Writing advice: So you wannabe a 'writer' but are too scared to put yourself out there?

Why is it that so many writers face self-doubt? I think it’s because writing is a solitary process that is so incredibly subjective. Writers are often too afraid to call themselves writers because they fear criticism of their work or of being bound by the antiquated definition of the term ‘writer’ reserved for those who write highbrow literary pieces - which is ridiculous. 

In today’s online world writing is all about authenticity and perspective. People are sick of hearing from celebrities or politicians, they are seeking real writers who have an interesting perspective to share, that’s why I believe everyone should be encouraged to find their own voice and those who write should feel brave enough to call themselves a ‘writer’. 

Now let’s discuss the notion of not feeling good enough, a brave and successful writer who is often slammed by critics for his work is Stephen King. I am currently re-reading Stephen King’s book On Writing: A Memoir and I love it. King is an amazing writer, and although I don’t enjoy his books because I simply don’t like the horror genre, I think anyone who calls him a ‘bad writer’ is either an elitist or doesn’t understand the importance of considering an audience and the conventions of a genre. On that note, a thought-provoking anecdote King shares in his memoir hits the nail on the head – while discussing rejection, the bestselling author mentions a specific magazine that kept rejecting his short story and that the feedback given to him by the editor was: ‘this story is not for us.’ After King sold a few novels, he sent the same story to that same magazine and he, by his own admission, never heard those words again. I love that King shared that story and I love that he persisted despite the rejections.  

I often think about people who judge a poem, a blog post, a novel or even a Facebook status update based on what they deem as ‘good writing’ or literary perfection. But here’s the thing, I believe to completely understand the beauty of storytelling and the craft of writing one must remember the purpose of different text types, that a target audience must be compelled to read the piece or at the very least feel something. 

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This leads me to a life-changing discussion I had with my daughter yesterday. While she was making loomband bracelets on our dining room table she turned to me and asked, ‘Mama, what do you think I should be when I grow up?’

 ‘You could always be an ice-hockey player?’ I responded absentmindedly from behind the kitchen counter. 

My daughter chuckled. ‘Silly Mama, I already am! What do you think I do three times a week! Play ice hockey!’

So, there you have it, a seven-year-old answered the question I posed at the beginning of this blog post. Are you good enough to call yourself a ‘writer’? Well, if you write – you already are one! But I like the idea of trying to squeeze in at least three sessions of writing a week, you know, to keep up with the regime of those junior league ice hockey players.

I hope this post inspires you to write, choose your genre or platform and share your unique perspective! Start a blog, write a book, just do it! And if you do, let me know :)

Happy writing!

Naomi 

Parenting Gratitude Hack: What is 'The Three Things Project'?

Last week was a crazy week. My husband has been away all month and although his work schedule always includes frequent travel, last week I struggled to cope. Tuesday of last week was particularly shameful. I lost my cool. I raised my voice and complained. Sadly, the children witnessed mummy at her worst. I was complaining about everything, from missing the tram to the taste of my morning coffee and guess what happened on Wednesday? I picked up my children from school and they both complained about their day. So much for my “do as I say and not as I do” parenting mantra. 

I felt embarrassed, I have many flaws but a lack of self-awareness is not one of them. I acknowledged that my behaviour was not up to scratch and the truth is I have no one else to blame for my children’s lack of gratitude but myself. But I am not one to stand defeat. 

Parenting is a tough gig, an important job that requires constant audits and reflection. The problem is external auditors cannot be trusted (other parents and strangers can be too critical) so with this job, you must self-assess. Your KPIs and strategic household management skills can only be assessed by you, the parent, which poses another problem – being too critical of one’s self. So instead of feeling disappointed for not being the best example for my children, I did what every diligent responsible adult would do – I ate chocolate…and came up with a plan. My plan was to wake up feeling grateful and hope the children would feel the same. 

On Wednesday of last week, the day my ‘plan’ was meant to take effect, we missed the tram by literally two seconds. I was so excited! Something going wrong was a perfect real-life example of how to be grateful, so I improvised, I told my children a story about Mr. Grateful and Mr. Complain. I told them about how Mr Complain always saw the worst side of life, how he missed the tram and groaned and looked at people angrily. Then, I told them about Mr. Grateful, who missed the tram but was so happy to be outside that he smiled at strangers, he appreciated the birds chirping and the trees swaying. Mr. Grateful knew that being late was not the end of the world and that he was lucky to live in a country where another tram would be there to pick him up from the next stop. My children recognised themselves (and me) in a series of stories I told them about Mr. Grateful and Mr. Complain and then I presented them with a ‘Mummy Project’ I called 'The Three Things Project'. I told them that when I picked them up that afternoon they had to tell me about three things that they were grateful for that day and that they would be graded by me based on their thoughtfulness and it worked!

