Archive for category Lifestyle
I recently walked the West Highland Way. This is a 96 mile path from Milngavie (a suburb of Glasgow) to Fort William, at the foot of Ben Nevis. The walk took seven days and on the eighth day we climbed Ben Nevis and walked in snow on a blazing hot day. All along the route the scenery was terrific: mountains, hills and lochs. We heard cuckoos and saw feral goats.
We chose to go in the middle of May, which is supposed to be the best time for both weather and minimum midges. We had sunshine and few insect bites but there was a lot of people. On the more open stretches of path they could be seen snaking in front of and behind us like a colourful bendy reptile. When the path was narrow and terrain difficult, there was a constant tapping of walking poles and a search for passing places to let those walking faster than us overtake. At first this unnerved me; I felt as though I was in a race and being overtaken by everyone else. I worried we were going to be last to finish the day’s walk and my competitive spirit kept trying to kick in and make us go faster. Eventually I relaxed and realised everyone has their own pace and there are merits to going slower and enjoying the views.
What has this got to do with writing?
Social media makes us all very aware of what other writers are doing. We know when they get an agent, when they sign the publishing deal and when the book hits the shelves. Or we know who’s on a winning streak in the womag short story world. Or competition winners are shouted from the roof tops. Celebration is good and, after the toil of writing, well deserved. But as a result we are constantly measuring ourselves against the success of others, just as I was measuring my walking speed and ability against the other boot clad walkers on the West Highland Way. This is not a good thing. Everyone’s path to success is different. We have different talents, different starting points and face different obstacles along the way.
Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on your own route to your goal. You may find it beneficial to take a detour into article writing or to pause and clear your mind. Domestic issues might slow you down or a surge of ideas might push you forward. Take the journey at your own pace without comparing it to others (but do give them a little cheer when they succeed!) and you’ll enjoy it all the more.
And when you stand on that mountain top we’ll all be cheering you and your achievement – however long it might have taken to get there.
At the end of April I was in York for the ASC’s 2018 Conference and National Competition Finals.
I’ve never attended before and was only there this year because, to my surprise and shock, I won my way through the Club, Area and District rounds of the speech competition. When I entered the Club competition last November, I didn’t anticipate that five months later I’d be representing the Midlands in competition against seven other contestants from all parts of the UK. My anxiety levels were sky high and further increased by having to use a clip-on microphone for the first time and face my biggest ever audience.
But what has this got to do with writing?
I needed a subject for my speech. It had to be something I could talk about enthusiastically, something most people would have an interest in and something I could structure logically into a speech.
So I ‘taught’ the audience how to write a romantic novel (how many people have you heard say – ‘I could/would like to write a novel?’).
I only had eight minutes to speak so it was a quick and dirty ‘lesson’ based on the following points:
- Choosing a genre
- Choosing a setting
- Naming characters
- Obstacle to the love affair
- Event that brings the couple back together
To drive each point home I concocted a romantic ‘novel’ about Tony and Janet falling in love and having a date at the hotel where the conference was being held. I concluded by revealing the absolute peanuts that most authors get as financial reward and asked the audience the question, ‘Is it worth it?’
I didn’t win and wasn’t placed in the top three. I was up against some fantastic speakers. The winner was a sixteen-year-old girl who was extremely confident and gave an excellent performance, talking about the scourge of selfie-taking complete with props of a mobile phone and selfie stick. However, we all received a lovely paperweight as a souvenir of the occasion.
Later at the event, I was talking to a lady and she told me how members of her party had been having fun in the bar dreaming up their own spoof romance based on my speech. I was delighted to hear this – it meant people had listened to me and had absorbed and remembered what I’d said. And isn’t that what public speaking is all about?
When I was offered an ARC of Everybody Works in Sales by Niraj Kapur I immediately said, “Yes, please!”
The reason? As writers, I feel we are each increasingly having to be our own salesman. We might be marketing our self-published books, pitching an article to an editor, writing an agent covering letter or polishing up our website. So, I hoped Everybody Works in Sales might reveal to me the secret formula of selling books, short stories and articles.
Of course it didn’t because deep down we all know there is no secret formula to sales. But the book did teach me what the mindset of a salesman should be – and it isn’t SELL! SELL! SELL!
The three main points I took away from Everybody Works in Sales were:
- Don’t try to constantly sell ‘at’ people willy-nilly (e.g. frequent ‘buy my books’ tweeting). Instead take the time to build relationships – with magazine editors, book shops, social media followers etc.
