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Becoming a Minority, a memoir.

It was never my intention to make myself a minority. I always had a chip on my shoulder about my upbringing – as does any teenager who gives up their weekends for their parent’s business – but it never drove me to intentionally seek uncommon pathways. Yet, growing up in business is the very reason I plunged head-first into a pathway without considering the cultural and social peculiarity of my decision. I believed I was capable, that was all the consideration I needed to push off from the start line. This left me running a race without knowing where the finish line was or what I wanted it to look like.

Did I have the endurance to reach the unknown depths of the future?

I didn’t ask myself this question until I was running, and by then it had already begun, and I wasn’t the type to give up.

This strange race and my movement into a minority group began with a work experience opportunity.  Transitioning into a new school to begin year ten alongside my peers, I was ripe with excitement about the new environment and the ‘adult’ expectations of the faculty.

“This was it,” I thought. “These were the years I read about in books. I am finally mature enough for real adventures.” But I made a misstep out of my eagerness to explore. I raised my hand after attending a presentation from a local employer about trade careers. I was one of a dozen girls in the classroom. Out of the dozen girls, most of them attended the presentation to get out of class for half an hour. Trades were a “man’s job”, there was no reason for more girls to attend. Yet, I watched the presentation (without fully comprehending the opportunity offered) and raised my hand to sign up.

I could have left it there. A week later when I’d heard nothing back about the work experience opportunity I could have let it die. They’d forgotten I put my name down. But, it was never in my nature to forget. It wasn’t in my nature to let anything slip through the cracks, so I hunted down my career advisor and formalized my work experience with Cummins. At the time I had some idealized image of working on cars for a week like a sexy Megan Fox in the first Transformers movie. I was convinced working on cars would make me more desirable… Right?

It was a moot point. I hadn’t signed up to work on cars. Cummins was an engine business… A truck engine business. When I learned the true nature of my work experience, I immediately thought: “No way in hell can I do that.”

I imagined a dirty, greasy, male-dominated environment. Not even considering my gender, I had a small build and was short. How was I going to achieve anything on equipment with tires that were taller than my hips? I wasn’t even interested in mechanical work and knew nobody in the industry.

Yet, neither of my parents went to university and they ran a very successful small business, Pizza Party Hire, catering wood-fired pizzas. They insisted that there was no harm in trying. It was one week, and the work experience program was mandatory – I had to do something, so why not fix truck engines?

When I arrived at the workshop that dreaded Monday morning, I was extremely nervous. I sat in the tiled reception area watching a video play on a loop about the application of the Cummins engine. The video showed mining trucks as tall as houses, small boats, and ferries gliding across choppy water, and trucks towing shipping containers down the freeway.

My only thought was: “What am I doing here?” Apparently, I wasn’t the only one thinking that.

Upfit into blue and orange overalls that were twice my size, with the legs rolled up three times each and wearing safety boots which were heavier than any shoe I had ever worn, I made it into the workshop. The service manager, an impressive woman with a distinct Scottish accent, led me to stand in front of the supervisors, fidgeting with my over-sized sleeves. They were as surprised as I was by my attendance, yet that said nothing. They assigned me to a technician and sent me off into that strange new world.

It wasn’t as dirty and greasy as I imagined. The truck tires were big but there were steps to climb onto them safely. Yes, I stuck out like a sore thumb as the only female in the workshop, but no one treated me any differently.

For that entire week, I learned the names of tools as I passed them to the technician. We were carrying out a major repair with one of the first-year apprentices, a boy nicknamed ‘Hingy’ from his last name ‘Hinge’. The entire engine needed to be disassembled and rebuild due to internal damage. I learned about pistons and con-rods, about movies like ‘Happy Gilmore’ with Ben Stiller, and heard a few scary stories that taught me there was the potential for injury in the trade, but if I was vigilant, I would be safe.

It was like being introduced to colours for the first time. It was like there was an underwater world hidden inside the engine. Complexity existed inside the big red box in a way I could never have imagined.

