Accentuate the Positive

Hasn’t it been a horrible year? That’s certainly how I felt about it when I recently started to reflect on the last twelve months. I lost friends to the pandemic, I nearly lost my mum after a fall, I’ve been stuck at home for months, and I have nothing to look forward to. I feel like I’ve had a lot of failures in the last year but nothing much to write home about.

Wait a minute, surely there has to have been something positive to have come out of 2020???

Yup. I wrote a book. Last May I had a flash of inspiration to write Writing for Wellness: Surviving Lockdown one word at a Time. It is an anecdotal story of the Writing for Wellness group I have lead every week for the past year. How easily my mind blocks out the light and focuses on the dark. But writing and publishing a book is a massive achievement that countless people put on their bucket lists. It’s definitely been on mine. Tick!

That brings me to another positive. I led a Writing for Wellness group throughout lockdown. Writing for Wellness groups after a safe space in which you can explore your creativity, and get things out of your head and on to the page. The members have all shared with me that this group kept them sane during lockdown and that they wouldn’t have survived without it. A definite tick goes next to that achievement. Tick!

I produced a podcast throughout lockdown. Letters in Lockdown has evolved during the different lockdowns. It started as a Staycastion Podcast in the first lockdown in which I was determined to focus on the positive aspects of staying at home. As we moved on throughout the year I recorded the good days and the bad, the challenges and the successes, the thoughts and reflections I went through in the past year. A humble contribution to the voices of lockdown. That’s something I can be proud of.

I started to read more. I’d got out of the habit of doing this before lockdown. The digital age with its 24/7 temptations meant that I would often turn to the latest show to binge-watch rather than pick up a book. The slower pace of lockdown life has made me excited to pick up a book and lose myself in another world for hours. I’ve recently been reading The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Talk about gripping! So yes, a big fat tick again for reading more.

I became more in tune with nature. Every morning I go out to my little studio in my garden to work I am greeted by the dawn chorus. I’ve listened to the proud blackbird singing over his family’s nest, watched the robin take a bath in the sundial on our lawn, and rescued an exhausted bee with some sugar water. I’ve helped plant out a new flower bed, nurtured a window-full of orchids and gone for some amazing walks. This renewed connection to something so much bigger than myself is a definite positive. Yes!

I wrote more letters. I love writing letters but I rarely gave myself time before lockdown. Hand-letter-writing is one of the exercises we do in Writing for Wellness. What a joy it has been to receive a hand-written missive through the post during those dark days. An absolute positive and one I am determined to continue beyond the pandemic.

I learned to value the people right in front of me. Oh how easy it is to take people for granted! Yet when faced with a situation where the company of others was in short supply I learned how value human connection can be. I always remember an interview with Mother Theresa in which, when surrounded by thousands of people in the slums of Calcutta she was asked how she coped. She smiled and said, “the person in front of me is the most important person in the world to me in that moment.” What a gift! I feel like I’ve caught an inkling of that during lockdown and I am really grateful for it. A definite positive!

What about you? What positive things can you look back on in 2020?

This hasn’t been the easiest of blog posts to write. I would have been much more comfortable focusing on what I haven’t done or on what I did in the years prior to lockdown. But it’s only when we find the subtle nuances in the midst of the darkest of nights that we find our way to turn on the light. It’s only when we accentuate the positive that we can allow ourselves to say goodbye to the year that has gone and look forward to what the year ahead will bring us.

I’ll leave you with the song that has been playing in the background as I’ve written this post. Accentuate the Positive by the Puppini Sisters. Enjoy!

Emergence

We’re hearing from experts in the field of psychology and mental health who are warning us of an epidemic that is on the horizon. This isn’t the pandemic. This isn’t an impending third, fourth or even fifth wave. This is a global mental health crisis on a level that we have never seen before, and almost everyone is feeling it.

As someone who is no stranger to mental health issues, I entered the first lockdown in March of last year in a surprisingly calm state of mind. I embraced the quiet and the solitude. I sought to find the beauty all around me, to treasure every moment, and to take advantage of the world standing still. My head became so clear that I was able to write a book in just under six weeks, something which up until that point I had struggled to accomplish in a little over a decade of trying.

Of course, it helped that the weather was absolutely gorgeous and the whole of nature seemed to come out to play with a greater exuberance than I had seen in a very long time. Or was it just that my world was previously too noisy and too cluttered for me to notice? Anyway, I had my encounter with a Queen Bee, I went for walks in the stunning countryside that surrounds my home, I sat in the shade of my garden studio while the waterfall bubbled into the pond and the bees buzzed from bloom to bloom and felt quite content.

But then came the somewhat messy and hesitant emergence from those first three months. I’d lost three friends in the beginning of the pandemic and countless others that I knew had lost family members. I didn’t realise how sheltered I had become, and how for many others life had just carried on. From a social perspective I had been left behind. So much so, that on my first day out of my cocoon I had a massive panic attack and wondered if I would ever step out in confidence again.

But within the new limits of social distancing, I soon learned what I could cope with and what I could not. For example, I wasn’t ready to go swimming again, but providing the restaurant was spacious enough, I was happy to have dinner with a friend. I was even fortunate enough to get to go for a short holiday in September. The weather was amazing and I even took a trip to Highclere Castle for all your Downton Abbey fans.

