Don’t Put Off Creative Writing Until Later in Life–I Regret It

I have always had a desire to write a novel since my early twenties. I had plenty of ideas, but I always procrastinated and delayed starting. When I was younger, written English was never my strongest subject at school—debatable that it is now :-). In fact, I hated English lessons. We had to read books I didn’t like and write essays on subjects I was not interested in. I was also quite stubborn, so if I wasn’t interested in the subject, I didn’t give it a lot of attention. It didn’t help that I did not get on with my English teacher. Looking back, I was the problem and not the teacher. I was young and thought I knew it all.

I enjoyed reading novels, but in my teenage years, I didn’t read as much as I should. I would rather be out with my friends, or playing video games. After I finished university, started my career and settled down in my early twenties, I started reading more books again. I like to read a variety of novels: science fiction, fantasy, spy thrillers, horror. Pretty much most genre fiction novels, although I am not so leen on romantic, or literary fiction; they are just not my thing.

As I read more books, I had ideas for my own stories. I have always had an active imagination, and I loved the idea of being able to write my own stories. Some people want to be rockstars. I liked the idea of being a novelist. As fun as this sounded, I had many excuses for not starting. I regret a lot of these now, but hindsight can help me uncover my regrets.

Intimidated by Other Books

One problem with wanting to start a creative endeavour is that it is easy to compare your ideas to those of others. Whenever I picked up another author’s novel to read, they always struck me by how flawless they seemed. The plots were well thought out. The grammar seemed perfect. Overall, the quality was high. I found that intimidating. How could I ever do the same?

What I didn’t understand at the time was the process an author goes through to write a book. I had attempted to write short stories before, and although I was pleased with them, the writing didn’t seem as good as I was reading in other novels. I just assumed I didn’t have the skills to produce something of the same quality. My short stories were essentially first drafts that I didn’t develop further.

If I had done my research, I would have found out that an author will write a first draft. That draft will not be very good. They will then do a full revision of their work. Then they’ll do another, and another. This revision process could happen many times until the author has a good draft. This revised version is the real first draft. Even then, the book is not complete. If they are signed to an agent and they have sold the book, then the manuscript will go through a further series of revisions with a professional editor. 

Once the publisher’s editor has finished, then there is a final stage which is the final line edit and proofread. Your book could easily go through ten to fifteen revisions before it’s published, along with multiple gate-keepers. No wonder published novels are of high-quality. Over a long period of time, the text has been revised and reworked. Of course, my first draft stories didn’t seem as good. I hadn’t gone through the entire process.

Worried my Ideas are Bad

I thought my book ideas were good, but everyone thinks that of their ideas. I was worried about what other people would think. People can be cruel. You can find reviews on Amazon to see what people really think. Even for popular books, if you look at the one and two star reviews, people can be very nasty, especially when hidden behind an anonymous name. 

Being criticised is scary. Nobody likes it, but now that I am older and hopefully a little wiser, I am not so worried about it. Sure, if I get a bad review and there are lots of other positive reviews, then I just think the book wasn’t to their taste. I now believe that if you do the best work you can, go through the revision steps and use a professional editor, and take their advice, then the product you put into the marketplace will be good. If someone doesn’t like it, well, that’s on them.

I mentioned before that I have released some non-fiction books, so I now have practical experience of this. All the steps I mentioned above about revision, I did with my non-fiction books, and I put out the best books I could. I know they are good, and the reviews are all mostly very good, so if I get the occasional bad review, while it still hurts, I have learnt to brush it off. Provided the reviews are not deliberately offensive, then I try to learn from them.

Scared by the Amount of Work

When I was younger, I was intimidated by the amount of work required to write a book; that was just for the first draft stage. Like a lot of younger people, I wanted instant gratification. I liked the idea of having written a book. I was worried about the amount of work it would take. As someone once said to me, ‘you want to get to the destination, but you don’t want to do the journey.’

I will bet that this is a common problem for anyone looking to tackle an enormous project. As a young man. I was not as experienced in how to plan a large project. With over twenty-eight years of industry experience working on huge software development projects, I would tackle a book project like any of my former career projects: lots of planning, and break the project down into smaller pieces. It’s like that joke, ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ That is so true. 

