The magic beach

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There are cliffs at the edge of the horizon, behind the rocky island, so pale and misty they could be a mirage. I wonder aloud at what point the coast curves around, until somebody tells me that no, that is Jersey. The day is so clear that we can see all the way to the British Isles. 

We arrive just as the tide is drawing out, unaware of how lucky we are. Long stretches of golden sand, still rippled with the marks of the waves, unfold under our feet. We explore rock-pools, a waterfall, an infinity pool built into the ocean wall. Gingerly we step between barnacles and in and out of patches of seaweed, making our way to a fort and prison on a hill. (Only a few hours later, there will be no beach at all, and the fort will become a wave-battered island.) Here are ancient walls, hidden rooms, and breathtaking views across to the castle walls and the old town. 

I picture all of this under water in only a matter of hours. The paths, the steps, the hewn-stone alcoves... and then I think about Atlantis, and I wonder...

The children start the day in long pants and jumpers and slowly shed layers as the sun grows in strength, ending up gleefully racing across the sand and through the shallow waves in just their underwear. We plan to visit for two hours and stay for seven instead, barely making it to the last bus home, tired, sunburned, and overflowing with happy memories. 

As if to complete the cliché, seagulls circle above the castle towers, calling. I feel joy. 

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Pirates! For centuries, the treacherous coastline, hardy sailors and impregnable castle walls made our magic beach a haven for pirates. Think of every swashbuckling Treasure Island story you have ever heard: yo ho ho and a bottle of rum, and all the rest. Ruthless crews would lay in wait for English, Dutch and Portuguese ships carrying gold, spices and other precious cargo from the Caribbean, then hide their treasure away in the many secret harbours and hideaways that pepper the cliffs and coves. In the 17th century the King of France legalised the pirates (for a share of the profit), and so they became known as corsairs, privateers pillaging on behalf of the Crown. They were so feared that British mariners called our beach 'the Hornet's Nest.' 

Ralph chooses a random spot in the sand and starts digging. "Soon I'll find treasure," he announces, with supreme confidence. 

This is a place rich in history and beautifully, sometimes brutally, ruled by nature. As we clamber over the still-wet rocks, Scout starts chanting to herself softly, "At our beach, at our magic beach..." from a well-known children's book we have at home. The book is about a beach that is beautiful and magical in its own right but, on every second page, the children in its pages imagine something more: knights battling dragons; an exhilarating underwater race on the backs of seahorses trailing pearls; smugglers, sneaking along the rocks at dusk. 

The book is called Magic Beach

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Loneliness, letters, and a new challenge

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"Are you lonely Mummy?" Scout slips her little hand into mine and looks up at me with concern.

I have been encouraging my children to interact with other children here in France. We go to the playground most afternoons, around about the time that the French children come out of school. Ralph and Scout are signing up for karate and ballet respectively and, with some help from the maire (the mayor), they have both been given special dispensation to attend Ecole Maternelle, despite the short time we are here and the fact that Scout is the wrong age. 

At first, they pushed back. They are such good friends, my little ones, and almost entirely self-sufficient. They didn't feel the need to fight their shyness or traverse the language barrier to make new friends. But I persisted, and like the brave little champions they are, they have acquiesced.

But all my talk about making friends and not being lonely took root, and now they are worried about me. "What will you do?" they want to know. "How will you make friends?"

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Apparently, we (and by "we" I mean "the Western world") are in the midst of what is being called a loneliness epidemic. 

Digital technology has made communication easier and faster than ever before, but it turns out that when it comes to psychology and mental health, communication is not the same as connection

In a recent survey of more than 20,000 American adults, close to half reported feeling alone, left out, and isolated. One in four Americans said they rarely felt understood. 

Scientists and psychologists are now saying that social isolation and loneliness will reach "epidemic proportions" by 2030, and that this will create a public health crisis. The latest research, based on more than 70 studies covering close to 4 million people from across North America, Europe, and Australia, has found that loneliness and social isolation significantly increase the risk of premature death.

It all drills down to this: feeling connected to others is a fundamental human need. 

On the other hand, while connection and communication are not the same thing, neither are connection and proximity the same. Many of those people in the previous studies who said they were lonely were living with a partner. This backs up something that I firmly believe: the key to combating loneliness is not about how many relationships you have (or how many Facebook friends, YouTube followers or Instagram followers you have), but about how meaningful your relationships are.

