Wellbeing Writer. Author of A Fox Crossed My Path, Love & Loss, Rope Mates, and Shifting Boundaries
Interview conducted by Gigi Bushell.
I had the pleasure of e-meeting Monica Suswin who was one of our guest speakers at the Surrey New Writers Festival in 2020. I wanted to take the opportunity to catch-up with Monica to see what she had been up to over this last (challenging) year. I also wanted to take the opportunity to get some more insights and advice from an experienced writer about how to make it as a writer, the writing process, and the biggest challenges and rewards of being a writer.
Q. You were one of our guest speakers at last years festival and a lot has happened to everyone since then. What have you been up to since last year’s festival?
I had already published three books of my series of four, and in December 2020 my fourth book Shifting Boundaries came out. It is an exploration of boundaries in our lives both outer boundaries and the inner boundaries. Shifting Boundaries took quite a lot of time during the year to prepare for publication and I added a further section at the end: Epilogue: Boundaries and COVID-19. I independently publish, I have an editor, I have a proof reader, and those stages take masses of time. I got the book out in December and I feel really pleased. But the work is not finished when you hold the book in your hands because the process of understanding what you’ve done carries on.
Q. Since the start of the pandemic last year I have noticed that a lot of people have taken up writing, specifically journaling. Do you feel that there has been a surge in creative life writing recently, if so, why?
From what I hear anecdotally, yes. I have always written a diary, I don’t call it a journal I call it a diary, which I write every morning with my cup of tea. That is my practice, that is my routine, but I also write a work journal. The diary is about personal writing and then the work journal is about writing and my work. It helps you hone in on your thoughts. Once the thoughts are out of your head and onto the page it frees your mind up to have more thoughts come in. So it’s not always a question of active thinking – it is having the space to have thoughts and feelings come in about projects you want to do.
Q. All forms of therapy have become increasingly popular over the last few decades but I feel creative therapeutic writing is still somewhat less heard of. Why do you suppose that is?
It’s quite complicated. I trained very early on and since then all sorts of therapies have mushroomed because of different people’s take on them. Dance therapists, art therapists, and the music therapists have long been established. Some art forms were being used over a hundred years ago in psychiatric hospitals. Later university courses were developed because people had to be qualified in both the art form and the therapy form. Writing for Wellbeing is still establishing itself. It’s the newest of these creative practices. It is true there are loads of people who are drawn to it which is helping it take off. People come to it from all different backgrounds because we all learn writing at school. We all can write. More people are writing in lockdown particularly because they are thrown in on themselves, so they became more reflective.
Q. What do you consider are the most positive benefits of creative therapeutic writing?
Understanding yourself better. Improving your relationships with other people. Having a better relationship with yourself. Integrating different bits of yourself. Working with difficult emotions allows you to transform your feelings – it is very transformative. Your emotions and thoughts transform as you write, which helps integrate different bits of yourself.
Q. What piece of advice can you offer to all the life writers out there?
Just do it. Just write. If you feel you haven’t got time, you’ve always got time. Just ten minutes. That’s all you need to do it and keep doing it. Don’t think you’ve got to have special time. You really don’t, just weave writing into your day.
Q. I want to briefly talk about your past experience as a freelance journalist. What advice would you give to those writers who are looking to make it as a freelance journalist?
The climate now is so different from when I did it in my thirties. The last time I did any freelance writing there was no internet, there was no Facebook, twitter, instagram, all these things. I just know that people have to use these social media tools to put themselves out there. All I can say is if you want to be a journalist, is find experience. Find where you want to place yourself and read some of those magazines or journals or newspapers and do your research online. Decide what your skills are and specialise in those. Write some articles. Start a blog. It is really tough. Determination and intention is what can make the difference.
Q. Do you feel your time as a journalist influenced your transition to creative life writing?
Oh gosh yes. The training I did at the BBC is the foundation of how I research, write and be as close to accuracy as I can be in my writing. Whether you do creative writing, therapeutic writing, fiction writing, or poetry, there is a discipline involved and I was taught that at the BBC. I was sent on training courses. It was rigorous training but it was all transferable.
Q. You have written about some incredible experiences and journeys you have been on/through. Which one/s stand out the most to you and why?
My four books have it all. The Fox Crossed My Path is the first book and it was written at a time when mental illness was losing its stigma and all sorts of people were talking about mental illness. What that did for me was to say I can talk about this publicly. I will tell anyone. My writing became transformative in as much as I didn’t have to hide it anymore.
The next book was Love & Loss. This is about relationships. But what I felt after I published this was that I could have called it Love & Gain because through the process of writing I understood a lot more about love and the role of love in my life and the role of love in life generally. Yes, we go through life with losses, but somehow imaginatively we don’t have to stay with the losses. We can actually feel enriched through the process of writing and that’s what’s happened with me.
Then I wrote Rope Mates which is a companionship for writers. It talks about one-to-one supervision and working in a writing group. What I realised is that there are other companions. Curiosity, what you’re interested in, and also my spiritual beliefs which are the underpinning of my work.
The last one Shifting Boundaries, which just made me look and observe and think about boundaries and how important they are and how they move around, they’re not static. So what the books have given me is just amazing. I have been writing all my life and found that I don’t want to write novels. I would have liked to have written drama. I’ve been a journalist, I’ve seen myself in print. My thoughts and feelings have integrated and been encapsulated in these books and as a result I experience an enormous sense of fulfilment.
Q. What is the biggest challenge you would say you have faced as a writer?
Because I write about my inner life, it’s how do I not invade my privacy? So how to turn my very personal writing into something that is acceptable for a reader so that it’s of interest. It is a big challenge. You have to go through so many drafts to distil so that you still give an honestly formed story, your own narrative, but not with all the internal details that aren’t necessary. You need to get to the essence of what you want to say. That is definitely the biggest challenge for me.
Q. Do you have any last tips, tricks and/or advice you would like to share to any aspiring writer?
Just keep writing. Just keep going. It’s not about being a good writer. It’s not about getting it perfect. It’s about just getting the words on the page. The writing in itself has its own life. You can get to a place where the writing tells you what it wants to do. You take yourself out of the writing. You take your ego and your personality out of the writing when you’ve done loads of writing and you let the writing tell you what it wants to say. That’s what you’re aiming to do. It does take time, so just keep writing.
It was incredible to get to know Monica over Zoom, and she’s right. The connections you can make on-screen can be some of the most real and memorable. I know I will be remembering this experience for the rest of my life. Monica truly is a very insightful person in the field of writing with great perspectives on all styles of writing, and I can’t wait to to see what she does next. All that is left to say is just keep writing.
To find out more about Monica’s books and her work as a practitioner in the healing arts please go to www.monicasuswin.com.
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