The Weight of Expectation

What a month! It’s been a while since my last post and that’s partly because I’ve been working on a personal project I hope to share soon. In the meantime, here’s this week’s newsletter. Happy writing!

The Weight of Expectation

Many of us struggle with the weight of expectation. There’s an immense amount of pressure to please other people. That weight takes all the joy out of writing. The pressure becomes so intense that it’s far easier to not even try, because the thought of trying and failing is unbearable.

What would happen if you threw off that dead weight and wrote whatever you pleased?

Here’s what J.K. Rowling had to say about The Casual Vacancy, her first novel after the Harry Potter series:

J.K. Rowling: I had the idea for The Casual Vacancy right after finishing Deathly Hallows…There’s always trepidation; I mean, I think that people might be surprised to know that I felt trepidation every time I produced a Potter book. You know, the weight of expectation there was, I won’t say ‘crushing’, it was extraordinary and wonderful to have that weight of expectation. But at times

Charlie Rose (Interviewer): You were competing with yourself.

J.K. Rowling: Yeah, and with the expectations latterly of millions of fans, all of whom were very invested in the story and wanted to see what they wanted to see. And I knew where I was going, and I had to put on mental blinkers a lot and just think, “I know where I’m going, I must not be influenced by this.” So in a sense, it was liberating to leave that weight of expectation behind and know that I could just do what I wanted to do. It was very freeing. But I must say that I spent the first two years working on The Casual Vacancy telling myself, “You don’t even have to publish that, you don’t even have to publish this book.” And that was a way of bringing down my own awareness that, you know, it wasn’t going to be what some people wanted it to be.

J.K. Rowling, Interview with Charlie Rose, 19 October, 2012 (bolding mine)

What a revelation! J.K. Rowling told herself that she didn’t have to publish the book she was writing. Now, I’m sure that J.K. Rowling could write down her thoughts on tablecloths and they would sell. But that wasn’t her motivation. She also didn’t want to write what others wanted her to write. She wanted to tell the story she wanted to tell. To do so, she identified whose expectations were weighing her down and countered them with her own truth.

What about you? Whose expectations are you trying to meet? Why are you trying to meet them? What do you gain out of trying to meet them?

What would happen if you just wrote whatever you pleased? My guess is that is that writing would be liberating, joyful and an absolute delight.

Remember that you don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations. The only obligation you have is to be true to yourself.

This week’s prompts

Use the following prompts to start a new piece, continue an existing one, or to just have fun with words:
1. My thoughts on tablecloths [if J.K. Rowling isn’t going to write about them, someone has to]
2. Brightly-coloured pens stood…
3. Potato fun night!
4. Singing in the sunshine…
5. The calculator screen read…

Falling Behind

I wasn’t planning to write about this topic for the newsletter. It was going to contain some writing advice, as per usual. But this is what came out instead.

In the past three weeks, I’ve been ill twice. Most of my time has therefore been spent on completing work for clients and then catching up on essential household tasks (in that order). During this time, I have had exactly five opportunities to work on my personal writing, and each session was very short.

You’d better believe I’m annoyed. And frustrated. And angry.

I love writing. I love playing around with words and re-arranging them until they’re just right. I love it so much that I do it for a living. I love it so much that I’m working on several novels (they all started as short stories and kept getting longer). So if I love it so much, how could I allow myself to fall so far behind? Am I just lazy? Am I just pretending to love writing because I think it sounds cool? (“Oh, I’m a writer, don’t you know,” I imagine myself saying as I flip my scarf over my shoulder.) How could I let myself go for so long without working on my personal projects?

When I told a close friend that I was very disappointed in my progress, she said, “You’re being too hard on yourself.”

And the thing is, that’s exactly what I’d say to someone who told me that illness and work commitments had prevented them from writing. I’d tell them, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. Five writing sessions in twenty-one days is still an achievement, even if they were short. You at least made the effort to write when you could – you could have easily chosen not to.”

So why is it so hard to believe this also applies to me?

I don’t know. But I’ve noticed a lot of people feel the same way – what they accept about others, they can’t accept about themselves.