But then came the headlines, “Christmas cancelled,” and with them the hopes and plans of millions. That was a low blow for the nation. Some reacted in despair, others in anger, while some, like me, girded our loins and kept calm while we carried on, preparing to take one for the team in order to provide for the common good.

January brought with it dark days and cold nights. For myself personally, it also brought me close to losing my mum after a bad fall from a ladder and catching COVID in hospital. Where was the honey bee now, where the bubbling waterfall, where the clear headed writing? This sucks. Sod keeping calm and carrying on, sod showing the British resilience akin to the forbearance of those caught in the Blitz, this is really really hard.

As I emerge from yet another lockdown, as I go out into the world, I will confess to having a small amount more confidence than I did last summer. I’ve had one dose of the vaccine and should have the second in the next few weeks. There is that thin veil of protection, that increase in probability that if I caught COVID now I might yet live. 

You would have thought that would make this emergence thing easy. But in reality it is still really hard. Everything I once knew to be true has shifted. I can’t remember the last time I had my five a day, and my body is really suffering because of it. I don’t mean fruit and veg. I mean hugs. Will the word tactile cease to exist in this new world? Where will affection find its way? Am I the only one who is feeling more isolated than I ever have before now that we are coming out of lockdown? Am I the only one who is struggling, whose anxiety is through the roof?

And in the midst of so much uncertainty, in the midst of so much grief, it’s easy to look at the horizon and feel like we are all at sea. It’s easy to feel that there is nothing out there which is permanent, reliable, and built on rock. The shifting sands of our current existence lead us to being anxious about everthing, fearful about much, and struggling to look forward.

Yet that’s all I have left. Hope. To dream of a time when we will be able to hug one another in greeting again. To dream of a time when the smile on the face of an old man as he takes his wife round the supermarket will touch my soul and cause it to sing, when we’ll be able to plan freely and look forward, and dream up a world in which we can live that is better, kinder, freer, and more joyful than the one we face now.

In the mean time, as trite as it is to think that misery loves company, we do share in a common struggle. So long as we keep it real, listen to one another, and be patient and kind, we will remember that we’re all struggling, that this is hard for everybody, and it’s in our pain that we receive our five a day and we find our common ground and know that we may be isolated, but we most definitely are not alone.

Selling Yourself Short

One of the main reasons I went down the self-publishing route for my first book, Writing for Wellness: Surviving Lockdown One Word at a Time, was that I thought I would do my own publicity and marketing. I have a background in public relations and I have done rather well on social media over the years. But now it comes down to it I am finding it harder than I thought.

It’s not the number of sales that’s the problem. In that respect it has exceeded my expectations. It’s that I have had so many negative experiences of other people trying to get me to buy their book that I am hesitant to put others through the same.

Here are some of the big no’s I have picked up along the way:

  • Don’t beg people to buy your book – it comes across as being desperate and at the end of the day not everyone will be interested in reading your genre. Your book isn’t for everyone, so it’s about finding out who might be interested in it.
  • Don’t flood people’s DMs with requests that they buy your book
  • Make sure that the vast majority of tweets are useful to the community you are addressing. They say only one in seven should be you asking anything of them

I’m not comfortable flat out asking people to buy my book, but I do know who my target audience are. They are people who love writing, who would like to write more, who may be nervous about doing so, or think they are not good enough. It’s also for people who may struggle with mental health issues and who discover, perhaps through my book, how writing it out of their heads and on to the page can be therapeutic for them, and finally it’s for people who enjoy reading something that is semi-autobiographical.

If you fit in one or more of those categories, then you may find my book interesting, and possibly even inspiring. There, I said it, someone. out there might actually enjoy reading it.

I could, of course, run free giveaways and other such promotions, but unless I can get the book in front of my target audiences there is little point. It will just become yet another free block of pixels in someone’s rarely visited Kindle library. Surely it’s much better to hold the book’s value and continue the search for the people who would equally value it? I’d love your perspective on this.

Then, of course, there’s the issue of reviews. I absolutely refuse to ask anyone to review my book and consequently, even though it launched three days ago, there are no reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. Of course, I wish there were, at least I wish there were some good ones, but I can’t quite bring myself to ask people because that would feel like cheating. Not quite as bad as paying someone to do them (which I believe happens in some instances), but still, at the very least incredibly awkward.

Some people might think I’m selling myself short in all this. Perhaps I am. Perhaps I’m doing what most people are not doing, and that’s simply talking about my book and sharing what I have enjoyed about writing and publishing it, what has been difficult for me, in the hopes that it will organically find its way into the right hands. It certainly feels like the way of integrity, but I doubt I’ll get to retire on it anytime soon.

What do you all think? What are some of the marketing and publicity techniques you’ve used for your books?

On a final note, I will say this. If we were not in lockdown, things would be different. There would be certain events I could go to where I could sell my book and do signings, and talks I could give where I could do the same. When the only marketing platform is a digital one, it’s tricky not to fall prey to the temptation to start screaming as loud as you can in the hopes that you will be heard above the din.

Here’s one small voice, speaking to the other small voices in the universe, saying I’m here, I have something you might like. Have a read and see what you think.

Liv