That's why I feel OK, and how I attempt to ease the fears of my children on my behalf. I have moved states and countries enough times that my friends are scattered all over the world. I have learned how to remain connected despite being geographically separated. That's not to say I don't genuinely love a coffee catch-up with my dear friends, or to share a meal with my husband at the end of a long day, but I do know how to feel connected when we are apart.

The sting of loneliness can be felt by just about anyone, at any age and in any circumstance. However, social isolation and disorienting experiences can definitely create or exacerbate feelings of loneliness. So people in nursing homes, hospitals and prisons, for example, as well as migrants, people who are unwell at home, and the live-in carers of people who are unwell at home, are more likely to become quite lonely. 

This is a beautifully and sensitively-written article that talks more about modern loneliness. 

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So I was thinking. What if we were to all reach out to people who were either lonely, or at risk of feeling the kind of social isolation that leads to loneliness? Could you help? 

A week-long challenge

International Letter Writing Week is coming up next month (it's the week that coincides with the official UN World Post Day, on 9 October). What if we were all to commit to writing a letter or a postcard a day to someone who is lonely, throughout that week, to help them feel more connected?

A letter is a lovely way to share your emotions, and invite others into parcels of your days, that is second only to catching up face-to-face. Even the tangible nature of your letters - your handwriting, the stationery you chose, any gifts or embellishments you made - make them personal. For someone who is experiencing loneliness or isolation, your letter is like a hug, and the time you give to properly reading a letter from them is a listening ear, or possibly even the shoulder they need to cry on.

You don't need to write "I thought you might be feeling lonely" (no-one wants a pity-letter!). Just write "I was thinking of you and thought I'd write to say hello." You could write to the same person seven days in a row, or write to a different person each day. Here are some ideas: 

Of course, the act of writing to someone, when you write from the heart, does you bucket-loads of good as well. Sometimes I feel quite selfish when I'm writing my letters, because writing and making them makes me feel so good. Probably, it helps me stave off the loneliness I might otherwise be feeling, too. 

In the article I linked to above, loneliness is described as "a let-out-of-breath topic." So many people feel this kind of social malaise, and it's so nice that we can all be allowed to talk about it at last, and not feel any stigma. Maybe if we all get writing, we can turn the tide of isolation, and start to forge real connections again. 

What do you think? Are you in? 


ps. If you're in the mood for even more letter-writing inspiration, I want to remind you about my letter-writing and mail-art e-course, "The Most Beautiful Letter You Have Ever Written," from which this challenge-theme and the list in it was taken.  

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Over four weeks, I will guide you through multiple methods of making beautiful mail-art and creative, handmade stationery; teach you the art of writing and storytelling; help you forge personal connections in your letters and find pen-pals if you want them; and share time-management tips so even the busiest people can enjoy sending and receiving letters. There's also a host of downloadable resources, and access to my own private mail-art pen-pal group. Registrations are open right now, and you can find out more here

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Summer picnic

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We spread out our blanket in the shade on the grassy flat inside the ruins of the castle. All around us, birdsong. The paper-rustle of the breeze in the trees. The occasional, distant hum of a car bracing itself to climb the hill on the other side. And centuries. The sound of centuries. The vibrations of a thousand years, deeper than human hearing but as real as that bumble-bee we saw, drunk on pollen, staggering from borage to blackberry and back again. 

I take off my shoes and the grass is soft and warm beneath my toes. I want my body to touch the hum of the centuries, to see if they will touch me. 

"Are you grounding, Mummy?" asks Scout. That's my girl. The children kick off their shoes, too, and race about amid the wildflowers, shooting corks at each other from toy wooden crossbows. We pick flowers to press and, when the sun gets too hot, retreat into the shade for lunch. It is simple fare, but so, so good. Baguette from our favourite boulanger in town, soft cheese, pear and apple. And because I am still not entirely French, a thermos of hot tea. 

I stretch out on my stomach, kicking my bare feet in the air behind me, and read to the children aloud from Lunch Lady magazine. A story about the romance of caravanning in Australia. Scout says, "Let's stay here for the whole day," and I agree. Ralph discovers he can carry the corks for his crossbow inside the fat curls on his head. 

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There is a plaque set near one of the ruined towers of the castle, that tells a little of the history of this place. It is uncharacteristically poetic for a plaque, and so beautiful that I search the small-print for an attribution of some kind. I feel as though I'm reading Victor Hugo, or Walter Scott, rather than someone from the Bretagne Tourism Office, circa nineteen-eighty-something.

I'll share some of it with you. 

