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Writing a Multiple Character Driven Novel, with Emily Benet

I was lucky enough to meet Emily a couple of years ago now, as part of the Finchley Literary Festival, and she’s doing amazing things with her books.

I caught up with her to hear more about her new novel, The Hen Party:

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I’m a huge fan of the book Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. It’s sharp, clever, funny and fast-paced. I’ve read it about five times. I’ve dissected it with coloured pencils, trying to understand how she so successfully knits together those three main characters and all those other entertaining voices captured purely in dialogue.
I love books written from the perspective of more than one character. Deborah Moggach does it really well too and my copy of Heartbreak Hotel is full of underlining and scribbles in the margin. After writing three books, Shop Girl Diaries, The Temp and #PleaseRetweet in the first person, I was determined to write a novel told from the point of view of more than one character.
I wanted the book to begin with a mystery and for each character to know a different part of the story. I also wanted a story set in Mallorca, because I had just moved there and I was besotted. Multiple characters in a popular holiday destination… aha, I thought, what about a hen party?
Then…

What about a hen party reality show?

…which goes missing!

The Hen Party starts with a director who has lost all the hens and goes back and forward in time revealing what happened. It was a challenge to write and I started it three times. I was determined for it not to be too soppy or cliché. I really wanted the story to be intriguing. Once I had the plot sorted, I ended up rewriting the characters to make them stronger, so they would stand out from each other.
The novel follows five hens and a director, so it’s important they all have different personalities and agendas. I used a colour-coded spreadsheet to help me coordinate the chapters. I used to stick strips of paper on a wall, but now I find spreadsheets more reliable.
Although I have finished The Hen Party I definitely haven’t finished with the multi-character driven novel. For my next book I’m already exploring an idea which focuses on a number of characters, all neighbours, responding to a crisis in their different ways. It’s going to be a challenge but that’s fine by me if it means I get better at my craft.
The Hen Party is a little different from my other books but my stamp is still clearly on it. It has moments of comedy and romance and hopefully enough drama to keep you turning those pages!
Book Blurb
Film Director, Kate Miller, is in serious trouble.  The entire cast and crew of the reality TV show The Hen Party has gone missing while filming in Mallorca.

To make matters worse, the network boss is flying in to check up on her production.

Kate thinks it’s all her fault. She hasn’t exactly been following the guidelines.

But if she is to blame, why were the hens arguing between themselves? And why is the groom-to-be calling her up in tears?

Kate doesn’t know the half of it. The hens have their own secrets and it’s only matter of time before they all come tumbling out.

A party of eight arrive on the island, but not everyone’s going home.

 

Biography

The Hen Party is Emily Benet’s 4th book. Her debut book, Shop Girl Diaries, began as a blog. Her second, Spray Painted Bananas, racked up a million hits on the online platform Wattpad and led to a 2 book deal with Harper Collins. They published her Wattpad book under the new title The Temp as well as her comedy about social media addiction, #PleaseRetweet. She lives in Mallorca with her husband and writes for abcMallorca magazine.

Universal book link for The Hen Party https://books2read.com/u/b5Oyq7
Website http://www.emilybenet.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/EmilyBenetAuthor
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/@EmilyBenet

business

Dealing with the ‘Business’ Side of Being an Author: tips and tricks.

I know. We’re artists. Creatives. Imagineers in a world of drudgery and darkness.

But we still have to do our tax returns.

Being an author is a fine balance between the art-driven self, and the money-driven self. If you want to write for free, and just want to have a couple of people read your book, of course that’s fine. It doesn’t make you any less of an author. If, however, you’re one of what I assume is tens of thousands of us who would like to be able to write full time eventually, then it’s time to start thinking about the business side.

I’ve spent a few months doing research on this, as though I did an MA in Creative Entrepreneurship, which made me thinking about funding streams, deal-making, self promotion and branding, it didn’t tell me much about the specifics of being a writer, and what that means. Sadly, neither did my writing degree. We focus on the art, but the business side needs a space.