I don’t remember any time I felt as exhausted as I had that week. I was hooked. That one week shaped my entire high school experience. I sacrificed one of my VCE subjects to sign up for an automotive class in my school and attended more workshops as I tried to find my place.

I learned a few things as I branched out into the mechanical industry:

  1. Car mechanics complain more than truck mechanics.
  2. Car mechanics earn less money than truck mechanics (their favourite complaint).
  3. Majority of car work (in a workshop) involved servicing, and that can get boring very quickly.

Before I had even made my decision, I was decided. It was a common conversation for me to tell my parents what the break times at Cummins were even as I completed my year twelve VCE. Despite being ‘undecided’, I never signed up for university courses – I didn’t even google courses – and by midyear, I applied for an apprenticeship.

That one week of work experience led to me becoming the second female apprentice in the branch despite completing VCE with results in the top 5% of the state. Even now, it is the most life-changing decision I have made, and I would never go back.

I joined a minority group. Not only was I a female in a male-dominated industry, but I was also a female and academic in trade.

At the start line, I had no idea how an apprenticeship or full-time job would shape me into the woman I am today. I never signed up expecting the opportunities I have received throughout my apprenticeship. I’ve spoken at business events, school conferences, and on-camera to advocate for women in trade careers. I earned the nickname ‘Super Apprentice’ within the first few months of employment because, despite my small stature, I had a great attitude towards learning.

No one held my hand at the start of my journey and told me how valuable I was as a woman in trade. Instead, I share that message for others in the community who need to hear it regardless of gender, skill-set, academic success, or physical build:

“Just because you carry out the work differently, doesn’t mean you are less valuable or capable.”

I performed my job to accommodate my weight and size, and that didn’t hinder me from completing my apprenticeship seven months early.

I joined a minority group, but that status is changing. Gender diversity in trade is increasing. Women in trades is a growing reality here in Australia, and the minority is not afraid to share their message:

“You are capable.”

Business Plans & Business Models: do you really need them?

The answer is yes.

Simply put, a Business Model is a document or plan that details the day-to-day operations of a business that are involved in making money. In comparison, a Business Plan has a lot more to do with the structure and context of a business. It will include information such as mission and vision statements, the market analysis, the business goals and objectives and the strategies the business will adopt to achieve those objectives.

I’m not going to discuss the specific details included in Business Plans and Business Models as there is a lot of information available for free on the internet from well-known information sources such as business.gov.au or entrepreneur.com. The information that goes into your documents will also widely vary based on the time of business you launch, so I recommend heading to google and clicking through the available links and finding some free templates to prompt your thinking to help you get started on your Business Plan and Business Model. What I want to convey is the importance of these documents.

These documents, while they don’t make you money in your business – because they are just pieces of paper – are valuable for numerous reasons.

The first reason is, in creating these documents, they force you to consider your day-to-day business operating needs and future growth. The Business Model helps you need to understand and make important decisions regarding your intended operating system so that you can ensure you have the correct resources, software, and information to carry out your business’s work. The Business Plan, in comparison forces you to consider what lies in your business’s future. It can help you identify any blind spots, bottle necks or challenges so that you can begin preparing for them before they start banging down your door. It will also allow you to anticipate business growth or set growth goals that you can intentionally work towards within your business. (For this reason, even if you don’t formally create these documents prior to launching your business, I highly recommend you still consider the information they demand so that you can launch from a strong foundation.)

The second reason is because you want your business value to grow. If you don’t work towards growing your business value, then all you’ve done is buy yourself an expensive and stressful job. That’s where the importance of an ‘exit strategy’ come in, and both the Business Model and Business Structure help you create value and work towards an ‘exit strategy’.

Let’s detour here for a second: what’s an exit strategy?