If you feel you’ve fallen behind, or that you should be writing more than you have been, I unfortunately don’t have any advice for you that will fix everything. I wish I did, because then maybe it would help me as well. All I can say is that you’re not alone. So let’s get back to writing. We’ll do it together. Grab a pen, or start up the computer, and start writing. Let’s make the time for it, right now, in this instant. We can easily pick up where we left off. The words will always be there, waiting patiently for us, no matter how long it’s been.

This week’s prompts

Use the following prompts to start a new piece, continue an existing one, or to just have fun with words.

1. Sparkly bottles of…
2. Which fictional spaceship is your favourite?
3. The one thing I know about hot air balloons is…
4. One stroke of the paintbrush and…
5. The copper lid clattered to the floor…

Writing Lessons from ‘The Simpsons’ (III)

Writing Lessons from The Simpsons (III)

“People say, ‘How do you get your ideas for episodes?’ With Mike [Reiss] and me, we thought, ‘Lisa likes ponies. We’ll give her a pony’…It’s not that hard sometimes.”

– Al Jean, DVD commentary for Lisa’s Pony (The Simpsons: season three, episode eight)

When we say we have to have a good idea in order to write, what we actually mean is an original idea. We don’t want to write another generic romance, murder mystery or supernatural-themed trilogy. We want something fresh and exciting, something that will grab the reader’s attention! We want people to ask us, “Where do you get your amazing ideas?”

But it’s not our ideas that people will love. It’s the way we write about them.

If you haven’t seen this episode of The Simpsons, the idea might seem like a cliché: oh, an eight-year-old girl likes ponies, how original. But the resulting episode is far from a cliché, because it’s not about how eight-year-old girls like ponies. It’s about how Lisa likes ponies and what happens when her dream finally comes true.

In the episode, Homer buys his daughter a pony to overcompensate for his poor parenting. He then has to take a second job to pay for it. It’s only a matter of time before Lisa realises that the price of her dream is too high – figuratively and literally. The moment she has to give up her pony is genuinely moving because her bond with the animal was real.

How many of us have had to give up something we wanted or loved because it turned out to be unfeasible? How many of us know have overcompensated for behaving badly instead of doing the hard work of changing our behaviour? How many parents know what it’s like to be unable to give their children what they really want? Or work so hard to give their children everything that they exhaust themselves in the process? (Granted, Homer wouldn’t have had to take on a second job to buy a pony if he’d been an attentive parent in the first place, but it’s still something to which people can relate.)

All of this came from one simple idea – Lisa likes ponies. Readers and viewers don’t dismiss something because the central idea isn’t original. If that were the case, then no one would be writing love stories or murder mysteries or supernatural-themed trilogies. It’s what the writer does with the idea that counts. If something resonates with you, write about it. And if you’re stuck for something to write about, remember that ideas don’t have to be that hard sometimes. Just pick something and start writing. You never know where it will take you.

This week’s prompts

Use the following prompts to start a new piece, continue an existing one, or to just have fun with words.

1. The window stuck and…
2. The hard beak of the crow pecked…
3. It was raining yet again…
4. Eggplant sneak attack!
5. I found an old VHS tape…

A Writing Lesson from Neil deGrasse Tyson

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is one of the most engaging, illuminating and beautiful things I’ve ever seen on television, and I can’t recommend it enough. While listening to Neil deGrass Tyson’s delightful voice explain the universe to me, something he said made me smile even more than usual:

“[Fraunhofer’s] spectrum lines revealed that the visible cosmos is all made from the same elements. The planets, the stars, the galaxies; we ourselves and all of life, the same star-stuff.” ¹

My first thought was that this was also a very apt description of writing. The elements of writing are the letters of the alphabet, as well as any diacritical marks (depending on which alphabet is being used). From there, we can arrange them to create words, and we can then arrange the words in any way we want to form a piece of writing. And the combinations we can create are limitless.

The same words used to write a quick email to a colleague could also be found in a story about losing a pet. A dry report can be made more interesting by rearranging the ‘molecules’ to catch the reader’s eye. The events of the day could be summarised in a text message that uses the most basic building blocks of language, but still retains emotional impact. A non-fiction book uses the same words as a romance novel. There’s no point in being judgemental about what we write and read, because when you break it down, it all consists of the same elements.

