Thank you to Sue for inviting me to write a post for her lovely blog.
There are occasions when we feel we’re not getting anywhere or we’ve taken a wrong turn. Such negative situations can be really demoralising, but they aren’t necessarily a wasted experience. I’ve chosen two examples to illustrate how initial failure and disappointment don’t have to result in a dead-end. If you can’t shake off an old regret or you’re currently pouring your heart into something that doesn’t seem to be working, I hope this post will give you a lift, and maybe a little nudge towards a positive way forward.
The first example takes us back to the 1980s. After three years of studying for a Bachelor of Education degree at Goldsmiths College, it became clear I could write jolly good essays on the philosophy, history, psychology and sociology of education, but my ability to teach a class was far from impressive. During my three teaching practices I became very disillusioned when some of the students wouldn’t engage, and a number seemed to actively dislike me. I left college with my confidence dented, but keeping my fingers crossed that once I was teaching for real, things would improve.
However, meticulous planning of lessons and boundless enthusiasm for my subjects – drama and English – didn’t inspire my students at the South London secondary school where I worked. Whatever skills were required to be a good classroom teacher, I appeared to lack them. Where I did have some success was with children who had special educational needs. The one-to-one relationships were very rewarding, and each tiny step of progress felt like a joint victory. If only I could have spent all my days with these students. Unfortunately, by the end of the year, although I’d passed my probation, high hopes had turned to daily disappointment, and at the end of the year, I quit. I was physically and emotionally drained. At the tender age of twenty-two, the career I’d set my heart on was over. Education had been everything to me, and I had wanted to play my part in helping students make the very best of their opportunities. Being unable to do this was the cause of huge frustration and sadness.
Fast forward twenty years, and I spotted an advert for a voluntary job with The National Autistic Society’s Advocacy for Education Service (now called The National Autistic Society’s Education Rights Service). While having my own children and working as a classroom assistant played their part, I believe that without my teaching experience – knowing how the education system worked, understanding the pressures on schools, recognising the importance of listening to each individual child – I wouldn’t have even answered the ad, let alone passed the training for the role. I could never have foreseen the path I took to reach that point.
While it’s not the classroom teaching I dreamed of, for the past decade I’ve had the privilege of speaking to parents on the phone and answering their emails, working with them to try and secure the right education for their children. It’s incredibly rewarding to give families the information they need to negotiate appropriate supports, strategies and understanding, so their children can make the very best of their educational opportunities despite the barriers to learning an autism diagnosis may present.
The second example starts in 2010, when I began co-writing a novel with a friend. We had a fabulous time creating our characters and their story, and we eventually published it in 2012. However, we made nearly every mistake in the book: head-hopping galore; publishing with a vanity publisher; being clueless about marketing. I blush at my ignorance and naivety. I genuinely thought we had written a best-seller and everyone would be reading and talking about our book! Turns out that only a small selection of our nearest and dearest were clamouring for a sequel, and the book-buying public hadn’t even noticed it existed. So, our friendship intact, and thankful we’d published under a pen name, my friend and I agreed to draw a veil over the experience.
In the time it took for my ego to recover, I realised I’d learned a lot. If I could write one book, I could write another. Through making the compromises that go with writing with someone else, my own writing voice was developing. Maybe I hadn’t become a publishing and marketing guru, but I had found out some important basics about social media and self-publishing. It turned out that the wonderful world of self-publishing was open to me not only as a writer, but as a proofreader too. Although I’d been a proofreader for many years, my work had only been with publishers, so I widened my client base to include individual authors.
Five years on, I’ve written and published a novel and some short stories, expanded my business further, and, as an unexpected bonus, I’ve had a great time getting to know some wonderful bloggers and authors.
So, if you’re feeling a bit lost, or if you’ve had a series of disappointments with a project, I encourage you to look for the positives, perhaps consider taking a side-step or a slightly different path, and believe there are better, happier, more fulfilling days to come.
All photographs courtesy of Wendy and her husband.
About the author
Wendy Janes is a freelance proofreader for a number publishers and many authors. She is also a caseworker for The National Autistic Society’s Education Rights Service. Author of the novel, What Jennifer Knows and a collection of short stories, What Tim Knows, and other stories, she loves to take real life and turn it into fiction.
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A vital member of her Surrey community, Jennifer Jacobs is dedicated to her job as a dance therapist, helping children with special needs to express themselves through movement. Wife of a successful though reclusive sculptor, Gerald, she is known for having a deep sense of empathy, making her a trusted confidante. So when two very different friends, Freya and Abi, both share information with her that at first seems to be an awkward coincidence, she doesn’t tell them. But as the weeks roll by, the link revealed between the two women begins to escalate into a full-blown moral dilemma – and also brings to the surface a painful memory Jennifer believed she had long since forgotten. What is the right thing to do? Should she speak out or is the truth better left unsaid?
A gallery-owner’s quest for beauty; a dancer in danger; a new mother struggling to cope with her baby; a sculptor’s search for inspiration; a teenager longing to live in the perfect family; a young boy lost and confused by the rules of life that everyone else seems to understand.
Six stand-alone short stories, spanning five decades. Each capturing a significant moment in the life of a different character. Separate lives linked in subtle ways.