I first learnt about the concept at a business seminar when I was trying to help my parents launch a new business at the start of 2019 – right before COVID hit. An exit strategy is exactly that – the way you plan to exit your business. Even if you never act on it, it is important to work towards an exit strategy, whether it is selling your business when it reaches a certain value or when it achieves a certain revenue, having a strategy in mind allows you to work intentionally towards a specific goal so that your business is more than a stressful job. Because, if we’re going to invest our time and money launching and running a business with all the extra work and risk, we must aim for a better financial outcome than working a normal job – otherwise, what’s the point?

So, with ‘exit strategies’ in mind, if the result of the business is to eventually leave, having documents such as Business Plans and Business Models add to the sell-ability of a business, as they are formal documents that make it easier for someone to take over the day-to-day operations. It also allows potential buyers to see that there are formal plans and measurable targets set out to maintain business growth.

Detour over.

The third reason is simply for the fact: specific goals aid growth (this is true in business as much as it is in personal growth). Having a Business Plan and thorough understanding of your Business Model allow you to forecast future work demands, resources and finance needs, and create goals that keep you accountable and focused. Whether you meet those goals or not, having a plan that specifies Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) allows you to measure and analyse business progress and identify weakness or opportunities within your business to help you realign and achieve your business goals.

Despite all this, my advice is: if you’re ready to start, do not let these documents hold you back – you can always come back to them. They are important, but they will not exclusively make your business successful – good decisions, doing the work and ensuring profitability are the only things that will create a successful business. You can come back to these documents down the track and still get the same benefits. But I do recommend, at a minimum, you at least fill out a blank Business Model Canvas prior to starting.

I came across this form while researching for my own business and this document allows you to check for any blind spots in your business preparation so that your day-to-day activities can run smoothly while you begin the work and start driving business growth. It also allows you to look at how the money is going to flow in and out of your business so that you can ensure you are working towards profitability.

So, while I know will be plenty of businesses that have sold successfully without a Business Plan or Business Model, I highly recommend investing the time and energy into creating these documents and keeping them up to date as your business grows.

Google is my best friend and should be your best friend too! I can’t wait to see what you achieve.

Thanks for reading! Make sure to leave a comment and let me know what point stood out to you the most.

I look forward to seeing you here again!

Disclaimer: I am not a business advisor and have not provided specific business advice as business is a diverse field full of unique contexts and situations. I will show you where I sourced information and how I made my decision, but it is up to you to determine whether you need professional advice for your business situation.

How I Accidentally Became a Diesel Mechanic

I wanted to change the content up this week – since we’re still at the beginning stages of this journey together – and share my story of how I became a diesel mechanic, which, by the way, was an accident!

I had the opportunity to speak to seven different groups of year 9 students at my old school via zoom this past week, where I shared my career journey, what my job looks like, and share some of the lessons I have learned along the way. While sharing, I thought of you all and took advantage of my time at home to record my story to share it here for you today!

While this was filmed as part of a conversation with students via zoom, I have only included the best bits for you to enjoy! Make sure you let me know what you think in the comments and feel free to share your story with me, I’d love to hear yours too!

Watch the video below!

Disclaimer: I am not acting as a representative of any company or workplace and the views and experiences mentioned in this video are solely my own.

Thanks for visiting! Make sure to leave a comment and let me know what point stood out to you the most.

I look forward to seeing you here again!

Business Structure

If you’re interested in watching instead of reading, check out my video at the bottom of the page!

Before you can begin any of the admin set-up for your business, you need to decide on a business structure. As I was getting into business with two other people, I went the extra step and sought advice from a business accountant to ensure I picked the best structure for the business, and everyone involved. It isn’t always necessary to seek out professional advice as there is a lot of information online to help you make an educated decision for your business. Here in Australia, the government has a lot of free information available to help you get started.

I’m not sure what the international equivalents are, but here is Australia the government has set up a website specifically for business set up: business.gov.au I used this website to help me gather information prior to verifying my decision with my accountant – it is a nugget of gold, so definitely take advantage of all the free information there.

