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My Fictional Love Story Turns My Actual Life Upside Down - Is It Destiny?

Last year, when I was launching my Destiny Interview Series, significant changes were unfolding in my own life.

tango couple pexels
I’d been asked to teach Novel-Writing at CAE in September 2016, and so I figured I’d do the right thing by my students: I’d do what I was asking them to do and write a novel. One of the ideas in my filing cabinet had been calling me for some time – it was a concept I’d jotted down some eight years ago, and I’d been scribbling notes and bits of dialogue for it ever since. As I was calling my students to work on novel structure and character development, I figured I’d apply the lessons to my own project at the same time.

I found myself drawn so deeply into this story that it pretty much wrote itself. By the end of November I’d completed my novel and was aware that quite a few personal thoughts and feelings had woven themselves into it. But still, it was just a story – right?

In early December I headed out ballroom/latin dancing on a Tuesday night – not my usual night – and connected eyes with a newcomer sitting on the side just watching. When I saw him again on Friday night I asked him to dance and was immediately struck by his ability and training. You can tell if a man is a good dancer by his ‘frame’, the way he holds you, the way he moves. I learnt that this man hadn’t danced in some thirty years but back then he’d competed nationally and internationally. I loved dancing with him...

We began to talk and discovered that we shared an interest in relationships, and also shared the ability to speak very openly and honestly. Dance studio conversations are usually pure small talk, partly because you're having conversations in snatches between dances, so this man stood out to me. Before long we were dancing together almost exclusively… and within six weeks I was facing the exact same dilemma that faces the main character in my novel at the end of the book.

What was the dilemma? You’ll have to read it to find out! :p

My new book is being laid out for publication right now, and I’ll be sharing more of what it’s about and how it links with my personal journey over the next few weeks. Talk about life imitating art! There are some synchronicities that have been pretty arresting… but also some significant differences. At any rate, it doesn’t seem as if this new book is ‘just a story’, and it does seem as if this man and I were destined to meet. More soon!
[Picture courtesy Pexels.]

Where To Invade Next – & other outstanding ideas

Michael MooreHave you seen Michael Moore’s documentary, Where To Invade Next? If not, watch it immediately! It’s wonderful.  

If you’re not familiar with Michael Moore, he’s a baseball-cap-wearing, grossly overweight documentary-maker with a heart of gold, an eye for the important issues, and the ability to make his points with elegance, profundity and humour.

Where To Invade Next flips the idea of invasion on its head and explores which countries are doing wonderful things that America should ‘steal’. Follow the link below to find out a little more. (Warning: contains spoilers…)

Some months ago I mentioned the move toward a national minimum wage that is gaining momentum around the world. Within minutes of sending out that newsletter one reader unsubscribed; this was a reader with a belief in ‘abundance’ and ‘creating one’s reality’. Did this person think I was promoting a passivist, victim lifestyle of living for handouts? On the contrary, countries that look after their citizens (as the Michael Moore documentary powerfully illustrates) are the ones where people are healthier, happier, more united, and, it seems, more responsible.

Yesterday, in The Conversation, I read that 'researchers from the University of Queensland add the economic argument to the moral case for ending homelessness. It turns out it's cheaper for governments to provide supportive housing than to bear the cost of homelessness.' Read that last sentence again. 

This is the common sense principle governing a world where we look after each other and 'the whole': it’s better for us spiritually, emotionally, socially, physically, economically, environmentally… If you need proof, follow the link and watch his film. If you’d love to co-create a country that does what Michael Moore is recommending and ‘steals’ the best, most humanitarian and effective ideas from around the world, say ‘aye’! Let’s start our own conversation. 

And btw, if you’ve been getting caught up with Conspiracy docos, with talk of illuminati and aliens and earth changes and stocking up on food, etc., dump that lot and watch Michael Moore’s Where To Invade Next instead. You’ll come out of it inspired rather than fearful.

[Image courtesy: david_shankbone via Visualhunt.com CC BY]

Liliane Grace Takes On Stephen King

Stephen King book coverI haven’t read any Stephen King books because I’m not into the thriller/horror/mystery genre, but I decided I wanted to read his On Writing, and I’m really enjoying it. The man values the literary arts more than I had expected. His turn of phrase is entertaining and delightful. I particularly love his humility in sharing an excerpt of his own work, unedited and then rewritten, for the reader to see how he goes about the process of refining his work.

But when he gets to the heart of his book and states that while he believes an incompetent writer can become competent, a good writer can never be great, I cannot agree.

To begin with, there is no such thing as an absolute standard of ‘great' that all readers around the world hold to. There are plenty of ‘great’ books that leave me cold, while others make me laugh, cry, or ponder; the number of famous, best-selling and classic authors who were rejected, often rudely and often for a long period of time before making their mark, is significant, suggesting that there is not widespread agreement about what makes writing ‘great’.

