Sandra Gulland certainly touched both the writer and the transformation coach in me.
At the 2019 San Miguel Writers’ Conference, I attended a keynote address given by the American-born Canadian historical novelist. Gulland is the international best-selling author of the Josephine B. trilogy inspired by the life of Josephine Bonaparte, as well as other works set in Revolutionary and 17th-Century France.
As an historical fiction writer, I felt a strong sense of connection with her. I recognized Gulland as creative kin: one who knows exactly what it is to fall in love with an historical “parallel world” and immerse herself in it, regularly, for months and even years. She spoke eloquently on being compelled by a character and utterly smitten by a project, writing faithfully and consistently, even in the face of other work and commitments.
As a transformation coach, I appreciated the wisdom Gulland shared about the creative process. Many of the gold nuggets she conveyed pertain not only to writers, but to anyone building a dream.
What follows is for you.
You came into this life to sing your song. Here are several life lessons to help you do just that. With each of Gulland’s points, I have included a “universal key” as well as questions to guide you. No matter what your dream is, you can work with these ideas and move forward.
1) Consider your epitaph
In her speech, Gulland described a decades-ago experience of reading a pop-psychology book which invited her to think about the track she was on and the topic of legacy, and to come up with apt words for her imaginary tombstone. In those days, she had been dabbling at her dream of writing a book, and not fully daring.
Gulland’s answer to the epitaph question drifted into her mind shortly afterwards, and it was not the communiqué she had hoped for.
It read, “She never got around to it.”
That message crystalized Gulland’s discontent. It also clarified her sense of purpose and resolve to move forward. Gulland turned a fleetingly glimpsed epitaph into a catalyst for writing her first novel.
Universal Key: Take action – any action – for your dream, and do it now. Do not wait to be the person you are called to be.
The saying “Life is not a dress rehearsal” is a cliché; it’s also true.
Gulland’s story reminds me of a famous observation made by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr: “Many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out.”
- Is there an unsung song that you’ve been yearning to sing?
- Is there a legacy you would love to create?
- What epitaph would you choose as a summary of your journey fulfilled in this lifetime?
As you work with these questions, notice if any discontent arises. If so, use it to galvanize you in clarifying and fulfilling your personal mission.
2) Do the thing you are passionate about
During her address, Gulland recounted another message she once received, this time in the form of a mysterious and compelling vision.
Many years ago, before she had begun to write her (now famous) Josephine B. series, she dreamed of being pregnant with a glass ball inside her belly. Within the ball, a spirit was struggling desperately to be heard.
Both the writer and the dream teacher in me marvelled. Inner guidance, such a potent creative force, speaks volumes. We must learn to listen.
Your dreams of the night and day can tell you a lot about your passion.
- What has your inner guidance system been saying to you lately?
Universal Key: Listen to your passion. Honour it. Act on it.
If you would like more help with this, check out this short video.
3) You are never too old to create
Gulland spoke about “beginning a life’s work late in life.” A prolific writer in her prime at 74, Gulland recalled for us that she was 50 when she published her first book. She also cited the example of British author Penelope Fitzgerald who published her first novel at 60. Gulland told us, “Over the following 17 years she [Fitzgerald] published nine novels, one of which was short-listed for the Booker Prize, and another which won it. Her last novel, The Blue Flower, is considered her masterpiece; and it was published when she was 79.” Gulland also noted American author Harriet Doerr who finished her Stanford degree at 67 and published her first novel at 73. Doerr’s Stones for Ibarra won America’s National Book Award that same year (1984).
Universal Key: GO FOR IT. Creative energy can come late in life.
Whatever your dream is, and regardless of your age, find role models who inspire you. Learn their stories and keep them present in your heart and mind as you take action and manifest your vision.
You may wish to check out this Harvard Business Review article by Kevin Evers, entitled “The Art of Blooming Late.” Evers lists several inspirational books on the topic. When it comes to singing your song and honouring your creative calling, regardless of age, I also recommend my own book, Birdlight Freeing Your Authentic Creativity. Do NOT let your age deter you from giving your gifts in this life!
4) Override resistance when starting your dream project
“Beginning is hard,” Gulland stated plainly. At the very least, it can be challenging. She was not just addressing new writers, but ALL writers – from beginners to seasoned professionals. “Resistance,” Gulland emphasized, “is simply the first stage of writing.”
Every project begins as a dream. Every dream requires us to start at the beginning.
Universal Key: No matter what your dream is, find your own tricks and routines for overriding inner push-back and get started.
A degree of resistance accompanies the first stage of ANY new venture. You are leaving your comfort zone, moving into new territory. Your whole system may put up a fight! The good news is that joy and personal growth often lie beyond the border of the life you have known. Learning to transcend the fear of getting started is key.
One way to do it is by creating a purposeful, routine structure for channelling your creative energy.
When establishing her writing practice, Gulland bought a coffee maker which she programmed to brew at 5:00 each morning. The smell of coffee helped her to get out of bed and write, “adding” additional hours to her day at a time when she would be uninterrupted.
- What routine structure could you put in place to help you regularly show up and take action for your dream?
5) Assemble a team of encouragers
Gulland spoke on maintaining positive energy for her projects: “It very much helps to have a team of encouragers. A writing group, friends, family, mates. A writer needs that.” Having partners in believing helps tremendously. These are people who believe in you, even (and especially!) in those times when you doubt yourself.
Universal Key: Take stock of the encouragers in your life.
Remember that you can create your own Dream Team for any project.
- Who do you know who can help you rally to the finish line?
Be selective. Choose positive people who believe in you and are skilled at providing constructive feedback. We all can benefit from mentors, cheerleaders, accountability partners, and coaches. Often a good coach plays all of those roles.
My thanks to Sandra Gulland for inspiring me by her example, and for allowing me to share several of the many valuable life lessons in her talk. Find out more about her extraordinary work here, including information on her novels and her blog series, “Adventures in a Writing Life” and “Baroque Explorations.” Be sure to explore Gulland’s paintings, too! She is a true multipotentialite.
Are you currently looking for a coach in your corner? Find out more about my transformational coaching here.
I offer complimentary consultations to those who are serious about building a dream. If that’s you, let me know.
To living your best story!