Some writers blame inaction with a project on writer’s block, or the muse not being with them. I don’t agree with that. If you get stuck on one project, work on something else; you can still write. You don’t hear of a car mechanic suddenly getting mechanics block, and can’t work on all those cars that are booked into the garage. When I get stuck on a plot point in my novel, I work on another non-fiction project, or a blog post—like this one.

By focusing on a little at a time, you can complete the project. I experience this firsthand with one of my non-fiction books. It was a business and entrepreneurial book called ‘The Path to Freedom – Starting a Business for the Reluctant Entrepreneur’. The final manuscript was one-hundred-fifty-thousand words. That’s a big book, but I applied the same principle to that book. Working on a small piece at a time. It took eighteen months to write that book, but I wasn’t daunted by the size of the project anymore because I had broken the problem down into much smaller pieces. I believe that if any project scares you, then you haven’t broken it down far enough.

Busy Learning Software Development

Like most career minded professionals in their twenties, I was trying to build up my career in software development. I started my career in the video games industry, and after eight years, I moved into financial services as a software developer, and then through the ranks as a leader. My career wasn’t writing novels, that was just a dream; a nice to have.

Even though I have regrets about not starting a novel earlier in my life, I don’t have regrets about focusing on my career. You need the career to help provide for your family, put a roof over your head and make sure everyone has what they need. Building a stable career is very hard, so while I include career building in my reasons for not starting a novel, this one is justified.

Starting a Family Took Up My Time

I don’t regret building up a decent career, and I also don’t regret having children. I have two kids, Amy, thirteen at the time of this post and my son Daniel, ten. If you are reading this and you have young children, then you understand they are fun, yet very tiring. Bringing up infants is exhausting. Me and my wife found two children hard work. Anyone that can raise three of more children deserves a medal.

As a parent, when you have a little spare time and you want to write, or take part in some other creative activity, you’ll be tired and uninspired. I know I was. This constant level of tiredness also contributed to not wanting to start a novel. All the other reasons I stated in this chapter were the primary reasons, but being tired with children was the perfect excuse, as I don’t really think anyone would argue with it.

Now my children are a little older, they are not as challenging. We do lots of activities as a family, but the kids also want to play with their friends, do sleepovers, play video games etc, so me and my wife find we have more time to do activities together, and also do our own things. For a little of motivation for young parents, it gets easier; I promise. 

Now you know why I put off starting my novel for so long. You have probably read this post, thinking these are just excuses for inaction. You would be correct, they are. That’s why a lot of them are regrets, and I hope I can save you from the same problem. At the time of writing this post I am forty-five and I feel like I have wasted a lot of writing time. Don’t make the same mistake.

The Great Reset

Is there anyone here? Hello? It’s a little dusty in here; a semi-abandoned blog. Like that creepy cabin that your mum told you to stay away from. After Covid first showed its ugly teeth to the world, it became apparent that it wouldn’t go away quickly. Weeks turned into months. Months turned into years. The pressure of home schooling, social isolation, and general anxiety about the world meant a few of the plates I was trying to keep spinning, collapsed and were left abandoned. This blog was one of the fallen plates.

Creepy abandoned cabin.

Over the past few years, I have re-evaluated my creative priorities. To stay sane over the pandemic, I decided I wanted to leave lockdown better than when I went in. I wanted to learn something new, but if I’m honest, I was getting jaded with the pace of technology and software development; more on that in another post. A large part of my career still involves training, and I love doing it, but I wanted to learn something new.

I decided I would focus more on creative writing. I am already an experienced non-fiction writer with books that are both self-published and published through traditional publishers. I had dreamt of writing stories when I was younger. But I always felt intimidated by the process. I tackled that intimidation and start learning. I had lots of ideas. I just needed to learn about it. I won’t go into detail about that in this post; I’ll cover that soon, as I have been very productive.

This means the focus of this blog is changing. I contemplated whether to just blitz the content here and start again, but I decided against it. While the older articles, especially the technical articles, are not my main focus, I left some of them as they are still relevant. But this post is drawing a line under it, and I am starting again.

For anyone that comes to this blog who has read my non-fiction books, or watched my Pluralsight courses, hello and welcome. I am still writing those books. I am also still engaged in creating and maintaining content with Pluralsight. I love working with them. I’m very proud of that content, but this is going to be more personal. If that doesn’t interest you, then I won’t be offended if you leave and don’t come back. Thank you for following anything I do up to this point. 