"For over a thousand years, the mighty castle walls dominated the banks of the river and echoed to the clash of iron and the cries of warriors. Now all is quiet on the deserted peak. Nothing is to be heard but the songs of the shepherds and the birds. The old feudal giant is nothing more than a meagre skeleton and each winter carries off a fragment. Only brambles and wild flowers inhabit the gaping ruins. Corn and apples ripen the orchard that once was a place of arms. Only the dew from heaven and the labourer's sweat now water this earth which warfare once drenched in blood and tears."

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Practising in public

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Last night while drinking champagne and eating crackers with soft cheese and slices of fresh tomato (topped with ground salt and black pepper), my friend Tonia and I got to chatting about bell-ringers and how they manage to stop those giant bells from tolling past the designated number on any given hour. (Do you know how they do it?)

Creatively inspired by the champagne and the lateness of the hour, we came up with all kinds of theories, ranging from shoving some kind of giant feather duster up in between the clapper* and the inside of the bell, to having a second bell-ringer whose job it was to catch hold of the bell as it swung and then hold it there (perilously, in our imaginings, tilting over the edge of a bell-tower while holding back a giant brass bell with all their apparently-considerable strength). I have my suspicions that our theories would not hold water in a peer-reviewed study, but they filled our evening with laughter. 

And somewhere in the midst of all this my brain, probably once again influenced by the champagne and the late night, made the leap from creative theorising on bell-ringers to creative inspiration in general to Quasimodo and the way jobs that were once intensely private (like bell-ringers in Notre Dame) were now as open to the world as anyone else (thanks to the Internet and in particular social media) to the way many artists are now using this phenomenon to practise in public and build a tribe or community of like-minded supporters around them (these thoughts followed one another in the space of about five seconds, by the way)... to oh yes! I am teaching a course about this! Let's talk about practising in public on the blog! 

Which brings us to the present. 

Most of the time when I work with clients, teach my Create With Confidence course, or even teach my Beautiful Letter course, we focus on what is going on for the person on the inside, on the challenges and joys that make up a person's creative life.

At some point, though, most people begin to look outward, to what needs to happen when they want to share their creative work, or promote their creative work, or even sell their creative work. But to do this, they need to get comfortable with the idea of other people seeing their creations... and even with others seeing their creations before they are absolutely perfect. Eep!

This can bring up all sorts of fears and insecurities, but I think it is important that, if we ever plan to share our work with the public, we get used to sharing it before we deem it perfect. 

Why? Because if you wait until your creations are perfect, you might never share them. After all, even great and successful artists often cringe at their work:

  • In 1908, Monet destroyed at least 15 of his major works just before they were due to be exhibited in the Durand-Ruel gallery
  • Franz Kafka burned 90 percent of his writings and instructed in his Will that the rest was to be burned unread. The only reason we have Kafka's works today is because his friend ignored his wishes
  • Billy Joel said of his 1989 hit We Didn’t Start the Fire that “That melody is horrendous. It’s like a mosquito droning. It’s one of the worst melodies I’ve ever written.”
  • Woody Allen hated his classic movie Manhattan so much that he begged United Artists not to release it, and even offered to do another movie for free just to stop it from being released 
  • Harper Lee tossed the manuscript for one of the world's most beloved novels, To Kill a Mockingbird, out the window
  • I once read that Picasso had been banned from certain galleries for trying to ‘fix’ his own paintings 

The only reason we have these great works today is because the artists ultimately shared their work, despite their misgivings. (Even Kafka refrained from burning that final 10 percent of his work).

One of the best ways to get comfortable with sharing your work before it is 'perfect' is to start by practising in public, so that's where I like to start, too...

Most performers understand the art of practising in public really well. No musician quietly practises vocals and guitar in the privacy of their bedroom for years, only to emerge one day ready to take the band on tour and perform for crowds of thousands. Normally, they practise a few songs and when the songs don't suck, they get a gig: something like Uncle Norm and Aunty Glennis' 60th wedding anniversary, or a high school parade. Bit by bit, they do more of these "friends and family" gigs, learning more songs and improving their skills and understanding how to perform to a group (rather than the mirror).

Over time, maybe they get some gigs at local pubs and RSL clubs. The regulars come to know them, and know their songs. Maybe the musician tries out some of their own music at these gigs, alongside the well-known classics. They learn which songs connect and which ones don't, and tweak their compositions when they see they're losing people's attention. Bit by bit the gigs improve: some corporate hotel work here to pay the bills; a support act for a friend who is launching an album there; playing or singing backup for a more established singer now to pay more of the bills... 