We are creating new words all the time. We borrow words from other languages and from the latest trends of our teenagers (I don’t care what anyone says, the abbreviation ‘lol’ is fantastic). New inventions, scientific discoveries, and changes in our physical and social worlds all result in the creation of new words. We make new words by putting two existing words together (known as ‘portmanteaus’). We even take the names of fictional characters and incorporate them into our language – scrooge, milquetoast, yahoo and malapropism are just a few.

This is the magic of writing. From a small number of letters, we can create hundreds and thousands of words. We can then use those words to create billions of unique pieces of writing. So don’t worry. You will never run out of words. You will never run out of ways to use those words. And remember that once you make those words a physical reality, you give them life; a life that also consists of the same star-stuff.

¹Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey: Episode Five, Hiding in the Light


This week’s prompts

Use the following prompts to start a new piece, continue an existing one, or to just have fun with words.

1. The copper wiring curled…
2. Still, it really didn’t matter that…
3. My favourite dinosaur is…
4. It’s petty, but I really can’t stand…
5. A beam of light cut through…

Questions? Suggestions? Feel free to drop me a line at You can also follow or contact me via Facebook, Linked In, YouTube or Tumblr.

It’s a Blue Flame in Your Heart

If you’ve read my book, you’ll know that I take an intuitive painting class. Intuitive painting is about spontaneously painting what comes up from within you. The focus is on expressing yourself, not on form, technique or what your picture looks like.

Each student knows this, and yet we all still worry about appearances: the colours we’ve used, that something doesn’t look realistic, or that our paintings are just really weird.

One common issue is that we’ll see an image so clearly in our minds, but it refuses to translate into a painting. The same thing can happen with writing: the words you put on the page don’t match the ones you had in your head. It’s very frustrating.

One day, the image of a glorious blue flame came to mind. It was composed of different shades of blue – pale, sky and dark – and so bright and alive. I was energised and immediately began to paint. I couldn’t wait to recreate it.

You know where this is going. It didn’t look like a blue flame at all. It looked like a flower. A spiky flower. It was kind of a cross between a tulip and Bart Simpson’s hair. I don’t know why my beautiful blue flame turned out that way, but it did. I wasn’t happy at all.

When my teacher complimented my work, my response was to complain about the blue flower that was meant to be a flame. My teacher quietly listened to me, and I when I stopped talking, she said, “Don’t worry about what it looks like. It’s a blue flame in your heart.” She went on to explain that just because something doesn’t look like what you expect, doesn’t mean it lacks value or beauty. She added that this was the point of the class – it’s not what our paintings look like, it’s what they actually are; what they mean to us and what they represent. And who’s to say that my painting can’t be both a flower and a flame?

When I’m writing something and it doesn’t come out the way I imagined, I tell myself, ‘It’s okay, it’s a blue flame in my heart.’ I sometimes substitute the intention as well: ‘It’s okay, it was a funny story in my heart.’ ‘It’s okay, it was an examination of twenty-first century online culture and representations of gender in my heart.’ There’s a reason the piece turned out differently than expected. It’s up to me to figure out the reason why. I can then do any necessary rewriting, or just accept the result and enjoy it.

This doesn’t quite work for copywriting, of course. If a client wants me to write about computers, I can’t turn in a text about an apple tree in bloom and tell them it was about computers in my heart. But unexpected results for copywriting can still tell you something, if you’re willing to listen. (You shouldn’t submit those results to your client, of course. Just don’t dismiss them out of hand.)

So don’t be discouraged if what was in your heart doesn’t quite match what is on the page. Enjoy it, and then see what you can make of it. Maybe it’s perfect, just as it is.


This week’s prompts

Use the following prompts to start a new piece, continue an existing one, or to just have fun with words.

1. Confetti razor blades
2. A telemarketer called and wanted my…
3. The purple lotion flowed…
4. A simmering pot, filled with…
5. Scroll down for the…

Questions? Suggestions? Feel free to drop me a line at You can also follow or contact me via Facebook, Linked In, YouTube or Tumblr.

