The secret to success (well, some thoughts anyway…)

I once heard an anecdote from a famous literary agent’s assistant that made me laugh:

‘Every author wants a publishing deal. The authors who are critically acclaimed want to be commercially successful, and the authors who are commercially successful want to be critically acclaimed.

‘Every author is desperate to win an award. And those authors who win an award are most miserable of all, for they see the award as an albatross around their necks and fear nothing they ever do will scale those heights again.’

(Basically, every author is miserable!)

People definitely compare themselves upwards. None of these authors were thinking ‘It’s so great I have an agent!’ They were taking that for granted and wishing they were more successful. So there’s definitely something to be said for being extremely grateful for where you are now in life, rather than always striving for more.

Ariane Flowers.jpg

But if I had any advice for achieving your goals, it would be along the following lines:

Work out what you want to achieve. You can’t aim for a target you haven’t set. I know many people who want to lose weight, but that’s such a nebulous goal that it doesn’t focus the mind. In contrast, a goal to lose 4 stone is specific and measurable, and you know when you’ve achieved it.

Figure out the steps between you and your goal. Break it down into manageable chunks. For instance, today I weigh 12st 4.2lbs. To get down to 8 stone, I need to lose more than 4 stone, but right now I’m aiming for a ‘Club 10’ target of 12st 2.5lbs, which means I’ll have lost a tenth of my body weight since joining Slimming World. (SW is good like this – it rewards you at least every 7lbs.)

Recognise that you’ll fail before you succeed (especially true of weight loss). You’ll take two steps forward, one step back. If we’re talking creativity, everyone gets rejected at times; everyone has to produce more than will ever be published or used. Just think of all the many drafts of novels. Remember Samuel Beckett’s quote: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’

Keep going. You’ll fall down, but make sure to keep getting up and attempting to succeed. You’ll be amazed by how many people fall by the wayside. The person who succeeds is often the last (wo)man standing. There have been so many times when I’ve thought, ‘Fuck it, maybe I’ll just stay fat!’ but I also know that won’t make me happy. So keep your goal in mind when things get tough.

You never know when your luck will turn – when you’ll come to the attention of a gatekeeper who could change your life, or just get an exciting opportunity. Last week, I was headhunted for a role. It wasn’t right for me, but at least that person now knows I exist.

I also got invited to debate Brexit on Good Morning Britain. They went with another guest in the end, but I wasn’t expecting the invitation, and the randomness of it cheered me up. (Though I was also slightly relieved at being stood down to be honest – pretty sure Twitter would have been unusable for me for about two days afterwards thanks to angry Brexiteers!)

Writers: remember to preface harsh feedback with ‘in my opinion’. I’ve been told before by a literary agent that I can’t write. It floored me; I had to remind myself I’ve written endless columns for the Guardian, and lots for the Spectator and the Sunday Times. That knowledge helped to reframe this person’s opinion as ‘in my opinion, you can’t write’. And, in less polite terms: fuck ’em. Feedback should be constructive, and that wasn’t. Metaphorically kick them in the fanny and move on.

People who aren’t gatekeepers will also be shitty about your achievements. Look at the comments section of any comedy article. You’ll find ‘This isn’t funny’; ‘That’s five minutes of my life I’ll never get back’; ‘I can’t believe [publication] pays for this crap.’ That’s cool: you got paid and credited and you aren’t the person wasting your life leaving negative comments. Put it down to jealousy and don’t let it bother you. The publication wouldn’t have run the article if they didn’t like it.

Realise that you have to adapt to life’s changes. The Guardian stopped running me regularly in 2010; it hurt as it was the paper I grew up reading, and I still love it. I’d write for it again in a heartbeat, but if not, other publications are available. I also really enjoy writing for the Daily Mash and writing books for Little, Brown.

Sometimes things change because of you, not your employer. I realised I wasn’t enjoying writing for television in late 2007, and made the leap to journalism after six years of telly. I used to love going into the BBC and being the youngest person in writers’ rooms, but now I go into the BBC as an occasional commentator and am sometimes the oldest person on the panel, and that’s OK too. Life changes and you have to change with it rather than be depressed by it.

Oh, and lastly: never self-deprecate! As someone wiser than me once said, ‘People accept the value you place upon yourself’. Keep telling people you’re rubbish and they’ll eventually believe you.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

Ariane face

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 41

Me: 12st 4.2lbs (total loss in 41 days: 10lbs)

I need to keep going.

John: 14st 4.75lbs (total loss in 41 days: 2.75lbs)

John’s doing well again!

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Rewards start from just $1 a month for my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but I’m even more open in it (if you can imagine that!)