By the time most of the musicians we have heard of "make it," they have been practising in public for five or ten years, or more.

I read an article recently that said, "The creative impulse fundamentally involves connecting with other people, even if we don’t recognize it."

My husband often asks me about this. I sometimes write the most niche of stuff. A magical realism novella about an old man? A book about snail mail? I am well aware that the books I write are not mass market or even mediocre market sellers. "So why bother at all?" my husband asks me. "Just write for yourself." And I reply, "Because I want to share."

This is what Jeff Goins, the author of Real Artists Don't Starve, has to say about the need to share (and the ickiness of self promotion):

"We all need our work to resonate with someone; our art needs an audience. The way the Starving Artist attempts this is by working in private, secretly hoping to be discovered some day. She spurns the need for an audience and chooses to suffer for her work instead, holding out for that lucky moment when someone stumbles upon her genius. The Thriving Artist, on the other hand, chooses a different path: she shares her work by practising in public. Not by being sleazy or self-promotional but by letting people simply watch her work."

In other words, by practising in public. Here's why I think we should put our work out there:

It's an act of generosity

Sharing your work in public before it is 'perfect' is an act of generosity. Instead of presenting yourself to the world as the answer to your particular niche, you share your journey and your progress, which is an open invitation for them to share theirs, as well.

You'll find a community

This means that practising in public is also a way to find like-minded friends, building around you a community of people who feel personally invested in your work, and who genuinely want you to succeed. It's by sharing that you will find people who can provide aid, advice, encouragement and support on your creative journey.

Your community is cheering you on, asking when you'll share the next thing you made, asking how you achieved that particular technique, sharing their own work, and sharing their own techniques. When you practise your work in public in this way, your generosity attracts the kind of camaraderie that is usually found in a workshop or class.

You'll hone your abilities

It's not just the sharing of your work in public that is important, it's the practising. At the same time that you are attracting this community, this audience who cares about what you are sharing, practising in public is also enabling you to hone your abilities.

"It's not just the fact that she did her work in public that made [her success] happen," Goins said of cartoonist Stephanie Halligan. "It's that she practised, gradually getting better and allowing her audience to see that progress." (Halligan shares the story of how practising in public turned into a global platform and a full-time job, here).

Your confidence will grow

The more you share in public, the more confident you will be. Like the musician who first started out at their aunty's and uncle's wedding anniversary: that first 'gig' was probably terrifying! But I'm willing to bet it got easier over time. This will be the case for you, too.

Gentle accountability

If you struggle with motivation or staying the path, practising in public is a wonderful way to hold yourself accountable.

If you commit to a 100-day challenge all by yourself, it won't be easy to stay the course when the going gets tough or life gets busy. But if you make an announcement in public that you have committed to this 100-day challenge, and if you share the results of that challenge every day for 100 days, people will cheer you on, and they will be watching for you, and rooting for you, and holding you (gently) accountable to keep going.

* I had to look up 'clapper.' Now my Google history shows "what is the name of the donging bit in a bell?" I wonder what the aliens would think about us if they read our Google histories. 

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This piece on practising in public is a sneak-peek adaptation from the introductory copy to my Sales & Social Masterclass for Makers online course, which launches this September. I created the masterclass originally for students in my Create With Confidence course, but the content was so big it needed to have its own space, and I have to confess I am really proud of the result. Here's a super-quick overview:

What's in it

The Sales & Social Masterclass for Makers is incredibly practical, guiding people through all the ins and outs and options they need to consider when it comes to all kinds of things about going public, including understanding the psychology behind a personal brand, finding your "right people" online, navigating social media (including choosing your platform and protecting your privacy), launching a newsletter, pitching stories to the media, building a website, blogging in 2018, and learning how to sell (both in craft markets and also online).

Community and publicity support

For people wanting to find like-minded community, I have created a Facebook group where we can all share our experiences, seek help through our hurdles and celebrate our wins, and I'll host challenges on there that help people find accountability and support in various elements of the masterclass content. I'll also launch what I'm calling the Naomi Loves Marketplace, a regular feature on my Instagram Stories during which I'll share anything the participants are making, doing or selling, to my audience. 

Wise words from people already doing this (well)

I'll leave you now with some words of wisdom from some of the experts I interviewed for the making of this masterclass... 

