Surviving as a Writer

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“I am not what I think. I am thinking what I think.”
Eric Butterworth

I have been thinking (watch out for the flying sparks.) I am writing a book about gratitude journaling, because I profoundly believe that reminding ourselves what we have to be grateful for, on a daily basis, will attract more to be grateful for into our lives. I also believe that journaling can be a therapeutic exercise, that can help us identify our fears, our limiting beliefs, our incorrect assumptions and our blind spots.

Practising what I preach, I keep a bullet-point gratitude journal. I also use my journal to write about anything that is upsetting me on a given day, and once I have written it out of my system, I look for something to be grateful for.  No matter how dark the clouds overhead may seem, there is always a silver lining to be found. I am quite convinced that it would have been impossible to survive the trials and tribulations that came my way these last two years if I were not in the habit of using my journal as a confidante. Putting my distress into words on paper first, has also made it easier for me to talk about it to my closest friends, something I found very hard in the past.

Journaling enables me to capture my thoughts, emotions and perceptions so that I can examine them and evaluate their worth. Rationally. Exposing my thoughts, emotions and perceptions to the light of day allows me to take a hard look at them and instead of reacting mindlessly, I can adjust my reaction to ensure an outcome that does not cause more distress.

Lately, while writing my book, I have been thinking about how journaling can help us survive as writers.

Personally, as a writer, I find journaling an indispensable aid. The writing I do first thing every morning, my morning pages to use Julia Cameron’s expression, serve many purposes:

  • It jump-starts my writing day. When I wake up, I do not immediately start writing brilliant prose (if ever,) it takes me a while to get into (writing) gear.
  • It is an exercise in mindfulness, when I redirect my wandering mind time and again to what I am writing about in my journal.
  • Journaling, for writers, is much like physical exercise, it builds our “writing muscles.” Writing for 10-20 minutes without worrying about spelling, grammar or even making sense, is liberating.
  • It stimulates my creativity. My journal is a veritable treasure chest of creative musings, captivating ideas and personal anecdotes. For inspiration, I use the Q&A a Day Journal by Potter
  • I used my journal for research. When I am writing, I often look back at past entries in search of coping strategies to add to a book I am writing.
  • Writers, by nature, are an introspective lot, more given internal pondering, than a steady outpouring of our innermost thoughts and feelings to a counsellor. Journaling can be a writer’s therapist. As Susan Sontag said, “In my journal, I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.”
  • Journaling can cure writer’s block. Daily journaling can help me to work out how and where I got stuck. Journaling provides with a record of my writing efforts and routine. I can look back and try to work out how and why I got stuck. My journal also shows me where I was and what I was doing during my most creative periods so that I can recreate a particularly productive environment to get rid of writer’s block.

It is so easy to keep a journal these days, there are even apps that you can download to your phone like Day One, Dario and Narrate.

Following fast in the footsteps of my thought about the use of journaling to authors, came another thought: I host walking and wine tasting workshops for writers here in the south of France, especially for writers who suffer from writer’s block. I do not presume to be able to teach anyone how to write, I depend entirely on the inspirational effect of walking the 9-century-old Camino de Santiago de Compostela to inspire, as it did Paulo Coelho, my visiting writers to start writing again. For that reason, it is a short workshop, a maximum of 4 nights – half-a-day to arrive, 2 days to walk the Camino, one day to sample some of the delectable wines of this region and half-a-day to leave.

Now I am thinking (duck the striking lightning) that I might be able to teach writers something after all – how to use mindful journaling and vision boards to improve their writing. Madeleine L’Engle advised, ‘If you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you,’ so I am thinking about creating a 7-night workshop, alternating walking, wine tasting and journal writing, with one or more equine-guided mindfulness meditation classes thrown in for good measure. I think I would love to host a workshop like that.

Before I ignite my mind to spontaneously combust, I think I had better stop thinking and get on with the morning’s “serious writing,” so back to the chapter about the physical benefits of regularly expressing one’s gratitude in my new book.

 The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.
Joan Didion

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Writer’s Life: Doing Research in the 21st Century

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Gratitude: The ten best Books, TED-talks and Apps

I am doing research at the moment for my new book Thriving On Change with Gratitude and Generosity (new working title.) Research is a tedious process, but it has to be done, even if only to avoid saying the same thing in the same way for the 30th time. I watch a lot of TED-talks and I am very grateful to my friend Tia for introducing me to these talks. I have subscribed to the Ted.com website and now they send me regular e-mails with recommendations. Whenever I do research for a book, this is where I start.

I share the writing of this book in more detail on my Patreon Page, where I include details of the marketing plan that I put into practice before I typed the first letter of this book. Any aspiring Indie Authors and Authorpreneurs, hop over to Margaretha Montagu is creating horse-inspired life-enriching Books and join the Club!