So, here’s some points I found useful if you want to work your way towards making more money, writing full time or just feeling like you’re achieving more:

 

  • Register with the HMRC – if you’re making money from your books, however little, it’s worth registering straight away. After all, even if you’re just making pennies now, this time next year, you’ll be a millionaire (Rodney), won’t you? Keep any receipts for relevant writing-related spends, including things like printer ink, tech, books, promo costs, and any training/travel to training, and any journals or memberships. It’s costly being a writer. Think of all the pens.
  • Sign up for PLRif you have a book that’s currently out in the world, ebook or print, it might be in a library. Signing up for PLR means you get a little back whenever someone borrows your book. Now again, might be pennies to start with, but we’re setting up for long term success, aren’t we?
  • Join Amazon AssociatesA similar thing – when you share a link of your book on Amazon through your website or social media pages, you get a little back for recommending people come to Amazon, even if they don’t end up  buying your book, but buy something else. This also isn’t just for authors, so anyone can do it.
  • Get your branding house in order – Don’t like social media? Tough luck I’m afraid. If you’re an author hoping to sell some books, research has shown Facebook ads are the way to go. Make sure you have everything you need for people to know who you are, and find your books easily – a website/blog, a Facebook author page, a Twitter handle, and anything else you want. Research is still being done as to whether making boards on Pinterest, sharing images on Instagram, sharing videos on Youtube or making book playlists on Spotify will help sell books, but it will help give your readers a sense of who you are and what you do. Find the things you enjoy, and make them a way of selling who you are. It also helps with the next point…
  • Find your tribe– your fans are out there. So find them. Call out for them! Offer prizes and goodies, ask what they’d like to see in your next book, ask how they want to be advertised to, or how they choose which books to read. Your existing fans are your greatest insight to what you’re doing well, and what you’re not. Author and marketing specialist Mark Dawson has offered some great advice about how he gets his books out there, sending non-finalised copies to an Advance Reader Team of fans, who will come back to him with criticism. When he felt unsure about an ending, it was his readers who agreed with him, and encouraged him to rewrite a more satisfying ending. The result? 200 people who felt valued as readers and fans, and who immediately gave a good review on publication day. You can hear more about this on the podcast Self Publishing Formula and on Joanna Penn’s interview with Mark on The Creative Penn podcast. (Both of these are invaluable resources, even if you’re traditionally published).

What does success look like to you_

The most important factor that I keep coming back to, and was the same thing I learnt doing my creative business degree is – define what success means to you.

My idea of success has changed over the years. At first it was ‘write a book’, then it was ‘get a book published’, then it was ‘get some reviews.’ Whilst I did manage to survive as a full time writer for a couple of years, supplementing my income with workshops, classes and tutoring, I am aiming for a life where I don’t have to do that. Now, that might not be achievable until I’m a few years off retirement, but luckily, writing is something you can do for the rest of your life, if you enjoy it.

Success for me looks like over a hundred reviews on this new book, a lot of promo, noise and visibility on this new series, getting an agent, and in the next two years, being able to go down to four days a week at work. This job is a long term goal. You build a backlist, you build fans, a readership, a writing community. These do not come the minute your book goes live, or is placed on shop shelves. And my biggest mistake has been in not collecting that data, recording my fans, getting a subscription newsletter up and running, or a street team. I’m working on those things now (if you’d like to subscribe to the newsletter, please do) as well as experimenting with different types of social media, exploring promotional tools I’d never thought of.

So, what does success look like to you, and which tools would you recommend for the ‘business’ side of being a writer?

 

 

therapeutic writing, writing tips

Larmertree Festival 2016 – a recap

So, I make no apologies for my obsession with Larmertree festival – it was the first festival I ever went to, it’s small and family friendly and chilled as hell. Bigger festivals make me anxious with their vastness and the huge amount of people. At Larmertree, if you feel a bit overwhelmed, you can go sit in a tree or lay in the Social on some pillows, or hang out in the Lostwoods and look at the lights. Quite frankly, I love it.

I also love that I get to run workshops, and explore all the different things I’m excited by about writing. Over the years I’ve run kids writing workshops, writing and craft, writing for wellbeing, fiction writing, and this year, I was exciting to offer three new ones: Writing and Nature, Writing and the Body, and Writing for Publication.

It was really great to be able to offer some activities based on my MSc research into writing and body, and I think everyone found it to be something a little different, and connected differently with it. For some, it was about writing an apology to their body, another was to ask why the hell it was slowing down on them in later life, and others just made a promise to stop feeding them rubbish and move them a little more.

