the reader. A book like this is often the hard-won result of the author’s struggles, and is imbued with wisdom, perspective, insight and compassion. Such books help readers to suffer less and feel less alone in their suffering.

Writing a self-help book can be a gift to readers that can potentially transform them. I’ve read hundreds of them (some brilliant, some awful) and have read numerous submissions by aspiring authors looking for publication with Joanne Fedler Media. Based on my experience, here are some guidelines to help you write a self-help book:

  • Establish your credibility upfront: your credibility may be the result of an experience you have survived or because of your professional expertise. Tell us upfront what your story is and why and how you came to write this book. Readers want to know they are in safe hands – they want to know who the author is, what credentials we have for writing this book – professional, experiential;
  • Start with your experience, not the lessons learned: your experience has yielded your insights – so start with your experience, not the ‘lessons’ or ‘insights’ you learned from them. Allow your reader to experience your transformation with you, and allow them to journey towards your insights instead of foisting them on your readers;
  • Be clear on who your target market is and write with your reader in mind: People who are not your family will only be interested in your book if it is objectively uplifting and inspiring. It’s not enough for you to simply record what you went through – what insights or growth occurred as a result of your experience?
  • Just because it happened to you, doesn’t make it relevant to others: be sure to write about your journey in such a way that you cross the bridge between the personal (what happened to you) with the universal (why it’s relevant to your reader);
  • Let your reader walk in your shoes to get to the transformation: though you may be at the end of your transformation, remember that your reader has not traversed that path with you. Pace and structure the book so your reader has a chance to ‘catch up’ and experience the transition, walk through the highs and lows with you. Otherwise the journey you describe may seem fanciful or ‘reserved for spiritual VIP’s only.’ If your book is about grief, make sure the reader is allowed to experience the grief, otherwise the strength of the transformation is lost, or is leap-frogged over, and becomes a spiritual bypassing, which can feel unprocessed;
  • Show us your journey, don’t just tell us what you learned: show your reader what actions you took, what conversations happened, in order to show us how you ‘changed your mind’ or a had a ‘realisation’ or an ‘insight.’ It’s not enough to say, ‘I realised… I was being watched over / I couldn’t control the outcome / I had to surrender / I was in control of how I felt…’ etc. Show us the transformation (from fear to faith, illness to health, grief to acceptance) and make sure you keep your reader with you through the transition otherwise she will be unable to identify with it. Use scenes in order to show us the moments in which you changed;
Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

  • Don’t rush: in the wake of a loss or a change, writing can be cathartic and healing but it is not going to be the writing that you want to share with the world. A self-helpbook about any meaningful experience can only be written in time. I am a great believer in letting things take their time and not rushing the river, especially the river of loss and grief. Its insights are often startling, but we need patience to harvest them. A self-help book should be a wise guide by someone with expanded perspective – make sure you have given yourself enough time and space to process your experience before writing about it. A story can only be written when an experience has worked its way through us, when it has been deeply digested, richly conceived;
  • Your beliefs don’t make us trust you: what you believe is irrelevant unless it is based on your experience – so show us a story which gives us a reason to trust your beliefs. What you believe does not in itself establish credibility. As my favourite character The Dude in The Big Lebowski says, ‘That’s just like, your opinion, man.’ And you know what they say about opinions… Readers need to trust us for our opinions to hold weight;
  • Beware of self-help cliches: anyone who has done any self-help work knows the basic tenets of living a responsible, empowered life: don’t be attached to the outcome, don’t be a victim, practice kindness, gratitude, meditation, slow down, actions have consequences and so on. By focusing on the same universal truths, self-help books run the risk of repeating spiritual clichés which lose their lustre and fail to inspire us because they are so over-used. They must therefore offer something new or original to a reader– even simply a new framework or a reshaping of these ideas. When it comes to self help, a reader needs to feel the nuance of our different take even as we express the same time-honoured truths, so remember that you have enough experience and credibility to reinvent and reinterpret universal spiritual lessons;
  • Quote others sparingly: you don’t need to bolster your views with other self-help gurus: quoting Brandon Bays or Eckhard Tolle or Deepak Chopra doesn’t give your ideas more weight. In fact, quoting others dilutes the strength of your originality. Also, who cares? This is your book, not theirs. And if you do use quotes, be aware that you need copyright permission for them all if you are to publish;
  • Speak to your readers as equals not from a podium: one of the biggest mistakes I see people make in writing self-help books is in the tone or style – if it comes across as didactic, it’s easy to lose your reader. Keep the tone self-compassionate not patronizing or self-aggrandizing. Nobody likes to be lectured to or spoken down to, and even if we don’t intend this, our tone might still come off as if we’re a ‘know-it-all.’ Bring us with you, don’t preach. This will happen naturally when you find your original writing voice so spend time working towards that;
  • Be original: create your own unique framework based on your experience. No-one has had the experience you have had, and so you are in a unique position to create an alchemy from it, combined with all the spiritual reading or research you’ve done and come up with your own framework, recipe or ideas. Be creative and original. Figure out the through-line or overarching theme that ties everything together;
  • Simplify your message: boil the message of your book down to one single paragraph, then one sentence then one phrase or even one word so that you know the message of your book simply and concisely.

How to Write a Self-Help Book

Are you writing a self-help book? Do you know what the two essential elements of a self-help book are? Do you know how to structure it?

If not, this step-by-step manual will guide you through the writing so you can share your message with the world. In it I teach you the essential structure every self-help book must follow, how to incorporate the rules of storytelling into your writing to engage your audience and how to ensure that you deliver on the promise your book is making to your reader.

Spelling Out My Story

“Bernard! If you don’t stop that, I’ll go get the sack.” That was all Marie said, and her son stopped, looked up in fear, and apologised. Marie relaxed back into her seat and explained, “He knows I’ll hang him in the sack from a tree for an hour. It's funny, he is...

In That Place

In That Place When you find it Come back and tell us. What did you see in that starless dark? What heavens deserted you and how did you survive those broken nights in the jungle not knowing if you would ever be found again? How did you crawl from your bed...

Sharon Can’t Tell You Her Story

Sharon and I clicked the first time we met. We slipped into an intense friendship with ease and it felt as if we'd known each other forever. Sharon was the kind of girl you didn't forget after the first time you met her. She was funny, with the body of a cheer leader...

I Am Well if You Are Well

I was a week away from my due date. I was enormous and uncomfortable as I stood barefoot on the deserted beach. I had survived the past year. Barely. Grief and sadness swirled in me like aurora borealis. Birth demands hope. You have to be an optimist to bring new...

Books That Made a Difference in My Life

When I was in my early teens, my father introduced me to Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, a play for voices. I became enchanted with language.

Are You Sharing or Over-Sharing?

I am by nature a sharer, and am delighted, for example, when people help themselves to food on my plate. As far as I’m concerned, few things are more enjoyable alone than in a group. I am happy to be shared with too. Tell me your secrets, your deepest desires and...