My son, who is almost five, told me about how his friend asked him if he was okay when he felt sad. He told me about how helpful his teachers were when he was making a Gruffalo and about he felt happy about what he had for lunch. 

My daughter, who is seven, said she enjoyed learning about sustainability and that an excursion to a plastic-free supermarket changed the way she perceived toys. She was grateful for her friends and the fact that she had warm clothes on a cold day. 

I was so proud! I gave them both an A+. They loved ‘The Three Things Project’ so much they continued to do it on their own. 

The next morning, we caught the tram on time and back by popular demand was another story about Mr. Grateful and Mr. Complain and although I tried to keep my voice down, my children were very excited about hearing about how Mr. Complain hated working on the farm. My son laughed so loud at the antics of Mr. Complain that a woman took off her headphones and looked at me. I was worried she was going to tell my son to be more respectful in German (we are working on our inside voices) but instead the woman, who had an American accent said: “Sorry, I overheard and I love that you're teaching them to be grateful, that made my morning.” Turns out not all strangers are critical auditors and I am so grateful for strangers who share kind thoughts (and grateful for those of you who read this blog, of course). 

 

Later Alligators,

Nomad Naomi aka Mrs Grateful

Episode 4 of Dating Basel: Learning German as an adult

Do you have too much self-confidence? Do you need something to bring you back down to earth? If you are searching for solutions for mild to severe ego growth, you may want to consider this tried and tested self-confidence reduction process…learning the German language as an adult! 

You will be given kindergarten level worksheets (don’t worry ‘kindergarten’ is still a word of German origin) and baristas will ask you to speak in English when they hear you attempt German, but look on the bright side you will still get your coffee :)

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, just when I thought I was so clever I began attending intensive German language classes. The classes taught me more than just the basics of German, they have shaped the way I see the world. Knowing other languages is really like having different personalities, it broadens your view of the world and allows you to think in different ways. On a personal note, it has reminded me of the fact l am an eternal learner with far more questions than answers.

I grew up bilingual, my mother tongue is English but I am also fluent in Arabic because of my upbringing. I thought that by knowing what is classified as 'the second most difficult language to learn' that I would somehow be better at learning German and boy was I wrong! In German, like Arabic, verbs are conjugated and there are declensions, but learning these in another language is just a mind boggle! When you learn languages as a child you pick up the rules intuitively (sometimes without being able to articulate them to others) but as an adult language learner, understanding the mechanics of a new language is more complex. In a sense you are unlearning what you already know, especially when it comes to syntax. If you have no idea what I am talking about, you live in a happy place – stay there. In a nutshell, here’s what I learned when I was supposed to be learning German:

1.    The world is a lonely and confusing place when you can’t understand those around you: There is nothing more isolating than being in a public place and hearing people connect when you cannot. There have been tram announcements that we have missed, our tram changing paths and leading us into Germany because we had no idea there was a change to the route. For our family, this meant that we were often late to work or school but these incidents made me think about migrants (my own parents) and refugees. We are fortunate to know English, arguably the international language, for others life is way more difficult and discrimination often stems from ignorance and fear. 

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2.    Swiss German and German are totally different: Learning High German in Switzerland is another obstacle because the Swiss have their own dialect. I was told that it is recommended one learns Swiss German only after they have mastered High German, so understanding locals at my beginner level is impossible. This means my language learning journey will be a long one. 

3.    Teachers are the best: I am biased because I am a teacher, but honestly my first German teacher Sara was amazing and I did not just learn German in her classes, she really taught me how to be a better teacher. There is no way I could’ve learned what I know now from Duolingo and podcasts alone, the connection you make with teachers and the encouragement they offer is invaluable. 

4.    I need German-speaking friends (and I made one in the most random way ever!): I have made many English-speaking friends, which I love, but this has not helped my German at all. In fact, you could quite happily live in an English-speaking bubble in Switzerland, but that’s not what I want, so I joined Tandem (no this is not Tinder, I am happily married, thank you very much!). For those who don't know, Tandem is an online language exchange group where you meet up with someone weekly and you teach them a language and they teach you one. The problem, however, is that there is an oversupply of people offering English for German. Enter my second language to save the day (thanks Mum and Dad), I found a message from a German speaker asking for someone to teach her the Levantine Arabic dialect. After some googling, I realised that I am fluent in that specific dialect, so I messaged the woman who posted the request and we have been meeting up for a coffee ever since. The people at the café we meet at must think we are so strange because we switch between English, German and Arabic every time we chat but hey! I’m learning. Slowly. (Langsam;))

5.    There is a word for the day after tomorrow: A fun fact that I learned in German class is that there is a word for the day after tomorrow (which doesn’t exist in English) it’s “übermorgen”. 

I know I started this post flippantly but on a serious note, if you want to step out of your comfort zone and try something new I recommend learning a new language as an adult. Sure, your confidence might suffer for a bit but you will feel on top of the world when you string a few words together (that people actually understand).