The four main business structures in Australia are:

In Australia you can also create a business structure as a Co-Operative, Joint Venture or Indigenous Corporation.

There are pros and cons to every structure, and not all of there are suitable to all business types. The reason there are different structures are to create different ways to manage finance, tax, and accountability within business. Each structure allocates the tax and accountability differently, has slightly different legal and reporting requirements and can create different protection measures for the individuals or the business. Take the time to read through each one and determine what structure best suits your business context.

In my business, we decided to form a company. The reasons for this are it allows us each to keep our personal assets as separate to the business. What this means in application is our personal assets, (such as cars, houses, or other investments) are seen as separate to the business. Regarding the taxation structure, a company means that our personal and company taxation is completed separately. This structure also allowed us to allocate business ownership as we determined amongst ourselves through the distribution of shares.

Some of the other aspect of running a company means that we have more formal legal and reporting requirements, one of those being a requirement to have WorkSafe Insurance (based on Victoria’s legal requirements). With each of us being a ‘director’, we are accountable for the business and any debt and legal requirements incurred by the business. We also had to register ourselves as employees of the business to receive wages.

There are many other aspects to setting up the business as a company. I have just listed the ones that were most significant to my decision making. In your business the other business structures may prove more financially or legally beneficial to your circumstances.

The reason for deciding on a business structure is so that you can formally register your business. To apply for an Australian Business Number (ABN) you need to decide on a business structure so that the government has a record of the relevant taxation and legal responsibilities of your business. For my business with a ‘company’ business structure, I applied for an Australian Company Number (ACN) alongside my ABN. Regardless of whether you start with the ABN or ACN, registering for either of these numbers registers your business name so that it cannot be used by another (note: this is not the same as a trademark). From there, you can also apply for a separate Tax File Number (TFN) if it is needed in your chosen business structure.

I hope this information has provided you with insight regarding the purpose of a business structure and where you can source information to make the best decision for your business.

Thanks for reading! Make sure to leave a comment and let me know what point stood out to you the most.

I look forward to seeing you here again!

Disclaimer: I am not a business advisor and have not provided specific business advice as business is a diverse field full of unique contexts and situations. I will show you where I sourced information and how I made my decision, but it is up to you to determine whether you need professional advice for your business situation.

Starting a Mechanical Business.

Despite growing up in a family business and developing a deep passion for the creativity and complexity of business and entrepreneurship, I never saw myself starting a business as a Heavy Vehicle Diesel Mechanic. It may sound counter intuitive – especially as I qualified in the trade after falling in love with the work straight out of high school – but I didn’t think I loved the trade enough to justify starting a business in this field of work. My thinking behind this came from the knowledge that business is hard work, you’ve got to be extremely committed to grind through every tough day, you must overcome every obstacle, and make tough decisions. And the work, ultimately, never ends – if you’ve done it right.

This all changed when one of my good friends, another heavy vehicle diesel mechanic with who I went through my trade school, disclosed that he had plans to get into business for himself. He also said he would be interested in getting into business with me.

As I mentioned, it was an option that I had thought of and decided against in the past. Yet, this offer had me thinking. It had me thinking about it to the point I began discussing the possibilities with my fiancé – also a heavy vehicle diesel mechanic – and within a week I was calling my mate back and saying: let’s do this.

We sat down and started talking about the details. We brainstormed business names, agreed on percentages of ownership, and started constructing a plan of how we would build a business without giving up on our steady paychecks until there was enough work to justify the plunge.

Our business is starting lean. Very, very lean.

I’m writing this article now, because I want to share the journey I am commencing, I want to document how I am starting a trade business with my good mate and my fiancé. It is common for tradespeople to start businesses, even if it is just a business acting as a contractor. Yet, I knew that I needed to share the process so that other people, like you, can benefit from the freedom a business can create.

