Why You Should Be Reading Fiction

Elissa Johnston Why You Should Be Reading Fiction

We are bombarded with lists of non fiction books to read right now. Books to make us: smarter, richer, healthier, popular and to run ourselves and our businesses more effectively. But where do fiction books fit in? There are numerous benefits to adding novels to your reading pile and I am going to share just a few. 

The reason non fiction books even exist are to solve our problems by feeding us solutions. Yet novels are based entirely around problem solving. Throughout a novel the protagonist (main character) spends time solving problem after problem in order to make their way through to the climax (after which the story ties itself up and finishes). In a good work of fiction the solution to each problem is not solved straight away with a step by step formula. Instead, the answers are drip fed to the reader and oftentimes are messy and incomplete. Quite simliar to how life works.

Problem solving also gets us, the reader, thinking. When you read (quality) fiction how often do you think about the story so far when you are not reading the book. As readers we think about what the protagonist is facing and work out how they will get out of the situation. We hypothesise on what they will do, which course of action to take, and how that will affect the rest of the story. Many times we even predict how the book will end. This is problem solving at it’s core and we don’t need a non fiction book to tell us how to do it, because we already know.

Non fiction books centred around relationships speak in depth about emotional intelligence. This is done in theory with ideal practical applications, but life as we know doesn’t fit a straight line. Novels centre around relationships and by connecting ourselves with the main characters we are able to grow our own emotional intelligence. We develop empathy towards characters in a story. We side with them, or against them; get angry at injust treatment; sad in times of loss; and we even get excited reading about the thrill of new love or the victory of the chase. Fiction takes us through the gamut of human emotions and we don’t even need to leave our house.

While non fiction books are often dry and lack imaginative thought, well written novels pump up your imagination. When snippets of information are given, it is up to our imagination to fill in the rest. We might be told a character has chestnut hair and wears a white shirt. But what does their face look like, how do they speak, how do they walk. Or when we are told a character enters a room with a desk under the window, what else do we see in the room? It is amazing the colour our imagination provides to a story, filling in intricate details the author has not mentioned. Perhaps the author never convinced those details given we all will see it differently in our individual minds. Of course, using your imagination is another tick for getting those creative juices flowing.

And finally there is pleasure. Reading non fiction often feels like a chore, but a novel is done purely because of the pleasure it brings. Sometimes there is nothing better than curling up on our favourite spot on the sofa and losing our senses deep into a novel. Escaping into another world slows down our current world and there is immense joy in the luxury that brings.

So tell me, what novel will you be adding to your reading list?

The Torment of the Unpublished Author

“Are you published yet?”

Through gritted teeth I respond no. I don’t add anything else. The answer is quite complicated and I know the person asking the question is trying to be polite. They most likely don’t want to hear about the agonies of the unpublished author. I watch their face. They nod, slowly. Wondering how, when the world moves so quickly, I can still be unpublished. Almost always they decide not to dig deeper and the conversation will move onto anything else. 

I am asked this question surprisingly often. It pains me in many ways, yet I also am comforted by it. How lovely it is when someone shows an interest in what you do. Yet this question touches nerves, because I ask myself the same thing. Why am I not published yet?

Unfortunately for the unpublished author, the publishing industry is painfully slow. Not slow as in a government department, but slow as in, are we still in the industrial revolution? There are rules to follow with traditional publishing, most often being thou shall only submit thine manuscript to one publisher at any one time. Once submitted thou shall wait six months before assuming a hard no. Six months when you are waiting for your big break is an excruciating time.

Then there are the stories, of those who have gone before you. Stories of how after six months, a now published author received a phone call and was signed up to an agency. Or another who shares their elation at having had their manuscript discovered through the slush pile. These stories provide hope and a belief that yes, you too can join that elite group.

However, the experts say different, and often they dismantle the belief. Perhaps your manuscript isn’t good enough and never will be and it’s time to lock it up in a cupboard never to see the light of day. You are aware of the statistics and realise this could very well be the situation you are facing. There are stories that go along with this course of action. Of authors who persisted and after years they locked it away and now they have a large collection of published books but that first one is still hidden from view. Maybe if they never let it go they would still be unpublished. 