Tschüss,

Frau Nomad Naomi

Episode Two of Dating a City: Seeing the flaws, venting and book escapes 

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There is no doubt Basel is beautiful. In fact when I first saw the city I turned to my husband and said: “Did they make this place specifically for Instagram?” The River Rhine sparkles and the trees, the trees are the lushest shade of green and the tap water here seriously tastes like Evian. It’s cliché to say but Switzerland really is picturesque. However, a few things have started to bug me. Let me tell you about three things that annoy me about Basel and how I am dealing with them with my positive mantra, which is simply “be positive” (I’m working on it):

Annoyance number one : There’s no self-raising flour! Yep, searched high and low and thought I was typing things wrong into Google Translate as I was rummaging through the shelves of the supermarkets and pestering staff, until a British lady confirmed what I suspected was true. She saw my head shoved into a shelf of bags of flour at the Coop, cocked her head and raised her eyebrows before saying: “You’re not going to find self raising flour here. I have to get mine from the UK, they don’t have it”. I was shocked, a clairvoyant, I thought. Until I saw her staring at my phone screen which was on the shelf next to me. Now, you probably think this is a massive first world problem and it is, but venting still helps. 

Solution: I learnt how to use baking powder, two teaspoons baking powder for every spoon of flour. Yippee! If you follow me on Instagram (@gingerandbasel) you would’ve seen my jam drops. Super proud. 

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Annoyance number two: I can’t access online banking or pay my phone bill on the company's app. It’s so weird how much it feels like 1999 here sometimes. When I asked about paying my phone bill online or using an app, locals stared at me blankly. Turns out it’s either direct debit or wait for it… going to the post office. Young people pay their bills like my grandma and the Swiss grandmas can out run me in a marathon (okay, anyone can out run me in a marathon).

Solution: I had to pay my first bill at the post office, where I had to hand write things (throwback to Year 6) and then I set up direct debit (had to fill out a paper form, of course).

Annoyance number three: I have no mum friends at my children’s school. Yep. I said it, making friends in your thirties is hard! The mums at the school are lovely but they have their cliques. On top of that my children started school at the end of the year which makes it difficult to properly connect with other mums. Sometimes I wish I was kid so I can be like, “hey nice fidget spinner, wanna hang?”. Alas, I am a big person, and I know in time friendships will develop organically. Special shout out to my high school friend Celine, an experienced expat who gave me advice about how these things take time. 

Solution: I talk to my BFF (aka my sister every day), friends from Sydney, do yoga and read! All this time alone has given me time to read, which is nice.

Below is a list of books I have read or reread and recommend, especially if you’re into personal growth (the first two fall into that category). For all my busy friends, most of these are also available on audible. 

1.     Braving the Wilderness by Dr. Brene Brown. This book includes a series of anecdotes about belonging (very fitting for this post, I know). Dr. Brown is an expert in this field and her authentic voice makes it a great read. She doesn’t pretend to know all the answers, but makes you realise that there is power in vulnerability and that being authentic and kind should always be our primary goal. I love personal growth and am constantly reading books in this genre, many of them are patronising or too clinical. Brene hits the mark. She shares her academic research in a relatable way and although it took me three chapters to get into it, I am glad I kept reading.

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2.     Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis. Unlike Dr. Brown, Hollis is not an expert in the field of personal growth but she’s fresh. She is a mum in her thirties who has four kids and built a media platform. Hollis’ book is now a New York Times bestseller and the book is split up into sections about the lies many women believe about their worth, family and work. She debunks each lie through personal anecdotes. This book was recommended to me by a friend and I really enjoyed the take away messages, something her therapist told her: “what other people think of you is none of your business” and "nobody will ever care about your dreams as much as you do". 

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3.     Paris in Love by Eloise James. A friend of mine who is an author recommended this travel memoir. It is a series of vignettes about a family’s year in Paris. James’ posts are funny and uplifting and transport readers to Paris through vivid description. Although she is frustrated by the language barrier, the American author looks at her time away nostalgically and is grateful for how It transformed her family. Alone in a new city, but always together.

Love libraries! #reading #supportyourlibrary

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4. Confessions of a Domestic Failure by Bunmi Laditan. Author Laditon takes a humorous and often sarcastic approach to motherhood and pokes fun at the ‘Pinterest’ mums. As the title suggests, the debut novel is about drowning in motherhood but realising that everyone else is too. They just have better filters to cover it up.

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On that note, inspired by my reading list, this was my no filter, authentic post. Yes, Switzerland is beautiful but missing family can be lonely - but I'm not giving up, in the spirit of my mantra, I am working on it. I’ll get there. Slowly but surely. Until then, there’s chocolate, coffee and books.

 

Later alligators, 

Nomad Naomi

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