“As small makers or creatives we have a huge advantage over the big companies when it comes to social media. You know those big brands that spend a fortune on creating a 'friendly' marketing tone with a team of people replying on twitter like you're best friends? They're trying to fake being like us.” - Sara Tasker of Me & Orla on social media for creatives
“Tell us what you want to achieve with your work or story and tell us more about your style. What feelings do you want to evoke with your work or story? How did you come up with this? What is your inspiration? What material did you use? You don’t have to write a book or a long letter about your work or story, but some personal details can make a difference.” - Journalists from Flow Magazine on pitching to magazines
“Deliver what you have promised, plus a little bit more. Delight your customers, look after them, treat them as friends, and be grateful for their interest in you and the things you make. Every single time an order comes in, I am thankful to that person.” - Brenner Lowe of Boots Paper on selling online
“I find the format of newsletters really exciting. It is personal. Intimate, even, a bit like podcasts. There’s a degree of trust that people give you by voluntarily sharing their email addresses with you, and that can make this format feel a lot more familiar than, say, social media.” - Sophie Hansen of Local is Lovely and My Open Kitchen on writing compelling newsletters
“Add height to your stall. Use boxes, small suitcases, anything you can find and adapt that will add height and dimension to your stall. This will make it a lot more interesting and inviting than a simple flat table.” - Dee Wild of Wild About Melbourne on how to sell your handmade goods at markets
“In the last few months I’ve heard voices become louder and louder. They don’t just want ‘micro-blogs’ like Instagram. They want to read articles and essays with soul. Well-written, thoughtful pieces that engage and inspire. I’m constantly looking for bloggers with something interesting to say – and I know other people are, too.” - Helen Redfern of A Bookish Baker on blogging in 2018

If you like the sound of the Sales & Social Masterclass for Makers and would like to join in or learn more, there's a whole lot of information right here, or just feel free to send me an email.

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Early morning with a teapot clock

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There is a ticking clock. I followed the sound of it this morning as I tip-toed barefoot into the kitchen in a dark that was almost complete, aside from the soft, orange glow of one streetlight in the leafy square down below, filtering through the window. Tick tock. I tilted my head to listen more closely, and groped about in the dark for the object that was ticking. Held up to the faint light of the window, it revealed itself to be small, ceramic clock shaped like a teapot, and it said 5:40am. Good enough for me. I put the ticking teapot down, flipped the real kettle on, and opened the window to let the cooler air in.

With my tea made, I sat down by that window and looked out over the square: there is an old church from which last night a choir of angels filled the air with song; a half-timbered medieval house across the way; and cobblestones around the silent square which, during the daylight hours, is bustling with people drinking and dining and laughing and smoking and talking: talk, talk, talking in snatches of French that I pick up here and there as they waft up to me in my third-floor eyrie, and it feels impossible that I am actually here. 

I think about this as I sip my tea. I want to take this opportunity, before the rest of the house is awake, to let the reality of this new life sink in.  

We have moved to France. Not forever, but for a fair bit longer than your average holiday. It is August right now, and we won't be home until New Year. We have an apartment in a village, and our goal while we are here is to simply and whole-heartedly immerse ourselves in life. We want to explore every inch of this village, on foot. We want to practise the language. We want to make friends. We want to eat the food and we want to learn to cook the food. 

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Our village is pretty. Almost impossibly pretty, like a storybook. I didn't know this when I chose it: I simply googled towns of a certain size in the area we wanted to visit, and shortlisted them according to amenities like nearby hospitals and train stations (the reality of travel with kids). I can't even begin to share the knots of anxiety I had been experiencing in the lead-up to this trip (and oh! the late nights finishing my deadlines!), and the journey here took two days and was genuinely gruelling. Nobody wants to see a four-year-old with bloodshot eyes from exhaustion, and still have to tell them "Sorry, Mummy can't carry you because of the suitcases."

But yesterday as Paris gave way to fields and forests as our train sped on and on through deepening wilderness, my heart began to lift. Our stop: the end of the line. We clambered off and dragged those heavy suitcases and heavy-lidded children over the rough cobblestones, up and down laneways and in and out of crooked little streets, until suddenly we rounded a corner and an antique carousel was just beginning to turn. A hill beneath it swept down over ancient rooftops peppered with terra cotta chimneys, behind a riot of summer blooms. Pedestrians had taken over the road, the one brave car that appeared every five minutes or so being forced to inch its way tentatively through swathes of people eating ice cream. 

Scout turned to me with eyes like dinner plates and said, "Our town is amazing!" and I let out a deep breath I hadn't even realised I was holding. 

