Twelve weeks. Eighty-four days. It seems like no time at all and yet in the last twelve weeks I have made more progress in my writing and growth within myself than I have the last thirty-four years.
Where it began
2020 was a year that changed a lot of things for everyone and I was no exception. As part of dealing with being on the ‘High Risk List’, having to home school my neurodivergent son, deal with my neurodivergent husband being made redundant due to the pandemic which in turn, meant supporting him through all the changes and emotional baggage of job hunting and occupying a toddler, I decided I needed to do something for myself.
In November 2018, I suddenly lost my ‘doggy soulmate’, my black Labrador Vader and I was distraught. I felt like I would never be whole again, that I was altered forever but more so I was trying to help my boys deal with it too. I realised then there was a lack of books and help for anyone going through pet bereavement. I started studying to become a pet bereavement counsellor in 2019 but it was too triggering at the time and I decided to put it on the back burner until I dealt with my grief further.
I had always wanted to be a writer, English was one of my best subjects at all levels of school and when I left school, my plan was to go to college to study to become a music journalist. Putting two of my passions together to make a winning combo surely would work, right? It was about six months in that I decided the course wasn’t for me as it was much more PR and Media based and I just wasn’t interested. I didn’t care about how big branded companies made their campaign posters intriguing, I just wanted to write.
So, I decided to ignite the passion for writing again, in that endless year that is known as 2020 and write a book to help families with pet bereavement. I had already been writing for M.E Support UK in the form of reviews and articles for their website which was great but I wanted something of my own creation away from the chronic illnesses I life with. I wanted to tackle it in a completely different way, give it a sense of warmth, magic and almost try to bring comfort to the sadness.
I wanted to make it a book that was able to be read anytime as that’s what you want in a kid’s book, a message that resonates for the whole family but one they will want to keep going back to and become a part of. Inclusivity was something that I wanted from the start, with my husband and eldest son being neurodivergent and having dyslexia I wanted to cater books for other parents and children that might have the same issues and I wanted to make sure anyone with visual impairment could join in also. Reading is something I bond over with my boys and I wanted to give others that chance too.
Imposter Syndrome doesn’t sell either
I was now an author and writer but I didn’t class myself as such. I knew that self-publication would be a difficult route but I didn’t expect to feel so disheartened and depleted as quickly as I did. The sales were in dribs and drabs and I lost the will to promote, I didn’t want to beg people for validation and their time anymore. I proceeded with my plan and released the sequel “How to Fix a Rainbow” in March 2021.
Two books released and I now was sole contributor to the M.E Support UK Blog but I still didn’t see myself as a writer or author. I wasn’t selling, I wasn’t known, I wasn’t getting interaction on socials no matter what I tried and I told myself I was a joke. I was a fraud, I didn’t write every day and I didn’t have writer friends, I was just an imposter. I was just someone with long -term chronic illnesses tricking herself into believing that she could do something to prove she was worth something and failing miserably. Imposter Syndrome was well and truly present and I didn’t know what more I could do. I felt like I put my all in.
I was giving up and I felt so very empty and sad that my dream was over before it had even begun.
Along came Fiona
I had been following Fiona Thomas for a long time on Instagram and I loved how open and honest she was about her writing journey which was a product of her having a mental breakdown. Her approach to her mental health was inspiring and I was a really big fan of her content, especially since she reinforced the point that you don’t need to have formal qualifications to be a successful writer. Nearing the end of 2021 Fiona announced through her newsletter “The Round-Up” and Instagram, that she was going to be hosting a yearlong program called “Year of Writing” and as my main goal for 2022 was to focus on honing my craft and finally figuring out this writing ‘gig’ I apprehensively signed up. I knew it was going to be something that would be a difference experience for me and I was really excited but I was also terrified because I had never had positive experiences in my life when opening myself up to others and groups.
A month or so later she made a post releasing the early bird waiting list for the Spring entry to her very popular “Inspire, Write, Repeat” mentoring program and I added my name to the list. I told myself I was absolutely batsh*t crazy for doing so but I proceeded never the less. The next step was waiting for the email on the day of doors opening and actually signing up ‘for real’.