- Nothing succeeds like hard work.
- Treat your customers/readers/editors/followers as you would like to be treated.
Two quotations from the book which are worth pondering:
- Care for people and ask for nothing immediately in return.
- You can always go further in a group than by yourself – maybe that’s why we writers like to collect together and share experiences?
But this book has more to offer than these simple lessons. There are many inspirational quotations and advice on making progress in a corporate career. The book follows the career of its author, Niraj Kapur, the bad bits as well as the good bits. He’s had some tough times in his working life and his experiences might help you if you’re trying to climb the greasy pole in sales or management.
In places the book’s language is unpolished and reflects the way I imagine Niraj would speak. It is conversational rather than textbook and allows the author’s background and personality to come through. It’s as though Niraj is in the room with you.
Everybody Works in Sales is an easy read that shares inspirational thoughts for leading a better life in the workplace, building relationships with potential customers and networking.
About Everybody Works in Sales
We all work in sales. If you work for somebody, you earn a living by selling their product or service. If you are self-employed, you earn a living by selling your product or service.
When you buy from Amazon, they always recommended other products similar to the ones you are purchasing or have already purchased – that’s selling. When you download a song, movie or TV show from iTunes, they always recommend more similar products. That’s selling.
When you register for most websites, they sell their products or services to you through a regular email.
When you attend an exhibition at the NEC, London ExCel, Olympia, Manchester or even a local market, everyone is trying to sell you their product.
We all work in sales, yet few people know how to sell. Until now.
Containing 27 valuable lessons, plus 17 interviews with experts, Everybody Works in Sales combines unique storytelling and personal development to ensure you have the tools you need to do better in your career.
Available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.
About Niraj Kapur
Award-winning executive, Niraj Kapur, has worked in corporate London for 23 years. From small businesses to a national newspaper to FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 companies, he’s experienced it all and shares his insight, knowledge, big wins and horrible failures.
Niraj has also had several screenplays optioned, sitcoms commissioned, kids’ shows on Channel 5’s Milkshake and CBBC. His movie, Naachle London, was released in select cinemas across the UK.
He’s working on his next book while advising companies and coaching individuals on how to improve their sales.
Follow Niraj on Twitter: @Nirajwriter or find him on LinkedIn: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/nkapur.
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The concept of writers and other home-workers pulling out laptops and working in coffee shops is familiar. It lets us escape those same boring four walls of home and all the domestic distractions. And it makes us feel part of society, even if the only person we speak to is the barista.
UK Jelly takes this a step further. Their aim is to ‘to bring home workers, freelancers, small business owners and entrepreneurs together in a relaxed, informal, working environment to maximise creativity and minimise the isolation that being your own boss can bring.’ It is not networking to sell yourself or your business. It’s about having some company whilst you work and maybe exchanging help and advice. At Jelly events the venue, wi-fi and parking are free, the only charge is for refreshments.
I went along to my first Jelly event last week. There were only a few of us and we had introductions and a bit of a chat before getting our laptops out to work. I deliberately didn’t connect to the free wi-fi because I wanted to do some distraction free editing. By the end of the session I’d done two hours solid work and met some new people. It beat coffee shop working because I didn’t feel guilty about taking up space for a long time with only one drink and I liked that I was part of a group. My local Jelly only meets monthly but I’ll definitely be going back in February.
Why not find out if there’s a Jelly near you?
Three things prompted the writing of this post.
Firstly, I received a phone call from the Serious Fraud Office to tell me that my bank card had been used fraudulently. I’ve had cards misused in this way before but the informant has always been my bank or credit card company. So I queried why the Serious Fraud Office was involved.
“We have someone in custody with a cloned copy of your card.”
“Can you tell me which bank the card is for?” Like many people I have more than one payment card. Also, alarm bells were ringing – the Serious Fraud Office surely wouldn’t bother with my little bank card?
There was a long silence and then the SFO man named a bank. I don’t have an account there and so put the phone down. If he’d named my bank, I hope I would have had the sense to still put the phone down and then call the bank direct.