It was such a beautiful, calm environment, and it’s renewed my desire to run writing for wellbeing retreats, something I’m going to start looking into as soon as my degree is over. There’s something so magical about being in nature, writing for fun, looking inwards and sharing with a bunch of people who really ‘get’ what writing can be.

I’ll share a few tips from my Writing for Publication talk next week, and hopefully Sara from Huhbub, who gave a talk on Publishing as an introduction for writers who aren’t sure where to go next, can share some more of the wisdom that she offered in the Larmertree Gardens. I’ve been working with publishers for years, but it’s amazing to hear about how it all works from the other side!

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Hope you guys are having a good week! Keep writing!

 

 

writing tips

Is there a new style book launch in town?

The idea of a book launch has always been very straightforward.

1- You find your favourite book shop.

2 – You ply people with cheap wine in the hopes that they’ll buy your books.

3 – You sign books and feel like a superstar.

4 – You read from your book and feel like you wanna vomit.

5 – You console yourself that you sold books and people love you, even though you have a sneaking suspicion a lot of them were there for the free wine.

Traditional book launches have the advantage of being very simple to organise, lots of fun, and they make the author feel important and supported. It’s almost a rite of passage as an author. That is what a launch looks like to most people.

But I wonder how many books get sold at these events, really? I know when I’ve had to stand in front of people I love and people I don’t know, reading from my novel and trying to convince them that I deserve to have such a fuss made, I don’t feel like I’m doing my work justice. Also, did I mention about the wanting to vomit?

So the answer? A modern twist on the book launch. After all, many of us are ebook authors, what is achieved by sitting in a bookshop when there aren’t physical copies? A lot of authors run online launches, which can be fun and I’ve seen them done really well, with prizes and giveaways, and they certainly make you pay attention. But getting twenty notifications every hour from other people who have ‘popped by’ the launch can be a bit frustrating, and  might drive away your readership.

Enter Sara Veal, from Huhbub Ltd, a creative company that believe books can be ‘the jumping off point’ for creative campaigns that promote your book, but also benefit the community.

Thing is, I love an event, and I was excited to see what Sara could do with my book, Goodbye Ruby Tuesday, a novel focused around the healing power of arts, noughties era nostalgia and some girl power. I wanted an event that placed my story in the centre, without making me the centre of attention: And that was exactly what I got.

Ruby image

In the basement of one of my favourite spots in London, Drink Shop Do (a place actually used as a setting in one of my other novels!) Huhbub managed to create a night of comedy, music and burlesque, with cocktails, nostalgic noughties music and the chance to raise money for Core Arts, a charity that focuses on using creativity for mental health.

An event that does good for the community, promotes my story, allows me to have fun without having to talk about my work, and gets people talking about the themes in the novel.

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In my opinion, getting called out by a fabulous drag queen MC, dancing to Craig David and drinking sparkly Ruby-themed cocktails whilst people look at the postcards featuring a free copy of my book beats the tepid wine of yesteryear any day.

Ebook authors need to find a new way to celebrate and promote their new releases, a modern way to engage with readers and writers without making it about ego or the money. Here is your answer: build a huhbub around your book.

I think it was a roaring success and if I could do it for every book I write, I would!

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Big thanks to Sara at Huhbub for such a wonderful event, and thanks to all those who came on the night! Share your photos and favourite moments!

 

 

writing tips

Balance and Control in Publication

It’s the first thing anyone an author will say when you ask why they’re self publishing:

I’m in control of my book, every element of it.

Now, that can sound controlling, paranoid or just like a hell of a lot of work. When you think about the things outside of writing a book, that are just as important, like the editing, the promotion, the cover, the blurb, the reviews, the pricing and the long term plan for a book, it can seem daunting.

I’ve never thought I’d be able to do my books justice. I struggle as it is to write and work and study.

But there is something terrifying about leaving your book at the mercy of others, letting the cover, the angle, the promotion and the pricing be decided by someone else, whether they’re a specialist or it’s the market that determines how it’s seen.

The truth is, your book is never going to be more important to anyone than you. For you, it’s a piece of yourself, a piece of your truth, whether it’s a silly story or a saga you spent years perfecting – it’s yours. And the idea that it might been seen in a way you don’t want it to be, can be painful.