Writing Lessons from ‘The Simpsons’ (II)

Of all the characters on the show, Lisa Simpson should be the one most capable of writing a book. Even though she’s only eight, she’s smart, academically gifted and she has a good command of language. When the time comes, though, and she has her opportunity, things don’t go as expected.

In the episode The Book Job (season twenty-three, episode six), Lisa and her father, Homer, discover that publishing agencies use ghost writers to churn out best-selling books, mostly in the young-adult genre.

Homer immediately sees dollar signs and he puts together a team, promising them a cut of the money. Lisa is appalled at both the manipulation of the readers and Homer’s mercenary attitude. She decides to write her own book, believing that a person should write for the love of the story, not money. While Homer’s team is busy writing, however, Lisa does the following:

• Puts on music for inspiration;
• Organises her CD collection;
• Plays game after game of online Boggle;
• Goes to write in a coffee shop, but instead spends her time setting up the wi-fi and buying coffee;
• Builds an intricate structure from wooden pencils;
• Watches cat videos;
• Obsesses over a smudge on the window before cleaning the entire pane, inside and out;
• Watches all five seasons of Friday Night Lights.

I love this episode and laugh every single time because I very much see myself in Lisa. How many excuses and distractions did I come up with to avoid writing? How many pointless activities did I pursue instead of sitting down and writing? Too many, I’m afraid. My all-time favourite is abandoning work to try and find out what dust was made of. The runner-up is writing my name on the underside of my stapler with white correction fluid…because then if someone broke into the house and stole my stapler, they wouldn’t be able to sell it? I don’t know, it seemed important at the time.

The lesson of this episode is two-fold. First, the only way to write is to sit down and write. Homer’s team did just that. Yes, they were purely motivated by profit. Yes, their story was basically a by-the-numbers supernatural mystery. But they did the work. They created their characters, put together a plot, and then sat down and wrote.

Second, we need support, especially if we’re writing on our own. Homer’s team did have it a little easier, and not just because Neil Gaiman brought them food. They worked as a group, and were able to keep each other focused and on track. I do wonder whether Lisa would have written her story if she’d had just one sympathetic person to support her.

You might write on your own but you’re not alone. Turn to someone if you need help or a sympathetic ear. You can even write to me if you want. I’ll help if I can and be honest if I can’t. And remember that if there’s one constant in this world, it’s that there will always be distractions. They’re not going anywhere. If you ignore them and write, you’re a success, whether you make money or not.


This week’s prompts

Use the following prompts to start a new piece, continue an existing one, or to just have fun with words:

1. A wooden stake…
2. “What’s that on your head?” said…
3. The staircase spiralled…
4. Colourful cushions galore!
5. The pond wasn’t filled with water but…

Questions? Suggestions? Feel free to drop me a line at You can also follow or contact me via Facebook, Linked In, YouTube or Tumblr.

Writing Lessons from ‘The Simpsons’ (I)

I’ve found DVD commentaries to be an excellent source of reassurance and comfort. Every time the writers talk about their process, I’m reminded that I really don’t have to worry so much. Whether you like The Simpsons or not, the insight and advice offered by the people who create the show is of immense value to anyone who writes.

Writing Lessons from The Simpsons

If you’ve ever watched The Simpsons, you’ll know the show contains a large number background jokes. Each episode, particularly the earlier ones, contains funny signs, clever book and movie titles, and bizarre product names. In addition to being humorous, they often contain a sly and accurate observation on the subject they are parodying.

I used to envy the writers so much for their talent and insight. There was no way I could be as clever and witty. I told myself they must be extra smart or have special comedy training to do what they do, and that I would never measure up. When DVD’s became widely available and I was able to listen to the commentaries, I found out that I was wrong.

During the commentary for the season one episode ‘There’s No Disgrace Like Home’, one of the writers, Mike Reiss, said this:

“The funny signs you see in the background on The Simpsons are come up with by the writers and again, often an hour or two is spent to come up with a two-second sign joke.”

It took a while for the importance of this line to sink in. Once it did, it changed my thinking completely. The deciding factor wasn’t talent or training. It was time. It took an hour or two for an entire team of writers – not just one person, but a team – to create those background jokes I loved so much. This is a sentiment that is repeated throughout the commentaries from seasons one to ten (which is as far as I’ve got).