Our caretaker met us at the door with smiles and keys and a cornucopia of French bread, eggs, milk and fruit that I had asked her to buy for us. (Ralph bit into an apple and then it was his turn for those bloodshot eyes to turn into dinner plates: "It's a PEACH!" he announced, with the joy that can only be had by a fruit-loving boy who only two days ago was in winter, and proceeded to eat two at the same time, one in each hand). 

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It will take some adjusting. At the moment, we still feel like tourists. The children, with Euros from friends burning holes in their pockets, bought woven bracelets and rings and money boxes and keyrings from market vendors in the streets, and there was no way I was getting them to bed without ice cream first, and a wander through the old streets and through the castle walls.

In two weeks, though, most of the tourists will go home, and we will start to learn what life in the village is like when it is just a village. 

The dawn is starting to lift now, and the first of the birds are singing. A friendly cat just launched itself onto the windowsill and frightened the living daylights out of me. When my heart palpitations subsided I said "Bonjour," and it purred a greeting, before slinking off on whatever mission it had originally had in mind. 

The clock tower bell is tolling (very considerate: it didn't toll throughout the night, or maybe the bell-ringer just needed a sleep-in today). A few introductory higher notes and then a heavier, centuries old message: dong, dong, dong... seven times. And now I hear seagulls, drowning out the sound of the ticking teapot. Seven o'clock. Time to get the kids up. 

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All the sunrises and all the sunsets in all the world

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For the longest time, it felt as though I was alone in a post-apocalyptic world… all empty streets and orange-tinted street-lights and not. one. sound (not even crickets)… as I watched the moon turn slowly pink and Mars shone fiercely bright as only the god of war could do. 

Watching the blood moon eclipse unfold through the lens of my camera, the tall conifer trees at the back of the council building across the road gave the impression that we were somewhere rural, in the south of France maybe, rather than where I actually was which was a bus stop in an inner suburb of Melbourne, Australia. This impression was helped by the fact that no matter how hard I tried, there was so little light in the sky aside from Mars, which dominated everything, that every picture I took came out blurry, a little like a Van Gogh landscape with all those conifer trees. 

I shivered, adjusted the rug I’d draped around my shoulders for warmth, and moved the camera tripod a little to the right to position the moon between the trees again. 

Blood red. It sounds ominous, but it was the most beautiful sight. The cold moon washed red by all the sunrises and all the sunsets in all the world, happening at that exact moment. My moon, and yours. I stood there no longer alone, thinking about all those sunrises and sunsets and YOU in them, waking to coffee or driving home from work or sipping wine by the beach or making the beds or walking the dog or heading out with friends… all those things you were doing at sunrise or sunset in Auckland or Amsterdam, and everywhere in between. 

Not alone. “Can you see it yet?” a woman in a white dressing-gown and ugg boots raced across the road, face sky-ward, while a man followed after her, calling out. A child and a grown-up, also in dressing-gowns, hurried up the street I was on, pointing to the sky. A car came around the corner and the driver saw us, pulled over, turned off the headlights, and got out to watch. 

We all stood in companionable silence for a minute or two, and then the sunrise-sunset-moon slipped behind the conifers, and everyone drifted away, back to their warm homes. Somewhere, a magpie started to sing. I took a last sip of my thermos tea, packed up the camera tripod, and turned for my own home, too. Alone in the brightening sky now, fierce as ever, I’m pretty sure Mars shook his fist at me. 

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A walk in the forest

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A walk in the forest is what I'm longing for right now. Somewhere with a gloom that is friendly, like a hug from nature. With fallen leaves and old sticks and bark and soil underfoot, and a green canopy overhead where daylight filters, dappled and maculate, soft as rain. 

Deep, deep down below, the trees will be talking. Sharing secrets, nutrients, nurture. 

I will explore paths long-untrodden, peer into corners and around ancient trees, search for friends from the pages of old stories, and make up new stories in my mind. 

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Thinking of you

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Sometimes do you find that the longer you leave a conversation, the harder it is to have? I'm not talking about "tricky subject" conversations necessarily, even something as lovely as a catch-up with a dear friend. If you haven't seen or spoken to your friend in weeks or months, a quick half-hour catch-up over coffee just won't do it: there's too much to say, too much to retell! And so you put off the coffee until you can plan a dinner, or a whole afternoon. But time races on and you never do find the enough time to do that, and all the missed conversations between you accumulate, and something as ineffectual as a half-hour coffee catch-up seems even more ridiculous. 