However, at some point, you have to give up the control any way. The minute those words are released into the world, the minute someone picks it up and starts the first sentence, you have no control. The control you had as a writer is done the minute the final draft is finished. The control you have as a publicist is to ensure your book is defined correctly, that the cover isn’t misleading and that you keep the conversation going.

This summer, I’m running workshops at Larmertree Festival in Wiltshire. This will be my sixth year with them, and along with my writing for wellbeing, I’m going to be running a ‘Writing for Publication’ class. This will be focussing on defining your work, branding and owning that branding. Deciding who you’re writing for and what you want to say. But as a dear friend and excellent writer said recently, “I want to work with writers who love what they’re writing.” So publication can’t always be the main goal. It’s got to be a labour of love, to an extent.

That’s how I feel about my latest book, Goodbye Ruby Tuesday. It will be released on Friday, and then I’ll have to let it go, out into the ether to make its own destiny, create it’s own history. Perhaps, it will achieve greatness, or perhaps it will sink into the depths of thousands of other books being released this week, month or year – ignored and destined to sit sweetly on an Amazon page. And after it’s out there, all I can do is talk about it, tweet about it, and wish my baby well. There’s a grief and anxiety in that, like not fully preparing your child before they go off to uni.

But most of all, I’m excited to introduce you to Ruby. This is my favourite story, and I’m so glad I get to write two more books in the series, and hang around my fictional friends a while longer!

Keep an eye out on twitter over the next few weeks using the hashtags #goodbyerubytuesday and #houseoncamdensquare and stay tuned for news of a London launch next month!

And to all the writers out there: how much control do you want over your book?

 

Goodbye Ruby Tuesday

 

 

Fiction, therapeutic writing

Update: Books, Research and New Projects

Hello all,

It’s been a while since I blogged about any of my goings on – mainly as I’ve been desperately trying to finish a book. Thankfully, that happened!

I’m excited to announce that Goodbye Ruby Tuesday  will be released on the 28th April. You can pre-order it now. There will, as usual, be a blog tour, a (truly) fantastic give away and a really different and creative event to promote the book and raise money for a great cause! The excellent Sara from Huhbub will be arranging all of this for me, so if you are a lovely blogger interested in the blog tour, leave a comment or send me a twitter message (@almichael_).

Goodbye Ruby Tuesday

It’s a book about three childhood friends who are brought together by the death of a rockstar they used to know, and start up an arts centre. It’s a noughties nostalgia-filled jaunt through the creative goings on in north London, with three friends fighting to create something special in memory of their friend.

Research:

My research into the application of creative therapeutic writing in eating disorder recovery starts next week. I’ll be running workshops in London, working with some lovely people in order to research how useful creative writing can be. I really do believe in the power of writing to heal and help arrange thoughts. I’m excited to see what this research discovers.

Future Writing:

Goodbye Ruby Tuesday is the first in a series of three books coming out this year. Each main character gets a book, so I hope you love the girls as much as I do, because there’s a lot more coming from them this year. The second book, Nice Day for a White Wedding will be our over the summer. The third, you’ll have to wait and see, but as I’m sure it’s clear, I’m picking some of my favourite songs as titles this time!

Other:

I’m excited to say I’ll be back at the wonderful Larmertree Festival this year, providing some creative writing for wellness workshops. They’ll be focused on nature and the body, really working to be inspired by the natural environment of the festival. If you’re there this year, stop by and try it out!

 

 

 

 

writing tips

My Top Five Places to Write

I recently had a negative review on Amazon, where the reader criticised the fact that my self-employed character, Tig, wasn’t just a coffee shop customer, she was a well known regular, who’d made friends with the staff. The reviewer seemed to find this irritating, but when you’re self employed, you do find yourself frequenting the same places, and getting to know people. Similarly, as I share my barista experience in ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’, I often remembered the customers, because they were in so frequently, and shared their stories.

I can’t always work at home. I get distracted by the washing that needs to be done, or it’s too cold, too hot, too dark. I put the TV on in the background (but then get distracted). So I turn the TV off, and it’s too quiet. The only time I work at home is in the evening, because I like there to be someone else in, to have background noise and to not feel so alone.

