Much as I love books, there is one genre that is sure to get me running for the hills. Two little words with a hyphen between … I’ll whisper them …
Maybe I’m being unfair – I mean the idea of helping yourself is definitely, in my metaphorical book, A Good Thing, but there’s something inherently grotesque (in that same book of mine) about a genre that contains a book called How to Win Friends and Influence People (or, as I’d call it, How to be a Manipulative Douchebag).
Another ‘winner’ in the self-help world was ‘recommended’ to me by a librarian in senior school. I think I was about 12 or 13 and already known in the school library as a more advanced reader and, it would seem, as unpopular with guys, so of course(?!) she pulled this monstrosity off the shelf and suggested I have a read: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Really? Yeah, really.
Apologies to any fans of John Gray, but I can’t tolerate any book that can say “Men are motivated when they feel needed while women are motivated when they feel cherished” and makes these weird generalisations about men and caves and women and waves, and, as if that wasn’t vomit-worthy enough, then says “we are unique individuals with unique experiences.” Well, first off, for the latter, you get the No Shit Sherlock Award. And, more importantly, which is it? Are we individuals or these generalisations that John Gray pedals throughout this self-help schlock?
Breathe, Clare, breathe. Sorry, as I was saying, me and self-help books aren’t on the best of terms and I’ve firmly avoided them since the Men are from Mars debacle.
A couple of weeks ago, I felt the need for a new book now, so I hit up my local Waterstones, which is alarmingly close to my flat. (Seriously, if I were considerably more agile, like those parkour-types, I could probably walk, run and jump across rooftops to get there. Instead, I tend to walk down the road.) The writing section is stocked fairly well, but most of the books of any interest were ones I already have. I saw Coach Yourself to Writing Success nestling between some other how to write books and instantly dismissed it as one of those. A self-help book.
But somehow I still bought it.
The other day, I posted about my own experiences of spending far too much of my life not writing and instead worrying about writing or avoiding it altogether. And perhaps thinking about all that opened the doors for me to consider Coach Yourself…, because ‘life coaching’ is a phrase guaranteed to raise deep and immediate distrust in most Brits. And, gasp, Bekki Hill, the writer of Coach Yourself… is a life coach. Truly, the planets must have been aligned and Venus in retrograde, with the Halls of Hell blanketed in snow (or something) for me to buy that book, but I did.
And I’m glad I did.
Hill’s book is kind of a careers advisor, best friend and therapist all rolled into one. She asks some tough questions and speaks honestly, without any rubbish about cleansing auras, loving yourself or how anyone is like a cave. Her writing style is down to earth and I think that’s a large part of what encouraged me to actually do most of the activities in the book, rather than dismiss them as unhelpful mumbo-jumbo.
That’s all very well and good, I can hear you saying, but we want results, what were the results?! Well, I’m more productive with my writing than I’ve been since I was a child, before The Fear slithered in. I’m more positive about the whole process of writing. I’m procrastinating less. I’m writing every day. I’m much more mindful of my thoughts and attitudes towards writing in general and my writing in particular, as well as my wider writing goals.
Coach Yourself… gets you thinking about and identifying your true writing dreams and ambitions – it acknowledges that ultimately, some of us might be clinging on to writing when it’s someone else’s expectation or dream for us or perhaps it was a childhood dream that isn’t something we actually want anymore. And that’s OK. What’s the point in chasing a dream you no longer want? This books helps you work that out and work through it, if it turns out writing isn’t really your ambition anymore.
Horizon: It’s an experiment, honest!
If it is still what you really, really want (Spice Girls quote not intended), Hill helps you map out how to achieve your writing goals. Part of getting there is working out what’s stopping you, which Hill helps you do before talking you through how to get past that blockage. In particular, she has some great techniques for increasing your positive thinking, which in a strange act of synchronicity was also the subject of the episode of Horizon shown around the time I was reading Coach Yourself…: The Truth About Personality.
It turns out, as both Hill and Horizon tell you, that while you might be a pessimist, more prone to negative thoughts than positive, and this is actually visible in the way your brain works (really, watch this episode of Horizon, if you can), you can still teach your brain to be more positive. Positivity can be taught. That’s something of a revelation for me – I probably tend to see a lot of negatives out there and in myself, and not always to my benefit (and both sources acknowledge that negativity is vital in protecting us from certain situations), but I figured that was just my way of thinking and always would be and that was that. I didn’t know how to change it; I didn’t know it could be changed.
Turns out it can. And that, my friends, is perhaps the greatest idea I’ve encountered in a long, long time.
Hill’s book gives you some great techniques for how to do this and also addresses other specific issues she’s encountered in her years of coaching writers, such as Boosting Motivation (chapter 8), Increasing Creativity (chapter 9), Beating Procrastination (chapter 10, probably a chapter many writers could do with looking at, if my Twitter feed is anything to go by!), Finding Time to Write (chapter 11), When the Words Don’t Flow (chapter 12), Dealing More Effectively with Rejection (chapter 13) and Letting Go (Chapter 14). Because of that experience with real-world writers, the book is packed with real life examples of writerly struggles and how they overcame them.
So what I’m trying to say is if you’re looking for a book that doesn’t tell you about the technicalities of ‘how to write’, but rather teaches you the survival techniques of ‘how to get writing’, then get your hands on Bekki Hill’s Coach Yourself to Writing Success.