I’ve often shared a story with my writing students about the time I attended a panel discussion at the Writers Victoria Centre in Melbourne. The panel consisted of a publisher, a literary agent and another ‘expert’. One of the audience asked the question, ‘How do you know when you’ve come across a great work?’ or something to that effect, and the publisher answered it by saying, ‘I get a tingle down my spine.’

How ridiculous, I thought. How utterly absurd!

If a ‘tingle down the spine’ were an objective measure of good writing, what happened to the tingle in the countless number of publishers who rejected JK Rowling, Dr Seuss, John Grisham, Ann Frank, Rudyard Kipling, Richard Bach, Judy Blume, ee cummings, Gertrude Stein, Meg Cabot, Zane Grey, Pearl Buck, Richard Hooker, Robert Pirsig, Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hanson, William Saroyan, William Golding, John le Carré, Joseph Heller, Ursula Le Guin, George Orwell, William Faulkner, Vladimir Nobokov, Sylvia Plath, Irving Stone, Frank Herbert, Richard Adams, Madeleine L’Engle, Jack Kerouac, Margaret Mitchell, Kenneth Grahame, Isaac Beshavis Singer, Marcel Proust, Jasper Forde, Thor Heyderdahl, Jorge Luis Borges, DH Lawrence - and even Stephen King himself?

There is no such thing as an objective measure of good writing. That publisher was talking about what gives HER a tingle down the spine - what inspires or touches or excites her. It’s not necessarily  going to be the same for other publishers or for the worldwide readership.

This doesn’t meant that there can’t be agreement among writing experts about what constitutes skilful writing - there absolutely is; what it does mean is that our response to writing is largely subjective because we bring our individual selves to what we read. 

You can give a roomful of writers the exact same topic and they will each come back with a unique story because each person will draw out associations to that topic that emerge from their own life experiences, interests, meanings, and so on; likewise, each reader responds differently to the same work. Many people read horror and thrillers with delight; I’m turned off, no matter how well it is written. I love a story that explores the depth of ordinary human relationships and doesn’t need to include murders or sex crimes or other dramatic experiences; others are turned off by those simple tales. 

I’m often discouraged by the books I read on occasion that I consider to be very badly written but nevertheless achieve vast sales and popularity. But do we define a ‘great’ author merely as someone with great literary ability or as someone who touches vast numbers of people? Perhaps it’s snobbish to set the bar at ‘literary mastery’ and ignore the millions of readers who resonate with something else. 

Harry Potter is a case in point. Stephen King agrees with the literary experts that one should avoid adverbs, especially attribution in speech. You don’t need ‘firmly’ in '‘I disagree,’ he said firmly'. The speech and context should do the job. Adverbs of that ‘ly’ sort are the props of a weak writer. In general, I agree. At the back of his book he lists his favourite reading or books that have been influential. The list includes the Harry Potter books, all of which include ‘ly’ adverbs with merry frequency. I opened Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets at random and found four on pages 96-97.

Is JK a literary author? No. Is she a great author? Without a doubt, yes. The response to her books confirms that she has struck a note in people around the world; she provides something that vast numbers of people want. 

There’s another reason for my disagreement with Stephen King's statement that it’s impossible to turn a good author into a great one and that is that talent is not a gift of the gods. Becoming a great author is not down to luck or talent; we can actually engineer it ourselves.

If it’s possible for all the athletes and artists and musicians and inventors and actors and public figures to rise from the ‘reject’ list and become the most loved, most able, most renowned, it’s possible for anyone in any field. TALENT, the way I teach it, is an acronym for Time, Application, Love - Energy Not Talent.

With enough love and dedication and application, over time the skills can be developed/honed. Human performance studies confirm this. Just ask Anthony Robbins, the inspirational leader in the field of behavioural change.

When I first began to dance I was told that my ‘head wasn’t connected to the rest of my body’. I was stiff and awkward. Now, after some 25 years dancing weekly - no training, just socially - I’m often congratulated on my dancing ability. I have learnt to feel the pulse of the dance; I have a sensitivity to my partner's movements. Talent, whether writing or dancing or basketball or any other sort, does not come down to luck; it comes with much practice.

If you’re thinking about those children with startling abilities, go and check their stories more closely. You might find that even they have already put the hours in. This is the contention of Anders Ericsson, a world expert on ‘deliberate practice’, who doubts that any such thing as talent actually exists. A number of experts point out that even Mozart had already been playing music some 3,500 hours by the age of six when he first began to compose. Young Norwegian Angelina Jordan, who blew me away with her mature singing at age six or seven, had also been exposed to jazz from the time she was a baby, and had been singing along since she was two. (For more on this, see the chapter on 'Culture' in The Social Animal – A Story of How Success Happens by David Brooks.)