The second prompt came via an email from a follower of this blog. He told me how he’d been one click away from falling for a scam and transferring a large sum of money to an unknown bank account. Fred (not his real name) received a call from someone well-spoken, supposedly from his bank. This man was querying a large payment that had just been attempted via internet banking from Fred’s account. Fred said the payment was nothing to do with him. The well-spoken man said there had obviously been a security breach and that he would put Fred through to someone in the Security department who would sort things out. According to the security man this meant setting up a new account and transferring over the whole balance from old to new account. He gave Fred the ‘new’ sort code and account number and talked him through doing the internet transfer. Fred was just about to hit the ‘Confirm’ button when he began to feel suspicious, the ‘new’ sort code wasn’t like the ones usually used by his bank.
He didn’t press confirm and instead rang his bank direct. They confirmed it was a scam. Fred had been one click away from losing almost £2,000.
Finally, the company I work for is extremely hot on all security issues. It has a particular thing about phishing emails which, if a single employee clicks on a ‘bad’ link, can invite hackers into the whole of the company’s system. Last week we all got sent a warning about fake charity emails. Apparently charity scams are particularly prevalent in this season of goodwill. The email will appear to come from a well-known charity, it might even be one that you support. The email might ask you to click on a link to check the record of donations you’ve already made or it may be inviting you to make a donation. Don’t click on any links you are not absolutely sure of! Instead abandon the email and go direct via the charity’s main web page to donate or check your account.
Tip: By hovering the mouse over a link in an email, you can see where it will take you.
Be vigilant and stay safe!
Those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while will know that a few years ago I joined Sutton Coldfield Speakers’ Club in order to gain the public speaking confidence necessary to promote myself and my books at author events. Last week I was part of a panel of three judges for a speech competition at a neighbouring club. The speeches were 6 to 8 minutes long and had a completely open theme.
All the speakers were confident in front of an audience and all chose subjects with wide appeal. They all did well. After we’d decided on the winner and runner-up, we judges discussed the points the head judge should make in her summing up of the competition. The aim of the summing up was to give general advice for the contestants and members of the audience to take away. Listed below are some of these points plus other tips I picked up from my observation of the speakers. They maybe useful to those of you devising an author talk:
- Beware of meaningless gestures i.e. continually moving your arms as you speak
- Beware of keeping your arms rigidly still throughout – include a few meaningful gestures e.g. expanding your arms to describe the size of something or stamping a foot to jolt/surprise the audience
- Project your voice from the very first word you utter. Grab the audience’s attention!
- Don’t continually sway from side to side or move your weight from one foot to another. It’s disconcerting to watch a human pendulum!
- Inject a little humour. Not in the form of a joke but perhaps a throwaway observation on something the audience is familiar with.
- Make eye contact with all parts of the audience – this means shifting your eye gaze around the room as you speak.
- Speak with minimal reference to notes – this will free you up to make appropriate gestures and make lots of eye contact with your audience. Don’t read your talk!
From my own experience, I would add – don’t be put off if someone in the audience falls asleep. This has happened to me twice when speaking to groups of older ladies. The first time I put it down to the fact that we’d all just enjoyed a nice, big lunch. The second time, the organiser warned me in advance that one particular lady always went to sleep when they had a speaker and sure enough, I saw her head nod and her eyes close quite soon after I’d started.
However many times you do it, speaking in public is nerve-wracking – if you’d like to practise in front of a sympathetic audience, find a Speakers’ Club near you.
Do you ever get weeks when life seems to rush at you like a steam train and there’s barely time to eat or sleep? I’ve just had a couple of those weeks.
The catalyst was a four day weekend away. I’m NOT complaining about that, I had a lovely time at Nidd Hall near Harrogate with my mum and sister. But it meant that for two consecutive weeks I lost one of my two writing days (the three days a week for my day job still had to be fulfilled). In week one most of the remaining writing day was swallowed up by an author talk for a Women’s Institute group and in week two it was eaten into by the monthly reading group I coordinate, followed by a nighttime Black Friday rehearsal.
In case you’ve been living on the moon for the last few years, Black Friday is an opportunity for everyone and his dog to get stuck into some early Christmas shopping as retailers slash prices online and in store. It falls on the last Friday in November but preparations have already begun. The retailer I’m involved with staged an overnight rehearsal last week to ensure the website could cope with a large amount of price changes and customer activity. I acted as scribe for the rehearsal, providing a live feed about all the technical goings-on. It could be classed as a form of writing/communication but everything happened so quickly there was no time to edit or review my words, so it went straight out, typos and all.