That's a little bit how I feel about this blog right now. There's so much I have to say and share that I don't even know where to start. And I don't really have the time to be telling all the stories, but I miss this blog. I've put off writing in here because I feel too busy to tell the full story. But then all I do in the meantime is collect more stories, and neglect this little space. 

Last week I was hunting for a blog post I'd written a while back and, as I scrolled through my own archives, it made me so happy and a little nostalgic to read back through all those stories. I called my blog "Naomi Loves" because I wanted it to document the things I love: things made, discovered and celebrated. I have protected it as my own space, choosing not to monetise or do anything else that would let this blog belong to someone else. It is my happy place, and yours if similar things make you happy. And reading back over it the other night did make me happy. 

So I'm back, even if only for a half-hour coffee chat. A similar equivalent is when I tell my letter-writing students not to always feel they have to write a grand epistle. Sometimes, the weight of writing an amazing letter gets in the way of writing any letter at all. So I tell them, "Write a postcard. Tell the person, 'I'm thinking of you.'" This is my postcard to my blog, and to you. I'm thinking of you! 

Here are some things I've been doing lately... 

* Wrote and launched my Create with Confidence mentoring program and e-course, which is up and running now (I can't wait to share all the amazing things my students are creating. They are the most incredible bunch of women.) 

* Gave an interview to Issue 23 of Flow magazine, and took over their Pinterest board for a month

* Learned how to make pasta properly at a children's workshop (pictured) hosted by Lunch Lady magazine with the lovely Julia Ostro. (Four-year-old Ralph also learned how to pronounce orecchiette to perfection) 

* Visited Orange in NSW for the My Open Kitchen gathering, an entire weekend of wisdom, inspiration and community, and chatted with Skye Manson on the My Open Kitchen podcast about art, books, community, and kindness

* Talked to In Clover magazine (volume 4) about letter-writing and slow living, and how to make mail-art

* Finished writing my book The Art of Mail, finalised the cover art, sent it to design, and am now finalising the last of the illustrations to go inside

* Nervously joined sales coach Jessica Lorimer on her podcast to receive on-air coaching about how to sell my courses with integrity, gentleness and consideration

* Finally convinced my family to go camping with me. We were woefully under-prepared, and froze all night, but the children are still talking about it with joy months later 

* Had the most lovely natter with Miranda Mills on the Tea & Tattle podcast, all about letter writing and forging real connections

* Shared my thoughts about the joys of letter-writing in the family issue of Peppermint magazine  

* Wrote a mini e-book for people who struggle to find the time for their creativity, called Time to Make (it's free for subscribers to my newsletter and you can get a copy here)

It seems like a lot when I write it all down like that. No wonder I'm so tired! I hope you'll share what you've been up to, too. It's time I stopped talking, and started listening! 

 

Talk soon, Naomi xo

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Procrastinating (and the inner critic)

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Today I have been procrastinating like there is nothing else to do in the world, ever.

I have never been busier. I'm getting up earlier than ever and staying up later than ever and giving up all kinds of joys and activities that I usually appreciate, because I'm so excited and passionate about my work right now. It's not even a sacrifice, because I love it!

But today, on only my second day back 'in the office' after two-and-a-half weeks of school holidays (= minimal productivity), I am procrastinating. Here are some things I have done today, instead of working:

  • Lingered after school drop-off, chatting with the other parents
  • Washed up all the dishes and cleaned the kitchen bench 
  • Walked to the shops to buy washing detergent 
  • Walked to the post office to pick up the mail 
  • Walked to a cafe to buy a coffee 
  • Reread and rearranged (probably just shuffled!) all my notes 
  • Two loads of laundry 
  • Let a mentoring call last way longer than planned, because it was nice to chat 
  • Watched an episode of Lost in Space on Netflix 
  • Listened to a podcast 

And it's not even two o'clock in the afternoon. 

It's not like me to be this undisciplined. Normally, I know how to stick to the program. If more than a decade of freelancing has taught me nothing else, it's how to work without accountability, and stick to deadlines. And yet here I am now facing one of the biggest deadlines and most exciting phases in my career, having put my heart and soul and just about everything I've ever learned into launching my new course, Create With Confidence, and I'm spending my child-free hours on laundry and Netflix. Why?

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Of course my brain knows the answer why: I am afraid.

