How to Stop the Great Unravelling at Midlife

How to Stop the Great Unravelling at Midlife

We have two lives,
and the second one begins when you realise you only have one.
– 
Mario de Andrade

You will wake up one day and without looking at your iPhone, you’ll know that you are running out of time.

This bolt of insight will have less to do with your age in chronological time than with the state of your heart. If you’ve been on the run all your life from the truth, that somewhere ‘out there’ is your last day, your last breath, this will come as something of a nasty shock, as if you’d just worked seven years for one bride, and only now discovered you’ve been tricked into marrying another. Or that the terms you thought you’d agreed to have been unilaterally changed and you now want a refund, because who in their right minds would agree to that?

You may want to throttle the teenager, turn your back on the husband, drop the career you’ve been so carefully climbing the ladder towards, never cook another meal again, sell everything, find a younger lover, walk the El Camino, learn to scuba dive, paint, build a tiny house and work out who the hell you are now that nests are emptying and your ovaries have said, “I’m outta here.’

Brene Brown talks about this as the ‘great unravelling.’ It may turn up in our lives as depression (is it just menopause?), anxiety (menopause again?), contemplating divorce or a career change (surely that can’t be menopause??), joylessness (definitely menopause), having an affair (seriously, if not now, when?), resentment at events long-past, late-onset-lesbianism or bisexuality (OMG, that’s an option??) unhappiness for no reason, feelings of irrational rage, disappointment (in ourselves, our relationships, our lay-byed dreams), emptiness, wanting to leave it all behind, directionless-ness.

In the middle of the journey of life, I found myself in a dark wood
where the true way was wholly lost.
– Dante

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?

The deepest questions of identity re-emerge to destabilize us just when we thought we had it all together.

Who are you?
Where did you come from?
Why are you here?

Seriously, after all we’ve been through?

Trust me, you are not alone.

In midlife, a seismic shift occurs between our past and whatever future lies ahead. Our ego-structures no longer work (who am I, again?), and we have to return to the labor of self-definition once more. We may have lost a parent or two. Our kids may have left home, or we realise we’re never going to have those kids we meant to have. The tummy pouch doesn’t help. The insomnia makes everything worse. We feel confined and belittled – by a stagnant relationship, stultifying routine or past failures and mistakes. Even our successes aren’t benign – we look back and are filled with sorrow at how many doors we never opened while we chased our goal of becoming an ‘expert’ or ‘specialist.’ It seemed like a good idea at the time – having something to ‘fall back on.’

We question why we were so quick to say ‘I do,’ ‘I’ll take that promotion,’ ‘sure, let’s have another kid.’ The roles and expectations we’ve been in service to no longer fit who we’ve become. Everything is too tight or too loose. We’ve outworn our responsibilities, graduated from our histories and outgrown the version of ourselves we’ve spent so long chasing.

We wonder, not just a little, what life has been suppressed inside us to get us to where we are.

And goddamit, we always wanted to write a book.

Dear soul, this is it.

This is where your second life begins.

Now is the moment to go back to retrieve what we left behind in our past as too painful or shameful. Here is when we arrange a meeting with those we swore we’d never forgive (that meeting may even be with ourselves). We divest ourselves of what is unnecessary – yes, it’s taken just this long for us to know the difference between what is and isn’t serving us.

Geoffrey Davis’s exquisite poem ‘What I Mean When I Say Farmhouse,’ takes him back to a memory as a boy, as loneliness and his parents’ unlived lives shadow his childhood. He ends the poem with:

             I want to jar the tenderness of seasons,
to crawl deep into the moment. I’ve come

             to write less fear into the boy running
through the half-dark. I’ve come for the boy.

At this midlife moment, our job is to go back for the parts of ourselves that we left behind and ‘write less fear, betrayal, suffering, pain, trauma’ into our stories. We integrate the place where the suffering began, with who we have become. We take the power of who we are now and lend it to the part of ourselves that was most powerless.

And in that meeting, something magical happens.

I want to create the perfect environment for this meeting and so I’ve created a transformational live event in Sydney from 18-22 March 2019. It’s the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough for 20 people who are ready to write into these stories.

Please come join me.

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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.

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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

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