I know, by default, I am a very idealistic person (I’m including this here as a disclaimer!). Business can create freedom, but first comes a lot of hard commitment. I’ve had my fingers dipped in business throughout my life but have yet to have an idea reach fruition. Still, I know how transformative learning finance and business from my parents was as a teenager. It’s shaped my passion and given me the self-awareness that I have no long-term ambition for earning promotions in a corporate business. So, as I am establishing a service business not just for myself, but for my two business partners, I hope that I can share some of the knowledge and lessons I have already learned, and the lessons I still need to learn, along the way.

This was just an introduction, the title page for this new chapter. I look forward to sharing my tradie business journey with you. Make sure to follow this blog to stay up to date with the process or check out the link to my video on this topic below.

Thanks for reading! Make sure to leave a comment and let me know what point stood out to you the most.

I look forward to seeing you here again!

Reflecting on growth.

The days are long, but the years are short” – Gretchen Rubin.

There are different points throughout the year that cause me to pause and wonder and evaluate where I am and where I want to be. The start of a new year is one such point, and my birthday is another. I also feel this questioning arise around the middle of the year when we all start to feel how quickly the year has moved from day-one to month-seven. The biggest question that arises for me (and is also the source of the self-doubt that causes me to pause and evaluate so routinely) is whether I am growing. 

Growth is subjective because whether you are moving closer to your true self, or further away, is dependent on your values and direction. Happily eating a burger may be a milestone for someone who is learning food-freedom, alternatively it might be counter-productive to another who is trying to enter a body-building competition. Everyone is at a different stage of their life, trying to learn a different lesson, all the time. So, being able to evaluate your growth relies on your awareness of what priorities you have in your life. 

The reason I feel the itch to evaluate my growth so routinely is a result of the question: “Am I good (doing, being, or achieving) enough?” While this question can be harmful when not recognized or harmful when it’s answered with self-doubt instead of self-love, it is a question that we all feel. The amount of information that we can absorb (intentionally, or unintentionally) through media helps suggest that the answer may be “no” unconsciously. But being aware of this question can provide a reminder and opportunity to us to pause and realign with our values and purpose – and this can only ever be a good thing. 

There is no rule book for how or when to pause and evaluate your growth. Whether you are inclined to write out your values, current goals, routine activities, and habits, or you prefer to sip tea and watch the sky as you pause to think, each person’s way will be unique (I do it differently every time!). The key is to use the time intentionally. Life gets busy, the year moves quickly, whether it’s five minutes or an hour, taking a moment to pause and check whether you are moving in the direction truest to yourself helps you make intentional decisions so to avoid getting swept out into the currents of life. The nagging question of “am I enough?” can be the perfect cue that we need time to realign with what matters to us and tune out the noise of everyone else’s direction and growth.

It can be overwhelming trying to evaluate growth. We may find that we only have a small list of career achievements or didn’t succeed in that project we were so passionate about. Reflecting will include acknowledging the setbacks and hurts we’ve experienced throughout the year, but these cannot be avoided as they are a way that we can measure our growth. Another way – and the way I prefer to simplify the idea of ‘growth’ – is to spend my attention on the decisions I have made (or didn’t make) and the decisions I make routinely. How these change (or don’t change) can be a huge indicator of how we may be growing or stagnating. 

First, you need to know what your values are. If you don’t, google a list of values on the internet and see what stands out to you. Pick 3-5 that you feel are your top values above all-others, and if you’re struggling to decide, think back over past decisions you have made as they will always reveal what is truly important to you. (For example, if you had an important networking event and a family dinner on the same night, which one did you pick and how did you feel about your decision? If you picked family and felt no regret, that would suggest family is a higher priority to you than work). 

Second, brainstorm (in whatever method you prefer) habits and actions (a.k.a. decisions) that you have engaged in over the last year – do they align with your values, or take you away from them? Continue to ask yourself this question regarding any decisions that occur to you – did you lose any habits, have you decided to stop using a certain word, have you changed your schedule to fit in a new activity? Our actions are direct results of decisions we made and kept. If you look back over how you spent your time over the last month, do the actions and decisions that made up that time align with your values?  