If you decide to stick around, then I will write about the art and craft of creative writing for fiction and non-fiction. I will cover the technical aspects and talk about how I feel about the process. I will probably keep the posts fairly short, to ensure I actually write the blog posts. I’m considering turning this into a journal as well as an educational website. We’ll see. 

Anyway, welcome to the new stephenhaunts.com. I hope you like what I want to talk about and will follow along.

How to Give Constructive Criticism

Nearly 16,000 managers were surveyed in two separate studies by leadership development consultancies, one by Zenger and the other by Folkman. It might come as a shock to you that 44% of the managers responded that they find the act of giving feedback stressful, especially when it is negative. One-fifth of the managers avoid it entirely, which raises the question if our employees aren’t giving 100% to their work, can we, as managers, be at fault? Imagine dealing with an unproductive, unpunctual and irresponsible employee on your team who hasn’t been told about these traits yet. Picture him/her coming up to you and asking you for a raise? Shocking as it may seem, it is you who is at fault for not ever pointing out the worst.

Criticism, like evaluations, is an important aspect of being a manager. As managers, it is imperative that we understand the importance of giving and receiving feedback. Feedback, especially constructive feedback, is a respectful way of helping employees better themselves. It is a means of guiding them with honesty, directness, and dignity while not damaging their feelings and ego. When delivered in the right manner, it doesn’t create uneasy spaces within the four walls of the office but rather strengthens interpersonal bonds, which ultimately boosts the productivity and efficiency of employees.

The majority of managers find it hard to offer constructive criticism when it comes to pointing out areas of improvement. They struggle with finding the right balance between advising and criticizing, they fear their words might hurt the feelings of their employees, they worry if it will negatively impact their productivity by demoralizing them, etc.

But here’s a fact—you are going to have to get comfortable delivering constructive criticism. Really, really, really comfortable! Although it is hard enough to deliver it to anyone, it is the hardest when giving it to someone who always gets on your nerves or to an underperforming employee. To say the least, such situations require mastering the art of giving constructive criticism.

Therefore, in this article, together we shall learn how to give constructive criticism in a way that doesn’t hurt the receiver’s feelings as well as learn the differences between constructive and non-constructive criticism and how to use empathy to improve the impact of the criticism.

Dealing with Criticism

For many people, offering up criticism isn’t always pleasurable or appreciated, no matter if it’s from a family member, good friends or a work colleague. Whether it’s taken as constructive or it causes personal turmoil, criticism can be quite difficult to receive and process. The result can often be helpful if that was the intention, or it can be one of those difficult things to accept and forget.

Dealing with Criticism, written by Stephen Haunts

Being criticized at work has been known to have a significant positive or negative impact on employee morale and, in turn, productivity. Whether it’s handed out verbally, in an email, direct messaging systems or even a social media platform, more often than not, the one given the task of providing feedback, often fails to consider how it might be received, especially when it’s unfavorable. 

The goal is usually to improve results at work, without considering the connection between morale and productivity.

Some research has shown that criticism of any kind actually closes down the same brain centers that are otherwise activated when talking about positive things. So, it’s simple to understand how being criticized by a manager or colleague might evoke negative thoughts, embarrassment and humiliation. When a group of employees are put on the defensive and feeling dejected from negative performance reviews, it can be devastating to a company’s bottom line.

Receiving criticism at work, whether it’s called “feedback”, “performance reviews” or “advice”, likely won’t go away. As a cornerstone of corporate culture, more often than not, its how companies get things done. So, if your chances of avoiding criticism at work are slim, it’s in your best interest, as both giver and receiver, to understand what it is and how best to harness its capacity for productive output and positive people.

Creativity Through Limiting Choice and Embracing​ Constraints

Have you ever wondered how Picasso or van Gogh painted masterpieces on such a small canvas? How could they be so creative within such limited space?

Technology has come so far so fast that there’s little incentive to be creative with so many resources available. Sometimes those resources are so plentiful that they can be overwhelming. 