The 10 Best Gratitude Ted-talks

Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.
Oprah Winfrey

Below you will find the 10 Ted-talks I found most informative while writing the Gratitude Journal chapter of my new book.

Hailey Bartholomew: 365 Grateful Project

Mike Robbins: The power of appreciation

Jane Ransom: Discover the Three Keys of Gratitude to Unlock Your Happiest Life

David Steindl-Rast: Want to be happy? Be grateful

Shawn Achor: The secret of being happier at work

Dr. Kerry Howells: How thanking awakens our thinking

Robert Biswas-Diener: Your Happiest days are behind you

Louie Schwartzberg: Nature – Beauty – Gratitude

Katia Sol: The transformative power of gratitude

Brian Doyle: 365 Days of Thank You


The 10 Best Gratitude YouTube Videos

Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.
Charles Dickens

I also look at YouTube video’s in general, and I have found the 10 below the most inspiring and illuminating.

Get Grateful

Janice Kaplan: The Gratitude Diaries

How and Why to Start a Gratitude Journal

Gratitude Is Good For You

The Four A’s for Expressing Gratitude

Gratitude Works!: The Science and Practice of Saying Thanks by Robert Emmons

The Gratitude Experiment

The Science of Gratitude

An Experiment in Gratitude: The Science of Happiness

Oprah’s Gratitude Journal

The 10 Best Gratitude Books

“Happiness, the sheer joy of being alive, is within our reach. All we need is an attitude of gratitude. Gratitude creates happiness because it makes us feel full, complete; gratitude is the realization that we have everything we need, at least in this moment.”
MJ Ryan

I read loads of articles, mostly online, and I add them to the Bibliography Section of each book I write. I also read books and I have found the 10 below very useful.

  1. MJ Ryan and Daphne Rose Kingma’s Attitudes of Gratitude in Love: Creating More Joy in Your Relationship
  2. Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons’ Living Life as a Thank You
  3. Br. David Steindl-Rast’s May Cause Happiness: A Gratitude Journal
  4. Gary Fiedel and Karie Jacobson’s Stop-Look-Go: A Grateful Practice Workbook and Gratitude Journal
  5. Julie Saffrin’s BlessBack: Thank Those Who Shaped Your Life
  6. Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts
  7. Robert A. Emmons’ The Little Book of Gratitude: Create a Life of Happiness and Wellbeing by Giving Thanks
  8. John Kralik’s 365 Thank You Notes
  9. MJ Ryan’s Attitudes of Gratitude: How to Give and Receive Joy Every Day of Your Life
  10. Charles M. Shelton’s The Gratitude Factor: Enhancing Your Life through Grateful Living

The 10 Best Gratitude Apps

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
Melody Beattie

I do not have many apps on my phone and I certainly have not tried all the apps below, but I chose the ones with the best reviews. The ones I have tried did not disappoint.

  1. The Gratitude Journal
  2. Thankful for
  3. Live Happy
  4. Grateful
  5. 365 Gratitude
  6. Zest
  7. GratitudeStream
  8. Thankful for
  9. DailyGift
  10. Attitudes of Gratitude

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Writer-Introvert Insecurity

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It is estimated that the owners of the blog Wait but Why earn up to $30 000 per month on Patreon. This, I think, answers the question in my blog post Attending the Birth of a Book from last week, Can one make money from blogging? My next question is, How do the owners of Wait but Why do that?

The answer is very simple: the writer of the blog put in the hours needed to create unique, high quality and well-researched blog posts, kept at it diligently, build up his following exponentially (186k followers on Twitter and 16k subscribers on YouTube) and monetised the blog cautiously. Wait by Why was founded by Tim Urban and Andrew Finn and has 371 000 subscribers. There is a very good article on Shopify that explains how the blog was monetised called “The Right Way to Monetise a Blog (With Lessons From Wait But Why.)”

In the not-so-good old days (for artists, in any case) if you wanted to make a living from your art, you needed a patron. Several famous artists, like Mozart, Beethoven, Michelangelo and William Shakespeare, had one or more devoted patrons who supported them financially and thus enabled them to create their masterpieces. Today, artists are still supported by patrons, but instead of one or two very wealthy patrons, artists can now have thousands of patrons who each donate a small amount per month. Wait but Why has more than 3600 patrons, some donating as little as $1 a month, others much more.

The platform that has made the support of singers, songwriters, screenwriters, filmmakers, writers, bloggers and painters possible, by anyone with an interest in their work, is called Patreon. At Patreon, artists share their work with their patrons, on a monthly basis and get paid, on a monthly basis. Patreon has over 1 Million patrons and 50,000 creators on its platform. It is estimated that Patreon paid their creators $150 Million In 2017. The 35 top creators on Patreon earned over $150,000 In 2016.