The belief wavers. One day it’s there, the next it’s gone. You believe this manuscript is The One. But what if it actually isn’t. How many manuscripts do you have to write, edit, polish and repeat to become a published author? Then there are the well meaning, non writer, friends, who offer you what they call inspiration. “You know how many times JK Rowling was rejected don’t you?” Yes, I know. We all do. But that has already happened and won’t happen again in this lifetime. Other stories are shared, about authors who never gave up and after exhausting almost all publishers were offered a contract. Is this what we are holding on to each time we submit?

There is another way. Self publishing. By gaining a few more skills I could be holding my manuscript in my hands in book form, ready to sell. There are stories about Indie authors too. Ones who make six figures each year from their work. Who wouldn’t want that. Yet I don’t jump ship. Is it because I’m not backing myself or because I am clinging to an out dated childhood dream?

So I wait. I am forced to be patient. And at this point the second novel has found its way onto the pages. Because if I don’t keep writing, if I don’t have another project and a whole new cast of characters to get to know, the agony of waiting will destroy my passion.

No, I am not published, yet. But ask me next time, because you just never know when you will wake up one morning and find your dreams coming true.

A Tale of Lockdown – Fantasy vs Reality

Elissa Johnston A Tale of Lockdown

Another lockdown, Mummy thinks. We can do this, in fact it will be a fantastic time. Two weeks we can cherish as a family and the two boys will bond even tighter, playing together like cherubs in an Italian garden.

It’s day two and Mummy muses on what to do. She wonders around the house, opens a cupboard and her eyes flick over the forgotten bubble machine. She smiles. 

Mummy checks to see if it work, and it doesn’t. She turns it over and changes the batteries. It still does work. Oh, that’s it, her husband returned flat batteries to the battery box instead of disposing them in the bin. Mummy tries another round of batteries (and safely places the flat ones in the rubbish) and voila. The machine is roaring.

Picking up a bottle of bubble solution, Mummy takes it outside.

“Look boys.” Says Mummy.

“Bubbles!” Says Boy One (the eldest).

The bubbles start to cascade into the air and the boys run around clapping and poking and laughing. Mummy thinks what an ideal Insta-worthy moment. She ponders where her phone is. Because of course Mummy should capture this sacred time as a record of when she (briefly) nailed Mummy life. We will send the picture to Daddy, she thinks. He is stuck at work as an essential worker and it will brighten his day to show him we miss him and what a shame his is away from this magical bubble wonderland.

But before Mummy can retrace her steps to locate the phone, Boy One insists he wants his own bubbles.

“Ok.” Mummy says, thinking more bubbles can only add to the utopia.

After a few minutes Boy One is making his own bubbles. Boy Two watches on and quickly decides Mummy’s bubbles are not the superior ones. He waddles over to Boy One. 

Mummy has a sense in the pit of her tummy that she should separate the two. But as usual, Mummy ignores that inner wisdom and instead chooses the convenience of not getting up from her chair.

Boy One yells at his brother. Mummy sighs and stands up. Boy Two reaches out for the bottle of bubbles that Boy One holds. Boy One snatches them away, ensuring as he does that he tips a little onto the deck in a very deliberate manoeuvre.

How conniving we can be at the tender age of 5, Mummy thinks.

“Boy Two spilt my bubbles.” Declares Boy One. He holds his head high and stares at his Mummy, demanding justice.

“Boy One, I saw what you did, you tipped those bubbles out.” Mummy says.

“I did not.” Says Boy One.

Boy Two reaches again for the bottle, but Boy One is too quick, he steps back, and while eyeing down his brother, tips the remaining solution onto the deck.

A string of profanities enters Mummy’s head, but she is strong enough not to let them escape her lips. Instead she throws her hands into the air.

“That’s it. No more bubbles.” Mummy says, hoping the authority she doesn’t have is coming across.

“That was Boy Two’s fault.” Boy One cries.