Think about something as simple as taking a picture of a child playing with a ball. Before the age of photo imaging, pictures were innocent, and with that innocence came creativity. The shot was snapped, and candid memories were treasured. Today, it’s hard to see a photo that hasn’t been altered in some way. There’s no need to worry about how the picture will come out because whatever is needed will happen with a computer and a photo editing program. 

Imagine taking a step back in time to when simplicity bred creativity. It can happen for you, and we’ll explain how.

Embrace Constraints 

Have you ever watched a toddler open a present on Christmas morning? So often, the contents, which are often toys, are tossed aside, and the child will stay occupied for hours playing with the box. My seven-year-old son still does this as he likes turning boxes into robots. There can be many shiny, new toys surrounding the child that remain untouched as the box is center-focus.

If all of the toys were removed, and all that was left was a large box, what would the child do? Most likely, they will climb inside and pretend it’s a truck, a spaceship, or even a robot. With or without many options, a child will limit his or her choice by choosing the most imaginative. 

Practical Techniques to Improve Your Self-Motivation

Lack of motivation is something most everyone has experienced at some time in their lives. We can often jump into action if we are prompted by someone else, but when it comes to self-motivation, we must be both the motivator and the motivatee. 

Practical techniques to improve your self-motivation by Stephen Haunts

This isn’t always easy, as we can be prone to procrastination and, let’s face it, laziness. True, we can be too lazy to do something we need to do. It’s so much easier to ask someone else or convince ourselves that it’s not worth the effort to perform a specific task or go to a particular place. 

I should write a book, but I doubt anyone would read it. 

I’d love to become an teacher, but going back to college… no way. 

The boss wants me to represent him at the award ceremony tonight, but I’d probably say or do something stupid.

I’m too tired to go to the gym today. Maybe tomorrow. 

Demotivators are continually looking for an excuse to avoid doing what they need to do to succeed, to reach their goals, or to simply do something or go somewhere. As shown in the above examples, there can be varying reasons for a lack of motivation. Whether it’s a headache or other physical ailment, a lack of self-confidence, or a lack of desire, you’ve probably been guilty of at least one instance of demotivation. 

We all have. And that’s why this article was written. We’ll explore some tips and techniques that will help you to get up and go, do the unthinkable, and conquer the world. 

Okay, so maybe you won’t conquer the world, but you can conquer your world. So, let’s get started!

Understanding Interpersonal Relationships

If you are interested in improving your interpersonal relationships at work but have always found it difficult, then you might like my Pluralsight course, Building Healthy Interpersonal Relationships at Work, where I talk about how to build, and maintain effective relationships, how to manage conflict and how to increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Having a great day at work is one of the top ways to boost your mood and self-confidence. When things are going right in the workplace, you feel a sense of security that just cannot be duplicated elsewhere. Most of us need this type of workplace stability to become successful and productive. If you have ever felt that you love your job and you don’t mind the work involved, but there is still something out of place, consider the relationships that you have built with your coworkers. Interpersonal connections are essential in your daily life, and this includes your professional side.

Understanding Interpersonal Relationships by Stephen Haunts

When you work in an environment where you feel that you can be heard and understood, you are more likely to succeed. Those with hostile work environments tend to not only be more stressed out on an average daily basis but also find ways to take this stress out on loved ones or other uninvolved people. Getting along with your coworkers and supervisors can make all the difference between a great day and a terrible one.

Consider the way that you communicate with your peers. Is the interaction healthy? Productive? Do you feel that you lack something? This course is meant to help you dissect your interpersonal relationships at work while striving toward more robust connections. 

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Four years ago, my friend and I got leadership jobs in the same international company. The work was interesting and paid well. Often, our immediate boss appointed my friend to lead us in departmental tasks. My friend didn’t like that and complained about the responsibilities she’d been given, though she received praise for her work.

Nevertheless, my friend continued to insist that she was unhappy with the work, and even went so far as to say that she thought her leadership was a fraud and would be noticed one day. She claimed that some of us were more qualified and therefore should be doing the work instead. One time, she actually asked our boss, point blank, to remove her from a leadership role, stating that she didn’t feel qualified to lead this particular team. That very move, acknowledging her weaknesses, made her a leader in many eyes, but she still didn’t see it.  She just wasn’t aware of her competent leadership and result-oriented management. 

