Gillian Harvey: Why there is nothing like a book

Read the latest column from freelance writer, author and mum-of-five Gillian Harvey.

There really is nothing like a book.

No, wait. This isn’t a shameless plug to encourage you to buy my novel. I’m talking about the kind of books that help you figure something out. Instruction manuals for life, business, writing, marketing.

For me, this kind of book has to be in print form, so that I can underline, bookmark and (sorry booklovers) fold down the corners of crucial pages. They help me to refocus my mind and slightly change my course when I’m going off track.

Years ago, when I was a teacher and started at a new school, I struggled with classroom management. It can be hard in the first few weeks to establish a good classroom atmosphere with new children and I’d run out of sparkly new ideas.

So I went back to basics – I got a book out of the library and wrote down tips on behaviour management. Having a host of strategies at my disposal fine-tuned my classroom management but also helped me to feel confident that I could handle the situation.

When I’ve had mental health hiccups in the past, turning to books has helped me there too. I’ve favoured ‘workbook’ style books – improving mindset and identifying places where I’ve been employing faulty thinking. Positive books that help you to find your direction.

As a published writer, I’ve come to realise that staying still is not an option now either. I want to move forward and do so positively. And I have a lot to learn.

This month I’ve been reading two books: Lizzy Chantree’s Networking for Writers and Donald Maass’ Writing a Breakout Novel. I’m dipping in and out of both for inspiration, and as I read I can feel the mental knots untangling in my mind.

I made the mistake of thinking I knew what having a novel published would be like. But I hadn’t taken into account the way having a novel in the wild affects how you behave.

Checking where it is in the rankings, or noticing a new review. Wondering whether you should do more on Twitter, or whether people are getting sick of you.

Writing, too, has been tough – although I’ve written several books in the past, I’ve come to a point where I’ve lost my direction. What do I want to write next? Reading a book about writing has been great – helping me to realise the ingredients of a brilliant novel, and move closer to ideas that felt previously out of reach.

Re-learning and making a new plans always makes me feel positive and purposeful. And the experience has reminded me that, no matter how successful you are, you always have something to learn.

Gillian Harvey is a writer and mum-of-five. Her debut novel Everything is Fine is out now.