31st January 2022
I had already attended the first webinars of “Year of Writing” by this point and knew Fiona wasn’t an ogre *Haha accidental Shrek reference* and was convinced that she could definitely be the kick up the backside I needed for my writing journey.
The email came to say doors were opened for Spring “Inspire, Write, Repeat” and I leaped onto the email. I went through all the clicks and steps and it came to the final stage of payment and I froze. I stopped, just looking at the screen and the investment I was about to do for myself, for my writing journey and for Fiona’s time and I couldn’t do it, not because of the amount but because it I couldn’t justify in my head spending anything to invest in myself for something that hadn’t been working for me. I swiped the email away and the tabs I had opened and got on with my morning routine to get the boys to school and nursery but I couldn’t stop thinking about IWR.
My inner narrative was all over the place, positive thoughts vs negative thoughts like it was some sort of literary version of “Rap Battles” in my head.
“You’ve got some good material you just have to learn how to get it out there and how to hone the skills, it’s perfect for you. Just do it!”
“Fiona wants serious writers, not ones who pretend to be a writer. You’re only going to waste her time…”
“You’ve had so much positive feedback on your work, you just need to build your confidence and that’s why you should do it”.
“You’re small, smaller than small, Fiona is a bestseller and respected name, you’re not that calibre”-
This narrative continued in my head on the school run and it wouldn’t halt, not even after talking to my husband about it. That’s when I knew that it was really important to me.
We pulled up on the drive after doing the school run and I sat once again, going through the links and following the prompts. It came back to the final step and my hand moved forward and back, forward and back. I took a deep breath and hit “Complete” and that was it, I had committed to twelve weeks of co-writing and mentoring. I was metaphorically sh**ing myself.
Boo, quack, come on back
I was a ball of anxiety going into the first IWR session but within the first five minutes I noticed I was more at ease than I thought I was going to be. Everyone was welcoming and supportive and I realised that I had not only made a snap judgement about myself but also had assumed they’d do the same thing. I was never asked “So where are you published?” or “Oh, you self-publish? How’s your sales?” and I once again realised that anxiety and Imposter Syndrome had made me think all sort of BS. There was no scoffing to be found or anyone having any kind of expectations towards me.
Fiona made every session a delight, from her welcome at each session and her openness about what she was going through or even how your writing snacks really can make or break your projected word count. Her amazing ghost noises and duck quacks to get us back into the room to try and not startle us while we were in the ‘zone’ were always a highlight, something so simple but I looked forward to it every session. I was hooked by the second or third session and I was so glad I had put my ‘big girl panties’ on and signed up.
Projects, podcast and squashed demons
I chose to tackle starting my memoir for this round of IWR. I knew it was a big task but this was the perfect place to open up that size of a challenge. I am currently 14,500 words and six chapters into this particular project and I have had such amazing advice and guidance from Fiona. I hadn’t tried this project beforehand because I just thought no one would want to read my story but Fiona reminded me to think of my “why” when taking on new projects and this allowed me the space to create without pressure as my “why” isn’t about sales or popularity, it is about putting my voice and stories out there for anyone who needs them.
The women who was convinced she wasn’t worth anything twelve weeks ago is gone, I still have moments where I wobble and teeter on the delicate balance of not getting my hopes up and having quiet confidence in my pieces. I have suffered body dysmorphia for years but finding more of myself and my worth thought this writing journey has completely changed my narrative with that too. I may never be a certain dress size or hit a goal on a scale but I am worthy and capable of so much more than my appearance and have so many things I would rather give that energy to now.
I have achieved so much in the last twelve weeks:
These are huge strides forward but more than anything, I can say this:
I’m Rochelle Hanslow, a chronic illness and mental health writer and self-published children’s author.
Better yet I say it with belief and genuine pride.
If you are needing help on your writing journey, please do follow me on my socials and I would recommend putting yourself in touch with Fiona. She’s a little Scottish miracle worker.
Love hard. Be fierce. Horns high.