If the answer is yes, and you can see the changes and growth in your decisions that are moving you in the direction that is important to you, then you have provided yourself with a positive example of your own growth. If the answer is no, then that doesn’t mean you have failed, it may not even mean you have to change anything. It is up to you to evaluate what is important to you, but by taking the time to pause you can make the decision intentionally and course-correct if you need to. 

The reality is there will be a combination of “yes”s and “no”s in our growth. We can’t grow in all directions at once, so taking the time to pause can help us decide what actions are most important to us and work on one at a time.

It’s important to reflect on our own growth with only ourselves in mind. Our growth isn’t about comparing ourselves to others or about degrading ourselves for the ways we may have missed the mark. It’s a way to celebrate ourselves and to course-correct if we need. Everyone’s values and journeys are different, so trying to compare to others is only going to set us up for failure and turn us away from our own direction. 

The beauty of growth is it often happens without us even realizing it. Positive decisions can become routine so that we forget a year ago we made different ones. We also make a lot of decisions unconsciously that can be positive and move us towards our values. When questions come up through-out the year regarding your own growth and achievements, instead of letting the self-doubt creep in, take the time to be intentional and see all the incredible ways you (and your decisions) have grown. 

Thanks for reading! Make sure to leave a comment and let me know what point stood out to you the most.

I look forward to seeing you here again!

Ashley Beeby, Heavy Vehicle Diesel Mechanic & Writer

How to write REAL characters.

In writing, you are either a natural world-builder and plot-driven writer or you’re a natural character mastermind and character-driven writer. For me, I’m a plot-driven writer. Coming up with new worlds with complex issues and community conflicts for my characters to solve is naturally where my ideas originate. Even though I always have a notion of the personality of my characters, they start of as mere pieces that need to follow the conflict of my world. Their level of dimension is: one.

After spending years writing my first manuscript (which consisted of 90,000 words, one major re-write and three total drafts) I realised that while I have an interesting world for my characters to play in, my characters aren’t putting in enough work to drive the story forward. This realisation hurts, especially after all the time I committed to complete and improve the manuscript, only to realise that I didn’t put in the right work to make sure my natural weaknesses were lifted. But the benefit is that, now, as I write a brand new first-draft for a different story world, I can level-up my character writing game. And, if you’re a world-builder like me, I want to help you improve your characters too.

Even in the first 2000 words of my current WIP, I noticed a dramatic improvement in my story writing from following some basic steps (after some very intense thinking and research). If you want to know how I did it, keep reading!

STEP ONE: Understand People

Writers are often encouraged to be ‘people-watchers’. That’s because a deep understanding of how people think, react, make decisions, and move through life is essential to be able to recreate a character with artist realism like great books do. For myself, understanding people is not a strength. People-watching will often leave me creating a story for the person in my mind as I wonder who they are and how they think instead of observing and learning about them from their outward expression of self. (If we’re honest, it’s hard to know if you’re an efficient people-watcher without engaging in a conversation with the person to fact-check your assumptions. And, making assumptions of others isn’t considered socially polite!)

So, what do we do to understand people better?

There’s always one person that you can rely on to teach you about decisions and reactions: yourself. Being observant of yourself and how people make you feel and react can be a good place to start, but we often don’t want to write ourselves as the main character of our stories (where’s the fun in that, right?) The next best thing is to understand body language.

We all innately understand human cues of emotion and body language – if we didn’t, we’d struggle to make it through routine daily conversations without landing in hot water. If (like me) you struggle to understand people, instead of starting with people-watching, start by researching body language. While we understand body language cues innately – especially people we are familiar with – consciously recognising and observing body language on others to try and understand them is a different skillset. Having knowledge to apply onto the people you watch can help you understand more from afar and may allow you to notice tics and quirks that people may have that make them unique.

For my research, I explored every nook and cranny of the following website: scienceofpeople.com. I created a chart in a word document and listed the different facial and body language cues against emotions so that I have a quick-reference chart to help me remember body language.