So I thought I’d make a list of my Top Five Favourite Places to Write:

Cinnamon Square, Rickmansworth

A gorgeous bakery/cafe with a tudor style building, higgledy piggledy walls, and magic happening in the bakery at the back. Often the gentle twang of Chuck Berry or Buddy Holly provides my background music, and I like alternating between writing and thinking about what cake I want. The coffee isn’t too strong, which means I can keep up the steady stream of Americanos throughout the day. Plus, if it isn’t busy, they let me sit at the huge bench in the snug, which is both great for writing and people watching. And the food is delicious , and they don’t get annoyed at me for sitting there for hours. Have currently written about a third of my WIP in here. If you’re in Hertfordshire, don’t miss out.

Drink Shop Do, Caledonian Road (London)

I actually set ‘My So-Called (Love) Life’ in this cafe/restaurant/home of awesomeness. It’s where I started the novel, where I’ve sat writing quite a few times, and where I meet writing clients, authors and friends. The cake is awesome, and I massively enjoy the array of events and art here. The tea comes in mismatched pots and cups/saucers, and the food is lovely. You pay London prices, and occasionally there can be an air in the evenings that you’re not really cool enough to be there, but that’s the price you pay for being a messy writer girl.

My Mum’s Dining Table

Sadly, this one isn’t open to the public, but there’s something about the height of the table, the sunshine through the windows, the puppy sitting at my feet and the frequent offers of tea that really works! Although when it’s winter and cold, it becomes dangerously possibly to curl up on the sofa with too many episodes of ‘Say Yes to the Dress’.

The Workshop, Norwich

I used to live down the road from this cafe when I was a student. Somewhere that did beer, art, free wifi and made fish finger sandwiches? They have a ‘study space’ in the basement that’s got comfy seating, and really strange pictures that seem to be the equivalent of Victorian porn. Well, it’s inspiration, right?

Cafe International, Haight Street

A great coffee shop in San Francisco. Reasonably priced, ridiculously delicious bagels, and most importantly they put frozen coffee ice cubes in their iced coffee so it doesn’t dilute! Genius.

writing tips

Writer’s Tips for Getting through The Slump

Two days ago I freaked out. I have an 80000 word book due at the end of September, and as of last night I’ve done 16000 words. I have an essay due. I have some editing. I have a lot of crap to write, and all I could do was clean my house and sit blankly in front of my laptop having an anxiety attack. So then I’d go for a run, or go to the gym. Or clean some more. And then panic some more. Then I’d send a freaked out email to my editor telling her how panicked I was. Then I’d moan at my writer friends.

Did any of this help me write the book? No. (Although both my editor and writer friends made me feel better!)

Deny the slump

So here’s some things I did to deal with The Dreaded Slump:

  • Change your environment! (I went to sit and work in Cinnamon Square, which is one of my favourite places to write)
  • Treat yourself to something delicious (Somehow, cake makes writing easier. I swear it’s scientific)
  • Write for fun- do some random writing tasks, some freewriting, or write from a different character’s perspective for a bit
  • Know that you’ve got through this before, and it always feels like shit sometimes.
  • Know that you are incapable of judging your own work at times like this.
  • DO NOT EDIT. Rush on through like a train- no stopping at pointless stations!
  • Remember you used to do this because you LIKE writing, you like the story you’ve got!
  • Deadlines can be changed, just don’t leave it- make sure you’re still writing.
  • Read something you love, and remind yourself that stories are great!

I’m back on track with the writing now. Am I still panicked about the deadline? About the word count? About not having enough hours in the day? Yes, of course. But I’m enjoying writing again. And I have cake.

• TROPICAL •• TASTE •

therapeutic writing

Is All Writing Therapeutic Writing?

Is all writing therapeutic? I’m pretty sure it isn’t. When talking to writer friends hacking away at their novel, or stressing over edits, or rewriting that same conversation four times because it just doesn’t flow correctly…well, no, that doesn’t sound therapeutic.

But maybe it is.

These last few days I worked at Larmertree Festival in Wiltshire, running creative writing workshops. This is something I have been lucky enough to do for the last five years now, and I love it. Last year, I introduced ‘Writing for Wellbeing’ workshops for the first time, and this year I ran two, which were quite popular. I also ran a few standard ‘Creative Writing Workshops’ and a Kid’s workshop. And what did I realise? All of them, in a way, are focused on wellbeing. They all include the principles of a Writing for Wellbeing workshop.