It’s true that many of the writers do have formal training or many years of experience in their field, or both. That doesn’t negate the reality that what they do takes time. That was the secret of their success. Instead of worrying so much about how I wasn’t as good as other people, I needed to spend more time revising my work.

This is not to say that funny or clever lines can’t come to you quite quickly, because they can and do. For the times they don’t, though, remember to be patient with yourself. If it takes a team of writers an hour or two to perfect a two-second sign joke, then it’s logical that it’ll take you just as long to craft something special. And that’s okay.


This week’s prompts

Use the following prompts to start a new piece, continue an existing one, or to just have fun with words.

1. The fish broke through the surface…
2. The heavily-laden branch…
3. Hasty scribbles on the…
4. Bricks flew in every direction…
5. “I always add glitter to my magic spells,” said…

Questions? Suggestions? Feel free to drop me a line any time at You can also follow or contact me via Facebook, Linked In, YouTube or Tumblr.


My apologies for the delay in posting. I’ve been working on creating audio versions of each newsletter. It took a little while to figure out the software, but the first two videos are finally complete and will be posted shortly. In the meantime, please enjoy this week’s newsletter.


 My intuitive painting instructor once gave an interview to a regional newspaper. This is what she had to say about her classes:

“Intuitive painting is painting what spontaneously comes up from within you. The classes are not very popular because many people are frightened of intuitive painting. You get to know yourself quite well through this form of art.”¹

My first reaction was surprise. I assumed she’d talk up her business and try to get more students, but my teacher told the truth for two reasons. First, she’s a truthful person. Second, she wants students who are willing to take the unpopular path. Some people will show up for one lesson and never return. Others will try, but they focus on making their painting attractive (whatever that means to them) rather than daring to paint what they truly want to paint. They become frustrated with the class and quit.

I understand their fear very well. Creative endeavours can be scary. They require a lot of courage, and it can take several attempts before someone makes their breakthrough. So many people give up because they don’t want to get to know themselves. No one wants to admit that they’re frightened. No one wants to admit that they’re embarrassed by their work, or that they’re worried about what other people will think of them.  Feeling that way means you’re shallow and vain, right? It’s much easier to not even try in the first place.

I know this feeling because I’ve been there. You don’t have to stay there, though. Not if you take the unpopular path. I have seen the results with my own eyes. I saw the work of the women who came to class every week. I saw them bloom and grow, moving from being embarrassed to being excited to share their work with the class. We’ve all created intricate, vivid pieces, filled with emotion that leapt off the page. We went from being anxious to a willingness to challenge ourselves, and be honest about our feelings and experiences. Our paintings aren’t always pretty. A few of mine freaked everyone out. But our work is always honest. It has depth and it resonates. It is truthful. When our paintings are both pretty and truthful, they take everyone’s breath away.

The popular option is to give up. But it’s the unpopular path that yields results. Take a step on that path today.


  1. NoordHollands Dagblad, 20 April, 2012; Halte Ijmond.



This week’s prompts

Use the following prompts to start a new piece, continue an existing one, or to just have fun with words.

1. Snapping back with resilience…

2. Red, plastic and tough…

3. Loofah birthday surprise!

4. “Guess what I bought today,” said…

5. The silver tin gleamed…

Questions? Suggestions? Feel free to drop me a line at You can also follow or contact me via Facebook, Linked In, YouTube or Tumblr.

Pick Two

The audio version of this newsletter can be found here.

Pick Two

All of us, no matter who we are, want our products and services to be three things: good, fast, and cheap. It’s not possible. So we pick two.

This applies to writing as well. We all want to produce high quality texts in a short amount of time and while expending the least amount of energy. It’s not going to happen. Thankfully, the solution is easy: pick two.

Fast and cheap: This is a good option for first drafts, when you’re overthinking the writing process, or when you’re procrastinating. Choosing ‘fast and cheap’ means you are going to sit down and write without worrying about quality. In this way, you can complete a piece relatively quickly and without expending too much energy. Once you’ve got that first draft, then you can revise it so it meets your standards.  At this moment, though, your focus is on getting results.