Mummy puts her hands on her hips, about to correct him when she watches Boy Two walk over to the puddle of solution and slide around before falling over.

Mummy groans. She wonders why she dressed him in his good green corduroy pants when they are in lockdown and going nowhere and will be seen by no one. Silly Mummy, when will she learn.

Boy Two trips again and Mummy scoops him up. She places him on a clean section of the deck and reaches for the hose. She begins to hose off the solution.

“Yay, muddy puddles!” Says Boy One. He jumps right into the water and begins bopping around. Boy Two toddles over and they are both laughing and clapping. Mummy returns the hose in defeat. She eyes the surroundings and deems it safe.

“Ok, but when you are ready to come in, you are using a towel and taking your pants off.” Mummy says, her inner voice noting more washing. 

Mummy enters the house, grabs an old towel and returns, laying it at the back door. She checks on the boys.

Boy One is roaring with laugher as he lades up the soapy mixture in his hands and rubs it onto the head of Boy Two.

Mummy screams. She bursts the door open and snatches up Boy Two. She runs her hands through his fine hair and a trail of slimy bubbles sticks to her hand.

With a painful moan, Mummy goes inside and proceeds to clean up the hair of Boy Two with a handful of wipes because Mummy doesn’t quite have the energy to bath him at that moment. She strips him off and dresses him, again, in more casual, hand me down clothes.

Heading back outside, Boy One has now taken a few of his clothes off and is rubbing bubbles up and down his legs and arms. She calls him, takes off the remaining clothes, wipes him with the towel and sends him to his room to change. She looks over at the carnage. Mummy wonders why she bothered in the first place. She checks her watch and is horrified to discover the entire ordeal only lasted fifteen minutes. And worse, it is still morning. Mummy locks the back door. She wonders whether it would really be so bad for the boys to have some screen time.

How to Successfully Finish A Course (when you have young kids)

Last month I received the email that said, “Congratulations, you have successfully completed your certificate IV in Life Coaching.” The relief was huge, yet the sense of achievement was monumental. There were times when I wasn’t sure I would finish and frankly, didn’t want to. Yet I kept at it and can say with confidence it was worth it. Studying is challenging at any stage of life, but when you have young kids at home with you it is (a lot) more challenging. But it can be done and you can be sitting proud at the end of achievement, skilled up and ready to embark on a new career. Here are my top tips on how to do it.

  • Focus only on what is next. It is easy to become overwhelmed with coursework, and all that needs to be completed. Keep your focus narrow and only on what needs to be done next, the next report, assignment, lecture.
  • Schedule your study time. Live lectures/webinars are in our diaries and so to should the rest of the study. Turn up to your study ready to learn and to get it done. If it isn’t scheduled in as an appointment that must be honoured, it will never happen.
  • Be flexible. Everyone has a lot going on in their lives, so be gentle on yourself with study. If you need to call it a day, do so, if your study is interrupted, come back to it later. Even ten minutes adds up to progress.
  • Have a return date. Most courses now are flexible, understanding that life happens. When you do need to step away from your study, set yourself a return date. Even if you have to push that date out further, it will stop you drifting indefinitely.
  • Get support. It takes a village to raise a child and support to finish a course. Whether partnering up with another student to keep yourselves accountable or talking with your partner to plan your schedules to factor in your study time, you will need support. Even putting the kids in daycare one day a week to have uninterrupted study time. Take a look at all your resources and pull support from them. You are never alone.
  • Celebrate each win. Every pass, and each progress step completed, celebrate. Pop open bubbles, watch a movie, whatever works for you, do it. And when you do, take a moment to review your progress and pat yourself on the back for how far you have already come. Seeing your accomplishment to date is a great motivator to push you to keep going.
  • You can do it. There will be times when it will seem overwhelming and that the course will never end. But when you cross that finish line you will be so proud that you did. When you feel down and want to throw it away, remind yourself of all the reasons why you wanted to study the course in the first place, and all the wonderful benefits you will experience when you finish.

Do you need a cheerleader to help you pursue your passion projects? Check out my coaching page and book into a FREE consultation.