These included, group dynamics, feeling safe enough to share or not, using our own history and stories as ideas, being supportive of the other group members, being playful with your writing.

What else did I learn? Any prompt can be a trigger. You don’t know what people are going through. As I’ve been running wellbeing groups, I’ve been very careful to be a facilitator- I’m in the ‘therapeutic’ state of mind. But standard creative writing groups don’t deserve anything else- their prompts can also hurt or upset people. Just because we have made the distinction in our mind doesn’t mean that the effects aren’t the same. I chose an incorrect prompt, simply because I thought ‘standard creative writing’ workshops weren’t capable of the same power as wellbeing ones. And that’s not true.

There is something about responding in words that makes us feel certain things- lists make us feel certain, or determined, or sometimes more confused. Recipes make us feel guided, or perhaps a little rebellious, eager to make them our own. Reviews, rants, letters, complaining emails, twitter posts…all these little ways of expressing ourselves in words have an emotional reaction. If they didn’t, why would we do them?

So as a facilitator, my lesson here was to pick things that can be engaging without overwhelming- my context is not everyone else’s. Think carefully about what you bring into the room. But also, even when I’m slogging through writing a bit of a novel that seems rubbish, or writing a rambling blog post…I feel better. I feel expressed. And maybe that’s the point. Any writing can be powerful, as long as we let ourselves connect.

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business

Aligning Planets, Aligning Dreams: How to be an efficient creative being.

I didn’t see the eclipse this morning. I was lying in what felt like the world’s most comfortable bed, in the most gorgeous hotel, having drunk a leetle too much champagne the night before and simply breathing. I lay there in this comfortable bed and thought ‘Ah, I remember this. This is what it feels like not to worry.’

I am a worried. I am also a planner, a schemer, a long-term investor, a busy body and someone who gets rundown easily. I am possibly the worst person to be self-employed. I do maths, I make charts- ‘How can I increase my efficiency?’ ‘Can I squeeze in any more hours this week?’ ‘How much more can I get done if I learn to be happy with six hours sleep a night?’

This is not the right way to be efficient. Or creative. Or a human being that other human beings want to be around.

This is the way to a nervous breakdown and a heartattack before I’m thirty.

So as I lay there in this very comfortable bed, doing nothing but ruminating and breathing, I thought to myself ‘Why am I panicking when everything seems to be going right?’

I wonder if you ever have this sensation too? That you are so full of dreams and hopes and plans that they never feel like they’ll get there soon enough. And by the time they arrive, you are too busy worrying about the next plans to fully enjoy them.

This, I believe, is about alignment. On my MA in Creative Entrepreneurship, I was required to write a five year arts and business plan. This was meant as a tool to equip me on my writing career. It had contacts, it had aims and goals and ways of achieving them. But nowhere in that plan did I factor in the astonishing realisation that whilst you’re working towards these goals, life is still happening. Life doesn’t stop to let you catch up, or get ahead. I could sit here and work out that x+y = 13 books a year, and how much a % commission is and what likelihood it is that I could write full time…but you know how my time would be better spent? Writing book 5. And letting book 13 work itself out when I get there.

I spend a lot of time tutoring kids in analysing Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck. It’s a brilliant book, and often the essay question the kids get is: ‘Explore the importance of dreams in the novel.’ It throws them, because they can’t see any dreams in the novel, no-one’s asleep and imagining crazy things, no-one’s looking up at the Hollywood sign and saying ‘I’m gonna be a star’ (although one character thought that, once). It’s a landscape of failed dreams and unachievable goals. But here’s the catch, the important thing was to have a dream. To let it nourish you, to give you strength to get through another crappy day where nothing seemed to change. To let it be your lullaby when your weary head hit the pillow.

My lesson here, dear readers? Dreams should be invigorating, they should give you purpose and movement and strength. But they are no substitute for real life. Let your dreams inspire your life, but let your life be more important than your dreams. Work hard, play hard and BE PRESENT. Only then, can your creativity align with your passion. I’d also recommend mindfulness, and I’ll be posting some mindfulness writing tasks next week for those of you who want to be more present in your present!