Wednesday, 31 December 2014

What have I learnt from 2014? Sharing thoughts about getting back on track when life derails you.

Sunset at Sennen, Cornwall
So, here we are again, at the cusp of the year, the transition point where we look forward and back. As I review the past twelve months, I rejoice in many things: the love of family and friends, a comfortable home in one of the most gorgeous cities on earth, professional progress, two significant writing competition wins, a growing network of supportive writing allies.

However, 2014 has also been a ghastly year. I started it with fine, overly-ambitious plans. In January a very dear friend went missing. Many weeks of agonising anxiety later, her body was found. I struggle on a daily basis with this, because she was a special, joyous person who’d been such a significant person in my life – and now she was gone, far far too soon, into the dark. A couple of months after her funeral, my brother-in-law, staunch, cheery, loyal and loving, devoted to my sister, had died – his death also completely out of the blue.

Shock and grief derail you. In despair and devastation, work is something to cling to. It gives shape to the days, it provides distraction. However I have at times taken on too much, driven myself too hard. I’m not one of life’s delegators – I always want to do it all myself. Over the past three years I’ve trained myself to work at dead of night – I’m a natural owl anyway. But I’ve taken it too far and for too long, to the detriment of health and concentration. And apart from the spurts of creativity which led to those competition wins, my own writing has ended up like the relative you haven’t rung in ages. Week by week it becomes more difficult to pick up the phone.

So what now? No resolutions – I don’t feel brave enough for those. Resolutions are broken and you’re burdened by that breaking. When I ran my workshop/retreat in St Ives in the autumn, we agreed it was better not to talk of ‘goals’ and ‘targets’ so much as anticipated ‘benefits’ from what we do.

Here, then, are how I hope to create benefits in my life in the coming year:


I need to find a better work/life balance and a better balance between helping other writers and paying attention to my own creativity. I don’t want to feel exhausted all the time. I want to refill the well and dip the bucket into the well.


I’ll continue to run my workshops in Oxford because I absolutely love face-to-face teaching and interaction. I’ll be running my second Fictionfire by the Sea Writers’ Workshop and Retreat in April and I can’t wait to see St Ives again. I’ll be teaching at the Writers’ Festival at the University of Winchester in June and in July and August will run creative writing summer schools on two Oxford University programmes. I’ll continue to edit and appraise manuscripts and mentor writers, of course, but will be wary of over-commitment in these areas.


I have so many stories waiting to be written or waiting to be revised and published. I won’t set specific dates but I will aim to get more of my work out into the world this year, not locked into hard drives and tucked into folders. The important thing, whether I have two readers, two hundred or two thousand, is to make the work available on my own terms.

How to do this? I have to learn to inhabit my own stories once more. When working on a client’s manuscript, in a way it becomes my manuscript – I have to live inside that story to discover its achievements and its flaws, to evolve suggestions for improvement. It’s an incredibly rewarding process and it’s a great responsibility when a writer entrusts their work to me – but at the same time, it puts me at a mental distance from my own imagination and my own plots and characters.

Re for revive

To sum up, 2015 means rebalancing of elements and rediscovering of joy – I hope. I aim to redefine the structure of my time, because I’ve slipped into a habit of being in Fictionfire mode seven days a week. I need to set aside days for my own writing and days for being free of all of it. I want to read more – I want to rediscover splurge-reading, from cover to cover, not getting through a book in sporadic, interrupted segments.

Someone very wisely said to me recently that I need to try treating myself as I would a client. So, balance, focus, kindness, honesty, nurturing myself instead of hectoring myself – I will try to incorporate these into my writing life.

As the New Year dawns, you might like to examine how you balance the elements of your life. Do you give yourself downtime? Have you evaluated where you stand and where you want to go and analysed how to optimise your chances of getting there? Bereavement makes us take a step – no, several steps – back from our own lives. Where are you in your life’s journey? (I hate to use the ‘j’ word, but it actually is the best metaphor for how we see our life-stories unfolding). If you’re young, you see numerous potential routes ahead and the sheer choice may dizzy or alarm you as much as excite you. If you’re older, those choices may have narrowed and you may worry that you chose the wrong paths. Is it too late to retreat? Can you make the best of the path you’re on? Can you choose another?
Sunrise over St Ives Bay

Take the long view of your life. What do you want to achieve with it? Achievement doesn’t need to mean money and glory. Achievement is that sense you have within yourself, quiet and satisfying, that you’ve made progress, that you’ve added something to the significance of your life that wasn’t there before.

I wish you balance, focus and the joy of creativity. I wish you love and fulfilment. I wish you every benefit you would wish for yourself in the coming year.

Fictionfire Literary Consultancy - the new series of Focus Workshops in Oxford will be announced imminently. Fictionfire by the Sea Writers' Workshop and Retreat in St Ives in April - places are already very limited. Sign up on my website to join the mailing list for news of workshops, courses and new developments.

Photographs copyright Lorna Fergusson


DOUG said...

A wonderful, life-affirming post, Lorna, and a great template for 2015. Much better to refocus your outlook on life than set arbitrary goals. I found 2014 a tough writing year as well. Looking back you can call it a success because of two books published and another delivered, but it didn't feel that way at the time. Your words have given me a nice wee lift on this rather gloomy Hogmanay afternoon. Here's wishing you a truly successful and certainly much happier New Year. All the best, Doug

Di Castle said...

Hi Lorna. A great post as you describe the derailing of your life. I loved your 're' section and your new year promise to set aside time for your own writing and to take days well away from it all. I have become better at this over the last year. You do so much with your time. Do be careful of taking on too much . That is my weakness. It seems possible at the time but soon everything gets out of hand. Your post has reminded me of what I must keep striving for. Have a great 2015 and I hope to be on your course in April, if I am not too late???

Lorna F said...

Thank you for such a lovely response, Doug. I'm glad to have cheered your Hogmanay. I wish you a happy, fulfilling 2015 and an easier time with the writing career. I've been recommending Sword of Rome and look forward to reading more of Valerius' adventures, as well as The Samurai Inheritance. Very best wishes, Lorna x

Lorna F said...

Thanks for your comment, Di. You're quite right - everything does get out of hand, so easily. Wishing you a great year ahead and if you want to join the workshop/retreat in April, visit to find out more about it and how to book. Currently, there are two or possibly three places left, subject to confirmation.

Jane said...

Thank you for sharing this Lorna. So many hurdles and yet when I've met you I would never have known. I had not considered the difficulties of trying to inhabit other writer's characters while working on your own, but as soon as I read your post, I realise how true it must be. I immerse myself completely in the book I am writing - often to the detriment of my relationahip and friends and family. Finding a balance is often easier said than done. Even last night, I found myself back on the computer for an hour because I'd had an idea that could not wait. Thankfully I don't have a mobile phone addiction as well! Wishing you a very happy New Year. Janex

Lorna F said...

Thank you, Jane, and a Happy New Year to you - I know it will be another productive one for you!