Actually I'm not afraid, I'm terrified. Terrified that I have thrown everything I've got into something that nobody will want, despite the fact that I made it because they told me they wanted it. That I'll be rejected (which, in my fear, equals unloved). And on and on my brain spirals: my course will fail (depending on the exact moment of my fear, "fail" means nobody signing up, or it means people signing up but hating it, or goodness knows what else), my business will fail, my family won't eat, my children will live with an uninspired and unfulfilled mother, and the entire Internet will hate me. No biggie. Thanks, brain. 

During the past week I've been doing mini-mentoring calls with people from all over the world, talking about their creative dreams and what's stopping them. I have loads to say about this. In fact the blog post that I really wanted to write today - the one that I procrastinated myself out of writing - was about rediscovering the pure joy of creating, just for the sake of joy. So many people I've spoken to long for this: to go back into that childlike experience of making for no other reason than because it's fun, and without critiquing ourselves. I call this "reigniting the spark," and I really will write that blog post sometime soon, because it's super important, and exciting, and fun, and just a wonderful gift we can give to ourselves. 

But that will have to wait for another day, a day when I'm not busy doing Very Important Things. Like laundry. 

One of the other things I keep hearing from people on the mentoring calls is some kind of self-critical statement that equates lack of creative productivity with personal flaws. "Why do you think you haven't been able to reach your creative goals?" I ask them, and the answers come back... "I am lazy." "I am uninspired." "I am unfocused." "I am not good at finishing things." "I lack self-discipline." "I am not creative." "I procrastinate." 

And while I realise this is a gross generalisation - we all have our own unique sets of feelings and experiences and beliefs that influence our ideas of self-worth - I believe most of those people are telling me a version of the same thing: "I am afraid." 

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I spend a lot of my time on these calls trying to encourage these people to be kinder to themselves. To help them investigate why they think these things about themselves. And I'm no therapist, but often the answers are not too far from the surface: chronic illnesses, grief and loss, stressful events, unkind words from others... there are so many reasons why we struggle to work on our creative projects or can't seem to commit the time we know we want to commit to make our creative dreams happen, and very rarely - if ever - is it because we are less than worthy as a person. 

I remind these people to be kind to themselves. To own what is going on in their lives - to voice it out loud - because naming it sometimes takes away some of its power. I give them creative exercises to do that are designed to silence the inner-critic, or reignite the sense of play and joy in creativity. I give them mindfulness activities to do to reconnect with that sense of inner peace that allows space for creative thinking to come in (if you've ever had a great idea in the shower or on a solitary walk, you'll know what I mean). I help them start habits that make creative expression as integral a part of the day as brushing their teeth - so that they can do this even when they're feeling afraid. I point them to tribes of like-minded people who can support and encourage them on this journey. 

They say, "This is so simple. Why couldn't I see this or do this for myself?"

And today I face the same question. I know what to do, so why can't I do it for myself? I guess the answer is that sometimes, we just need to turn to our tribe, the people who understand us, because they can provide the perspective that we, in the midst of everything, just can't find. 

So I'm writing this blog post today, dear friend, instead of the other one I'd planned, because I can't seem to push through this fear on my own. Maybe in writing the fears down for you, I'll be able to internalise the truth for myself. To stop hiding from my fear in Netflix, and get on with it and do the thing I know I love.

What are your creative struggles today? Shall we encourage each other?

Naomi x

ps. I've made a printable list of techniques to use in case you need some help silencing that pesky inner critic (hint: in writing this blog, I'm making use of tip #7). Download it here:

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If any of this resonated with you and you want to take this journey with me, I'd love you to join me in my new course, Create With Confidence, which is open for enrolments right now. 

We use fun, habit-forming activities that actually train the brain to think in a more creative way; we tackle a lot of those self-doubt, motivation and focus challenges (as well as the big one: lack of time); and we start and finish a fun art project (of your choosing). This all happens though a combination of creative activities, a welcoming community, one-on-one mentoring calls with me, and close, step-by-step support, over an eight-week period starting 14 May. 

Because this is the first time I've offered Create With Confidence, you can join in for a significant discount. Payments can also be spread across two or three months, depending on what suits your budget. There's loads more information here. If you're curious but would like to discuss your creative goals with me in person and see whether this course is right for you, I'd love to chat! I've opened up my calendar and you can book a discovery call for me here

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"If you have an idea, you can learn how to make it" Nick Olson

Just a little story to share with you today, to remind you that if you yearn to make something, large or small, not to let the fear of failure hold you back. Just give it a try! 

And also... "Never try to fit the sunset into just one little space." Lila Horwitz

 

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