Also, week two ended with a night of no gas supply, meaning no hot water or central heating. Following the installation of a new gas main in the road our gas couldn’t be turned back on due to a fault with the meter. Apparently, the meter is the responsibility of the gas supplier and we discovered to our cost that our gas supplier had no out of hours emergency phone line. So it was the next morning before an engineer was despatched to sort us out. Needless to say, we will shortly be changing energy suppliers to avoid being caught like this again.
On top of all of the above, the final typeset proofs of The Promise arrived for my attention. I’d hoped to read them ‘on the go’ on my Kindle but because they were in PDF format the font couldn’t be enlarged and even with reading glasses I couldn’t read them (old age!). So I had to make time at the PC to go through them.
Fingers crossed, this coming week should be back to normal. There’s lots to catch up on, including preparing guest blog posts for you lovely people who’ve agreed to host me and The Promise around launch time early next year. But right now I’m going to have a look at Julia Thorley’s Yoga Blog in the hope of finding some inner calmness!
Is it possible to have too much writing time?
One of my constant gripes is that I don’t have enough time to write. If the day job, the housework and general ‘stuff’ all disappeared, I would be prolific. The words for that bestselling novel would tumble from my brain through my fingers and onto the page. My success would be guaranteed. Or would it?
Those of you who are my Facebook friends will know that a nasty foot infection had me in hospital for four nights. The foot is going to take several weeks to fully heal and until it does my activities are severely restricted. This means I have more time to write. But I’ve found it very difficult to motivate myself. When the day stretches emptily in front of me, the urgency to do anything disappears. I’ve been getting up later, lying on the settee reading magazines and checking Twitter and Facebook ten times more often than usual. My excuse is that I’m convalescing, catching up on the sleep I lost in a noisy hospital ward and recovering from the stress of fighting with an NHS which wouldn’t give me a treatment plan. I’ve been told to sit with my foot up as much as possible – and the most comfortable place to do this is on the settee not behind a desk. I could write longhand as I lounge around but that seems like too much effort and what’s the hurry, at the moment I don’t have to cook, wash up, iron etc. (thank you, husband!) so I have all the time in the world.
Result: I have time handed to me on a plate and I waste it.
Lesson learned: My dream of giving up the day job and becoming a full-time writer may not work for me. When time is limited I make much better use of it.
What’s your musical era? When did you transition from child into young adult and have all those special first experiences: first teenage party, first visit to a pub or club, first kiss, first date etc. ?
For me it was the early 1980s. Songs by Adam and the Ants, Soft Cell, Human League and Frankie Goes to Hollywood always whisk me back to that time and I feel again the strong emotions that seemed to accompany everything I did. If I close my eyes when I hear ‘Tainted Love’, I’m at the university Union disco, dancing on a floor which is sticky with spilled beer. I feel the excitement and anticipation of a time when so many things were new and responsibilities were few.
Re-capturing this mood through music enables me to write from the heart about being young and in love. When I get in this zone it’s great – the words flow and I get lost in the story. Pete’s Story was the result of one such emotional interlude and my inspiration came (very loosely!) from a boy I went out with in my teens who was a member of a band.
What songs whisk you back to that heady time of new independence and experiences? And do they help with your writing today?
This blog post is part of a music themed blog event organised by Elaina James, a guest blogger on Mslexia. Her author page on Mslexia can be found at www.mslexia.co.uk/author/elainajames.
Details of participating bloggers in this event can be found on Elaina James’ blog.
Want an excuse to go and indulge in a pile of luscious new notebooks, a pack of brightly coloured pens, some pretty patterned ring-binders or some delightful sticky notes? Well here it is!
The website has a suggested list of things to do during this week. I particularly like the idea of a ‘stationery crawl’ which is like a pub crawl but with stationery instead of beer (but there’s nothing to stop you downing a glass or too – choosing notebooks is thirsty work!).
There’s a quiz to find out what kind of writing implement you are. I came out as “… a stylish fountain pen! A little bit messy at times as your ink smudges, but classy and timeless. You’re writing is flicks, twists and curls and words are most definitely your thing. You only need one pen and it’ll be your best friend forever”.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start indulging in every writer’s guilty pleasure – the smell of fresh paper, the allure of new pens and the promise of writing success if only you can find that perfect notebook!
(And if nothing else, this post has drilled into me that stationery with an’e’ is paper and stationary with an ‘a’ is motionless!)