Fast and good: This option is for the writer’s equivalent of the final sprint towards the finish line. Your piece (or a section of your piece) is nearing completion and you want to get it done as soon as possible. So you set aside a block of time for revising and editing, during which you will do nothing but focus on quality. It can be a very intense experience and it requires a fair amount of energy, which is why it won’t be cheap. But it will be worth it.

Cheap and good: Slow and steady wins the race. This is the option most suited to medium- or long-term projects. Time isn’t of the essence, but consistency is. You achieve results by doing a small amount every day. Writing this way will require patience and dedication, but it’s an inexpensive way of producing a text. That small amount you do every day will add up to so much more. Since you have the time to craft the piece, you can relax and focus on getting the words right, instead of getting them done right now.


Whenever you’re feeling frustrated with your writing because you want it all this instant, just remember that the solution is easy. Pick two. Then get to work.


This week’s prompts

Use the following prompts to start a new piece, continue an existing one, or to just have fun with words.

1. Oh no you did just not
2. “This will require the removal of my earrings,” said…
3. The purple blanket covered…
4. The system stalled…
5. Time flew by and…

Questions? Suggestions? Feel free to drop me a line any time at You can also follow or contact me via Facebook, Linked In, YouTube or Tumblr.

Conspiracy Theory

Happy New Year to everyone following the Gregorian calendar! I’ve started a fortnightly newsletter for anyone who, like me, enjoys writing and needs a little boost now and again. Each newsletter is short, so as to encourage writing and not spending too much time on the internet. There are also a few prompts at the end to get you started. Enjoy!


The audio version of this newsletter can be found here.

Conspiracy Theory

When I first saw the word ‘pronoia’, I thought it was a typo. It turns out that it means the opposite of paranoia: it’s the belief that the world is conspiring to work in your favour.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around living this way. But I do believe that we can write this way, because the truth is that the world is most definitely conspiring to help us write.

First, we’ve been given the gift of written language. How incredible is it that we can use more than one alphabet to communicate with each other? If we have trouble finding the right word in one tongue, we’re sure to find it in another.

Look at all the implements that exist just to help us write. We’ve got pens, pencils, paper, markers, whiteboards and computers. Whatever our preferred method of writing, there’s something out there to accommodate us. An additional bonus of living in this day and age is that computers make revising and editing easier than ever. Imagine having to do all of that with a quill and parchment. No, thank you. (Unless a magic wand and trip to Hogwarts are included, then yes please.)

This is just the beginning, though. Feel you lack knowledge in a certain area? That’s life conspiring to get you to broaden your horizons and expand your mind, all so that you can then write about what you learned.

Is there a story in your head that just won’t go away? There’s a reason for that. And it won’t leave until you get it down on the page. So start writing.

Lucky enough to have internet access? Oh boy, is pronoia ever working on your behalf. You can do research, find an audience and connect with other writers, all from the comfort of your own home.

Then there’s the issue of subject matter. If you ever needed definitive proof that the world is conspiring to help us write, this is it. There is a never-ending wealth of topics out there, and we are only limited by our imagination.

You can write about your life – the high points, the low points, your frustrations, triumphs and dreams. You can write about other people’s lives. You can write fiction. You can write non-fiction. You can write poems, songs and essays. You can write about what you see around you: people, places, animals and things. You can write from the perspective of inanimate objects, animals and plants. Why not? These things have been given to us by life to exercise and stretch our imagination. Human beings aren’t the only ones with stories to tell.

And this list isn’t even scratching the surface of what we can write about.

The conspiracy is real. Just because you’re not cultivating pronoia doesn’t mean the world isn’t out to help you. Everywhere you look, life is conspiring to help you write: by providing inspiration, instruction, implements, topics and assistance. All you have to do is get the words down on the page.


This week’s prompts

Use the following prompts to start a new piece, continue an existing one, or to just have fun with words.

1. There was a face in the tree trunk…
2. The coffee machine exploded and the next thing I knew…
3. The nicest thing a family member/friend ever did for me was…
4. “Oh great, it’s you again,” he said…
5. The tiny seed rolled…

Questions? Suggestions? Feel free to drop me a line any time at You can also follow or contact me via Facebook, Linked In, YouTube or Tumblr.