Does everyone on Patreon earn lots of money? Certainly not. Less than 2% of creators on Patreon earn the monthly (American) minimum wage. The creators who earn the most, are those who are willing to invest the time and energy needed to attract and keep patrons. So very few creators make a living on Patreon, but a huge number make a tidy sum that helps them make ends meet at the end of the month.

This is what I set out to do when I created The Friesian Fillies Fan Club on Patreon. I want to earn enough to provide for my horses – my horses supply the inspiration for my books and I cannot do my day job, host my Connect with Horses personal empowerment workshops, without them. A substantial number of writers, and a small number of bloggers, already earn a decent amount on Patreon every month, so I decided to give it a go as well. For me, it is another way of earning income from the books I write – in addition to the money I make by selling my books, Patreon enables me to make money by writing my books.

I do have a bit of a problem, though. One of my favourite authors, Brené Brown said, “The easiest way to think about vulnerability is the willingness to show up and be seen when you can’t control the outcome.” I spent nearly every waking hour (and some half-asleep) of the last week creating my page on Patreon and now that it is ready to launch, my “Margaretha Montagu is creating equine-inspired life-enriching Books“-page is making me feel vulnerable. Because it does mean putting myself and my work out there on a substantial scale, doesn’t it? My half-finished, yet-unpolished work (in as far as I ever manage to get it properly polished.) This is about more than my usual writer-introvert insecurity.

I think I have created a very good page, but when I look at some of the other writers’ and bloggers’ pages, I think, ‘This is so exceptionally good. The writing sparkles, the ideas are beyond innovative, the books already published of such incredible quality…Why am I even bothering to put a page up? Why would anyone want to support me when they can support these amazing writers?”

Is there any truth in what Neil Gaiman said? That “the one thing that you have that nobody else has, is you. Your voice, your story, your vision. So write…as only you can.” That I can do, but will anyone be interested enough in finding out how I write books to become my patron? Time will tell.

Next week, I will blog about the process of creating a page on Patreon (subscribe to my mailing list so that you will be notified of new blog posts and book giveaways.) In the meantime, you can have a look at the Friesian Fillies Fan Club on Patreon here: Margaretha Montagu is creating equine-inspired life-enriching Books.

Christmas Lunch in the south of France

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While snow has been falling for several months in certain parts of the northern hemisphere, here in the south of France we are still tenaciously hanging on to the last sunny days of autumn. We shall soon have to face the fact that although the sun still shines bravely and brightly every day, the ancient oak trees have now nearly lost all their leaves and the nights are long and very cold. As we speed towards the shortest day of the year, and towards Christmas in its wake, we already project our minds towards those early spring days that are but three months away…

But wait, what about winter? Is there no winter season in the south of France? Of course there is, and it is breathtakingly beautiful in its own right. Last Tuesday morning, I got up early to feed the horses because I was going to attend a Christmas Lunch at the Pigeonneau restaurant down the road, in the happy company of 49 other women, all members of the Ladies Lunch Club of Armagnac. Jack Frost arrived uninvited during the night and evidence of his passing lay thick and white on the fields. The sun was just slipping over the horizon, tinting the whole landscape various enchanting shades of pink. I thought to myself, “This is the stuff that fairytales are made of.”

I wonder if I could write a fairy tale? I wonder if I could write a story, a real story, with characters, a plot and a hero’s journey, instead of the non-fiction personal development books that I have been so comfortable with until now?

A winter’s tale?

I did not have much time to dwell on these distracting thoughts. I had to get ready for lunch. The Pigeonneau is one of my favourite restaurants, and as luck would have it, also one of the closest restaurants to the farm. Having a restaurant of this exceptional quality so close by is rare here in deepest rural France.

So it was wth a song in my heart that I joined the ladies that morning. I was not disappointed. I barely made it through the front door before a Kir(apèritif), as if by magic, appeared in my hand. With my Kir in one hand and my camera in another, I did the rounds. In this part of France, greetings are accompanied by a kiss on each cheek, so you can imagine that this was no easy endeavour.

We sat down to a delicious lunch with red or white wine. We started with a salad of grilled courgettes and mushrooms, accompanied by a small glass of pumpkin soup. This was followed by either Beef Stroganoff with Rice or Carrelet (Plaice) with beurre blanc sauce and Rice. I had the plaice and it was as good as it always is. We finished the meal with Pannacotta with red fruits and coffee.