For one particular task, my friend did endless research and spent hours coming up with strategies. On consecutive mornings, we would find her in the office, compiling presentations. That moment spurred me to do some research and learn more about her mindset. What was driving her to think this way? Maybe I could help her learn to feel more self-confident in her abilities.

What I found was fascinating! I stumbled upon a psychological problem known as “Imposter Syndrome.” I studied various types, as well as strategies on how to overcome it. Later, I shared all my results with my friend and she had a significant breakthrough, learning to own her abilities and putting them to good use which much less fear.The following post details the information found during my research. I believe that the post here will go a long way to helping you better understand Imposter Syndrome. Furthermore, you will understand how it appears in different personality types and will learn how to cope with it.

Removing Mental Roadblocks from Your Work

If you found this useful, then you might also like my book on overcoming procrastination called, A Gentle Introduction to Beating Procrastination and Getting Focused, which is available as an eBook and paperback on Amazon.

Being creative in the workplace is not rocket science; it’s an achievable feat. Creativity in the workplace does more good to you than harm. It helps you make progressive flows in your work, enhances outputs and brings fulfillment to your work.  As profitable as creativity in workplaces is, some forces will readily prevent you from being creative in your work. These forces are called mental roadblocks.

Removing mental roadblocks from  your work
Removing mental roadblocks from your work

Mental roadblocks make it impossible for you to explore your creativity to the fullest, thereby hindering your optimum performance at the workplace. They also hinder your brain from making the right-thinking connections necessary for creativity. For you to have increased productivity through creativity, you have to deal with mental roadblocks. Dealing with mental roadblocks goes beyond the daily performance of routine tasks. In squarely dealing with mental roadblocks, you must face both the external and internal aspects of productive creativity. If you neglect the internal aspects in pursuits of the external aspects, you stay in the same spot of non-performance for a very long time. Productive creativity entails you deal with the internal issues – the mental roadblocks.

We shall travel this journey of dealing with mental roadblocks that hamper your productivity and creativity at work. When you deal with these mental roadblocks, nothing will ever slow you down from putting in your all and getting the best in your workplace.

Introverts and Extroverts — How Different Are They?

I had an interesting conversation with someone recently about introversion where I mentioned that I am very introverted. The person I was talking too sounded quite shocked, and their reaction was, “You speak at loads of conferences on stage, surely you are not shy?”. I found this interesting that the concept of being shy is perceived to be a trait of being introverted.

The differences between introverts and extroverts
The differences between introverts and extroverts

I don’t consider myself shy at all. I will quite happily get up on stage in front of several hundred or a thousand people to deliver a technical talk. I will also mingle and talk with people at social gatherings, but when I do, I find this exhausting, and all I want to do afterward is hideaway by myself for several hours and recharge. This is especially true after delivering a talk; I want to be alone afterward when I have packed up and finished answering questions. The thing that makes me an introvert is that I require solitude to recharge my batteries whereas extroverts recharge in the presence of others.

This all got me thinking, and I decided to research the topic a little more. I hope you find this post interesting.

How Being Connected Disconnects – Social Media, Depression, and your Brain

Feeling happy that you connected with an old friend on Facebook?  That’s oxytocin.

Feeling excited that your Instagram posts are better than those of your circle? That’s serotonin.

Did those ten new followers on twitter make your day?  That’s dopamine.

 Is being connected making us more disconnected?
Is being connected making us more disconnected?

Your brain is full of neurotransmitters that continuously change and regulate how you feel. Engaging in social media may seem innocuous and straightforward, but these activities affect certain neurotransmitters – making you feel happy, sad, or a combination of both.

Once being engaged in social media becomes a regular activity – these seemingly normal activities could cause a downward spiral into sadness or depression.

Neurotransmitters and Social Media

Dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in the brain’s reward reinforcement and pleasure centers.  The pleasant feeling that you get when dopamine levels are elevated motivates you to continue performing the action that brought about the surge of dopamine.

Eating, sex, and most other things necessary to our survival increase dopamine levels. Actions that benefit you, or your community, also increase dopamine levels. Dopamine conditions us to perform operations or activities necessary for survival, or for a better life.

Posting on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and getting likes elevates the dopamine in your system. It makes you want to keep posting, in the hopes of getting acknowledged or rewarded (likes). You had your first taste – now you’re hooked!

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