My former life as a cartoon writer

In 2006, when I was 25, my flatmate Zarina Liew was a very talented aspiring illustrator, and as two Asian girls, she and I decided to produce a range of greeting cards for girls with the tongue-in-cheek name Love You Long Time. The venture was emphatically not a success, and I think I lost around £4,000 altogether trying to get it off the ground. It was the first of my three failing businesses. (Remind me never to start a business again!)

BeautifulThing

Then my lovely journalist friend Michael Shaw put a cartoon strip we created forward for a slot in his newspaper, the Times Education Supplement. Our bid was successful, and our cartoon All-Time High ran for six months in the magazine that came with the paper. We used the weekly £150 payment to replenish the £4,000 savings I’d lost on the greeting card business!

Each week, I would script the cartoon and send it to Zarina, and she would produce the strip. Here’s my favourite of our efforts:

TES - 'Definitions'.png

This next strip was based on my experiences at school, as teachers’ default positions seem to be that kids have a great relationship with their parents:

TES - 'Mother's Day'.png

And here’s another one I quite liked:

TES - 'Mendacity'.png

I really enjoyed scripting All-Time High, but the editor at the TES who was responsible for commissioning it (who has now left the paper) wanted to exert more and more control over it. At first everything was fine – we’d just deliver the cartoons each week – but then she wanted to see the scripts before they were inked; next she wanted to agree the topics before they went to script stage; finally she was vetoing everything I suggested. Eventually it became impossible to continue, and I quit in fury, thinking she was being thoroughly unreasonable.

Having been a journalist for many years now, I’ve yet to encounter this kind of control freakery again, so I think I was probably right. It’s a shame though, as it was a fun gig and I would have liked to carry on.

I can’t draw like Zarina, but I dabble from time to time. I wrote a little children’s book which never got published, about a hippo who wanted to be a supermodel, and I drew this illustration as part of it:

hetty.jpg

Here was the text:

Hetty the hippo and the supermodel dream

As Hetty the hippo
Lay dreaming in bed
A wonderful vision
Swam into her head

Of walking a runway
In beautiful clothes
Fine frocks on her figure
High heels on her toes

She leapt out of bed then
To tell all the land
About her ambition
So epic and grand

“A famed supermodel’s
What I want to be!”
Brave Hetty confided
To friends over tea

Alas, she was faced
With both laughter and scorn
At first, Rae the rhino
Sighed, tossing her horn

“What makes you think
You could strut like a star?
A massive fat hippo
Is all that you are!”

“She’s right!” chimed Pandora
The petulant pig
“Like me, you can’t model
We’re both much too big!”

“I won’t let that stop me!”
Het cried, undeterred
“Who cares what my size is?
That’s truly absurd!”

“We care,” hissed Camilla
The sleek and mean cat
“The whole of the world thinks
You’re simply too fat!”

Poor Hetty felt crushed
And her dream now seemed bleak
A single large tear
Made its way down her cheek

She stumbled away
Through the forests and streams
Vowing to give up
Her big fashion dreams

“Hey,” came a voice
“I don’t know who you are,
But your figure’s amazing
I’ll make you a star!”

Hetty turned round
And a jackal stood there
“I’m Jen,” she explained
“What great curves! What good hair!”

“But there’s no time to waste
Let’s not stand here and talk
My show’s in an hour
Please say that you’ll walk?”

Hetty was thrilled
Soon she donned fancy clothes
Sashayed down the runway
And strutted and posed

“This is the life!”
Hetty smiled, “It’s a doddle!”
For Hetty the hippo
Was finally a model.

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 39

Me: 12st 5.4lbs (total loss in 39 days: 8.8lbs)

Back on the wagon today.

John: 14st 5.5lbs (total loss in 39 days: 2lbs)

John is plugging another of his books.

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Rewards start from just $1 a month for my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but I’m even more open in it (if you can imagine that!)

A Sunday Times travel trip, and a shocking revelation

No word from Richard Dawkins about yesterday’s blog, despite my tagging him on Twitter. I suspect he has muted me and is presently sticking pins in a voodoo doll of my image. Anyhow, on to today’s true story…

One sunny day in June 2010, I was on my way to Geneva, on my third travel trip for the Sunday Times. It was a walking holiday in the French Alps, and I wasn’t much of a walker. I was also having a full-scale nervous breakdown, permanently trembling and worrying about being killed, thanks to running the Atheist Bus Campaign and receiving an Inbox full of hate mail. Two months later, my mental state would grow so dark that I would no longer be able to continue working, and would start frequenting suicide forums instead. But until that point, I struggled on.