Our club now has more than 150 members and 50 of us meet once a month for lunch.  As we have discovered in the past, it is not easy for a countryside restaurant to cater for such a large group, but the Pigeonneau did us proud. Thank you so much, Ruby and the rest of your team!

you-are-good-enough-cover2We all took a small gift to lunch. We all took one of these on our way out, after the lunch. I am going to open mine on Monday the 19th, my birthday. Since it is Christmas (and my birthday), I have decided to give my latest 90-page book, You ARE Good Enough – a 10 Step Strategy to Stop Sabotaging Yourself away free to all new subscribers to my mailing list. This giveaway is hosted by Instafreebie.

It would mean the world to me if you subscribed. I promise I will not spam you, quite the contrary – I have received many a compliment on the quality of my newsletters about our life here in the south of France. Just click on the link below and follow the instructions:

Claim you free copy of my book, You ARE Good Enough 

 

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Author Antics

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Newsflash: I am giving away a copy of my latest book, You ARE Good Enough, as a Christmas gift to all my blog-readers – see below

I survived the book signing.

As an author, it was one of the most uplifting experiences of my hitherto short career.

I signed my book at the annual Ladies Lunch Club Christmas Market. We went to scout out the location and set up on the Thursday afternoon. I took my friend Sharon Duerst of the Mending Stone Blog’s advice and gathered together a few suitable props beforehand: a shabby chic table, two chairs and a few more bits and bobs. The idea was to re-create a Frenchwoman’s boudoir, as background setting for selling my French Woman’s Confidence Secrets book.

The setting was glorious. It is still autumn here. The vineyards are in full autumn swing, sporting colours that defy natural law: brilliant red, glowing ruby, bright orange and yellow…The location was a several- centuries-old wine-producing château, deep in the heart of the vineyards of Gascony. If I had to choose somewhere to do my first book signing ever, I could not have invented anything better.

The Christmas market’s vernissage was on the Friday evening. This included a wine tasting. Obviously. The Chateau de Millet did us proud. Intent on staying sober, I only had a glass the Chardonnay. I am not a huge Chardonnay fan, but this one was divine. The tasting room was large, on two levels, so there was ample space for all the stalls. I was the only one selling and signing books. There was a huge variety of Christmas presents and decorations on sale. There was also a stall selling breads and cakes in aid of a refugee family in Eauze.

The vernissage was well attended. During the three hours it lasted, we sold all books I had ordered, except for three that I promised to hold onto for friends. I say we, because my husband sold at least half of that number. He mostly chatted to the menfolk while they tasted the wines. He might have mentioned, once or twice, that his wife is selling her book and would that not make a great Christmas present? So difficult to find a suitable Christmas present for the Missus, isn’t it?

I rarely got to sit down behind my snazzy little table. I signed most books standing up. I mostly remembered to add one of the controversial bookmarks advertising my next book to each book I signed. I severely miscalculated, though, I did not order enough books. I did not take into account that some people may buy more than one book. One woman bought three books, one for each of her daughters. Which meant I ended the evening with a list of e-mails from people who would like to buy a book, as soon as I have more in stock.

All this was wonderfully gratifying, but it was not the best part of the evening. The very best part of the whole experience was the people I met. I met the most amazing people, people that I would probably never have come across otherwise. Most conversations started with ”So what is your book about?” This was followed by me stuttering nervously, ”It is about women…er, French women…and about what other women can learn from them about being self-assured and self-confident…” in whatever language I was addressed in: Dutch, French or English. Luckily, most people promptly soldiered on with another question and before we knew it, we had found a common interest and were chatting away as if we were old friends. That was the best part of the book signing. The people.

The second best part was the e-mails in my inbox on Saturday morning. I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t. The vernissage finished at 20h00. At 23h21, the first e-mail arrived. Several followed, saying how much the reader was enjoying the book and could they please order another for a friend, daughter, mother or sister? I was amazed. Admittedly, I had started to receive unsolicited 5-star reviews on Amazon, but until now, most people who said the book was good were friends and family. Not altogether unbiased, in other words, so I took the praise with a pinch of salt.

The euphoria wore off way too soon, sadly. Especially as I have been very busy with the editing and publishing of my latest book called ”You ARE Good Enough.” It is much shorter than the others, only 89 pages. It is available in print on Amazon for $4.99. 

One last thing about the book signing: The sweetest thing that happened was when the wife of the owner of Chateau Millet, who does not speak a word of English, bought my book (in English) for her daughter, who apparently does speak a few words of English. I hope the book lives up to her expectations, otherwise I shall have to go and buy our Chardonnay somewhere else!

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To all my blog-readers: To thank you for your support over the last year, I am giving away free copies of my 89-page e-book “You ARE Good Enough – A 10-Step Strategy to Stop Sabotaging Yourself” via this link: Merry Christmas to my Blog Readers!

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