I teach my students strategies that will produce reliably good writing every single time whether you have so-called writing ability or not. It is not a question of luck or talent; it’s a question of love and application. If you love the art and keep at it and learn from great writers - those you believe are great - you will surely improve.

The challenge is managing our emotional response to the time-lag between writing our loved work and connecting with the readership that will love our work. Sometimes that never happens. Some of us paper our toilets with rejection letters and eventually give up; others receive as many or more rejection letters and then are ‘discovered’.

The real difference between the good writer and the great writer is in their ability to persist.

Where's the Order in Terrorism?

Terror responseWe’ve been keeping an eye on terrorist activity in the northern hemisphere because our three children are travelling through Europe at the moment. It’s quite unsettling as news of these crises emerges, sometimes only a day after our kids have been in one of those locations; I have to remind myself to trust that they have much too much living to do for their numbers to be up yet… 

That might sound irrelevant considering that plenty of children die in these attacks, but I remember my editor Tim Marlowe saying that if you really looked into it, you’d find that those who passed had chosen that at some level.

Don’t Change the Person - Change the System

jug trayIf you lived at our place you would by now have become familiar with the sound of my voice yelling, ‘Oh no!’ and the clatter of my feet madly dashing to the sink so that I could turn the water filter off before the whole house flooded.

In fact, I did once flood the kitchen so effectively that water leaked through the floor and into a light bulb in the garage below, shorting the system…

What Came Out Of The Cocoon...

If you read my blog of a few weeks ago (‘Watch a human being emerge from a cocoon’) you’ll know that I was in the process of rethinking my life! Well, I’ve scratched a hole in the chrysalis and I’m peering out. Here’s what I discovered in the process of being ‘liquified’…

I've emerged from my cocoon with the realisation that my core area of mastery is writing and teaching writing. Duh, right? 

Watch A Human Being Emerge From A Cocoon!

The phenomenon of the caterpillar constructing a chrysalis and secretly transforming itself into a butterfly is a powerful and wonderful metaphor that inspires most of us. 

- What a beautiful illustration of the idea that nothing is destroyed or created but simply changes form! 

- What a beautiful symbol of transformation. 

- What a stunningly elegant demonstration of the fact that some degree of struggle (the squeezing out of the cocoon) is necessary to develop strength (without being squeezed, the butterfly would be too moist and heavy to fly).

But have you ever wondered about that process inside the cocoon? What is actually going on in there? And what parallels can we draw from that process to our own lives?

Managing Our Expectations as a Way of Avoiding Conflict

One of my ex-writing students is a Marketing Manager and we’re doing an exchange of services at the moment. Something I really appreciate about Ellen is the cleanness of her communication style. In one of our early conversations she deliberately addressed the subject of our expectations.

‘Conflict Resolution Skills’ is a course I taught years ago, and Ellen demonstrated them perfectly. There’s a sliding scale of events that result in conflict from initial Discomforts and Incidents through Misunderstandings and Tension to outright Conflict. In other worlds, conflict doesn’t just happen out of the clear blue sky; it starts with little baby steps…

How Clean Are You? - Health, Values, & the Inner-Outer War

A friend of mine reckons that water is only good for washing dishes. His beverage of choice is champagne, and his life philosophy is that he’s 'here for a good time, not a long time'.

It sounds good and it’s very amusing but I suspect that when his body starts to fall apart he might have second thoughts. On the other hand, his great attitude to life is such that I’m sure it’s providing him with some pretty decent immunity. At sixty-odd, he’s fitter than many a younger man. I’m going to be interested to see which wins out, physical laws or the laws of the mind!

Kids and Money and Keeping Our Word

‘Riches, my boy, don’t consist in having things but in not having to do something you don’t want to do, and don’t you forget it. Riches is being able to thumb your nose.’ - Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

I was at a business networking event recently when I found myself chatting with Jay, an Indian businessman who shared with me the following story: 

Jay's son had discovered that his friend received 50c for doing the dishes. After telling his mother, she asked, ‘Do you want 50c too?’ 

Free samples!

If you'd like to empower young people via an entertaining story OR write your own stuff OR transform bullying at school/home/work, help yourself to one or all of these:

1. The first 4 chapters of my personal development novel, The Mastery Club.

2. A 10-page report on 'Busting the Talent Myth and Overcoming Writer’s Block'.

3. An article and strategy for 'Transforming Bullying by Drilling Communication Skills in Schools'.

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Who is Liliane?

A writer, writing coach, teacher, speaker, editor, ghostwriter… 
I love creating worlds, both imaginary (fictional stories) and real (living consciously and deliberately)  and I love helping others to do those things too (write your books, create your reality). I also love providing safe, fun environments for learning phenomenal, empowering ideas about writing and life mastery / universal laws. To enquire or book me as a speaker, send me a line!