That day, in addition to my acute anxiety, I was also worrying about flying. I hate flying, and even though the Sunday Times had sent me on a fear of flying course the previous September and I desperately wanted to travel, I couldn’t quite rid myself of my irrational fear of planes. (Read my quite fun piece on flying here, or just the quite fun first paragraph if you can’t get past the paywall.)

My boyfriend at the time, who I was deeply in love with, accompanied me to Gatwick, and I sat nervously with him in the airport. Suddenly, he started crying big tears. ‘Oh baby!’ I said, stroking his face, full of emotion, ‘I don’t want to leave you either!’

‘No, it’s not that,’ he replied.

‘What is it then?’ I asked, confused.

‘I’m thinking about my ex,’ he replied, dabbing at his eyes. ‘I dropped her off here a few years ago when she went away for a long time.’

So that was nice.

But I had bigger problems: I had a whole world of fear and depression in my head, and had to get on the plane. It was only a short flight to Geneva – less than two hours’ duration – but I was still terrified.

easyJet

[An easyJet plane. I didn’t find flying in it so easy.]

Eventually I boarded the small easyJet aircraft, and settled into an aisle seat halfway down, next to a middle-aged man. Hoping to distract myself from the prospect of my impending death in a fireball, I tentatively struck up a conversation with him.

He was lovely and happy to chat: I remember that he reassured me about the safety of the plane, and showed me pictures of his kids. I showed him a picture of my boyfriend and told him how much I loved him (my boyfriend, not the middle-aged man. That would have been a bit forward).

‘Why are you going to Geneva?’ he asked.

‘I’m covering a walking holiday for the Travel section of the Sunday Times,’ I told him.

‘Oh wow,’ he answered. ‘That’s very cool. I’ll look out for your write-up.’

‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘How about you? Why are you going to Geneva?’

‘I’m on my way to a conference for work,’ he replied. So far, so dull.

‘What do you do?’ I asked.

‘I’m in armament sales,’ he said breezily.

Armament sales? This lovely man was an arms dealer!

I gulped, and tried to recover my composure. ‘And are you going to the conference alone?’

‘Oh no,’ he said matter-of-factly. ‘Pretty much everyone else on this plane is going, except you!’

I WAS ON A PLANE FULL OF ARMS DEALERS! I started freaking out even more inside, thinking the plane might be a target (for whom exactly, peace activists? I hadn’t really thought this through) but thankfully my fears were unfounded.

I made it to Geneva in one piece, and was met at the airport and driven to the location by the organiser of the trip. However, I was so sick with anxiety the whole time I was there, I failed to do any walking. Feeling guilty and unprofessional, I wrote the piece as though I had, but I actually spent all my time in the chalet shaking and crying.

On my last day, the organiser drove me up a hill and took some photos of me pretending to walk.

Alpine_Sheriney.JPG

[Me in the Alps. I am smiling for the photograph. Inside, I was dying.]

The Sunday Times never ran the piece, though I’m not sure why. They said they were very happy with it; it was slated to run, and they accepted a pitch for a further piece, but sometimes features just don’t make it into print. I haven’t written for them since, though I’d like to.

I left the boyfriend two years later (he was still in love with his ex, and probably is to this day) and never really got over my fear of flying.

I also never met another arms dealer, to my knowledge – though if they’re all as nice as the bloke on the plane, I wouldn’t mind.

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 7

Me: 12st 9.2lbs (total loss in seven days: 5lbs. Not bad for one week!)

If you’re wondering how I’m doing it, I’m mainly following Slimming World’s SP plan (protein and vegetables, no starchy carbs).

John: 14st 7.75lbs (total gain in seven days: 0.25lbs. Ahem!)

FullSizeRender.jpeg

He is an amazing friend though, not least because he’s making my diet look like a comparative success.

Also: I bring you the exciting news that I have some cheap-but-excellent new scales! They only measure in lbs or kg, so I’m not using them for weight for this blog – but just look at what else they can do!

I’m going to hit the gym even harder and see if I can get my body fat down to 22% and my visceral fat way, way down. My muscle mass is very good for a woman of my age though, thanks to strength training. I’m practically Arnold Schwarzenegger!


This post has been made possible by an arms dealer AND my awesome Patreon supporters: Ricky Steer, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Rewards start from just $1 a month, and yesterday a wonderful man called Mark pledged $5 to take me up to $100 a month! I’m hoping to reach $200 by the end of the year. Can you help? For $5, you get excerpts of my secret fiction, photos of me I’ve never uploaded before, and my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but even better!