The reason understanding body language and people watching is important is that you need to make sure as you write your characters you are including body language cues that make sense with the character’s mood and setting. Our readers, like ourselves, aren’t necessarily body-language experts, but they have the same innate understanding of body language cues that gives them impressions of character’s emotions from the body language you use to describe them. If you’re trying to write an angry character but describe them as ‘slouching’ you’re unintentionally disconnecting your reader from your story because the description and the emotion don’t align and become un-real.

Note: with your new understanding of body language, you may be tempted to describe your character’s body language with unnecessary detail that leaves the reader more confused (for example, very few people remember whether “liars” look left of right) – this is not the purpose of understanding body language. The purpose of understanding body language is to ensure that your description matches the tone of your characters and/or scene to create believable characters. It’s more of a fact-check or list of ways you can ‘show-not-tell’ character emotions.

STEP TWO: Understand Your Characters

Now that you know how to convey the emotions your characters are experiencing through accurate body language cues, it’s time to understand what causes your character to feel certain emotions and why.

Understanding our characters overlaps with understanding people, but here is where we need to make intentional decisions about our character’s past experiences, fears, traumas, loves and attributes. The better you understand your character, the easier it will be to write them with distinct personalities and responses to situations.

I created my own Character Profile form to help understand my characters. It wasn’t the usual Character Profile of hair colour, eye colour, height, age, and occupation. This one went much deeper. A character’s back story and history are important, but you need to take it another step and understand the impact the character’s back story has made on their decisions. (I’ll write more on decisions shortly).

To do this and force myself to make decisions about my characters in a meaningful way that made them each unique (instead of generic characters that all blend into one voice) I extended on these character prompts to create unique prompts in my Character Profile. I have shared them here so you can add them to your character development process too:

Graphic credit: Ashley Beeby

Answering these questions for each of your characters will help you create distinct voices before you even add any unique tics or quirks, horrific back stories or the normal ‘strengths and weaknesses’.

STEP THREE: Define Your Character’s Decisions

An incredible science-fiction trilogy I finished recently changed my understanding about characters description and characterisation because of the writer’s writing style. ‘The Arc of a Scythe’ by Neal Shusterman is described as a ‘romantic, sci-fi adventure’ novel, but by the end of the first book I was left wondering: where is the romance?

The Arc of a Scythe Trilogy by Neal Shusterman

As I flew through the next two books and was left contemplating life and writing (as you do after you get enveloped in an incredible story), it clicked. The romance written my Neal Shusterman in his trilogy doesn’t exist in sexual tension, physical contact between the characters or flirting in their interaction as you would expect – in fact, there’s very little of any of that, practically none! Neal Shusterman conveyed the romance through his character’s decisions.

Having a thorough understanding of your characters is essential to create complex characters that readers can connect with, but for us plot-driven, world-building writers, it’s easy for our characters to get swept into the currents of the story without them taking any action. What I mean by this is: you need to force your characters to make decisions and highlight the decision for the reader (in a show-not-tell kind of way).

Decisions were painfully lacking in my first manuscript. In my mind, I thought I was conveying my character’s personality because of the way they got swept into the story – they were engaging in certain scenarios, surely that counted as a decision? The problem with our characters just easily falling into certain situations is that it takes away from the complexity and background history that a well-highlighted decision can add.

So, as your naturally plotting mind comes up with a complex world and story, pay extra attention to the decisions your character must make to move the story. The easiest way to showcase decisions is to show what the character is giving-up to do something. For example, if your character must steal money from their employer, showcase how they are making the decision to forsake their integrity for their survival.

By highlighting character decisions, it allows the characters to act as story drivers that can compliment the strength of a complex plot. It also gives them more solidarity in the story while contributing to characterisation.

STEP FOUR: Plan Your Scenes.

As plotters we often have fragments of the story – the beginning, the end, the conflict, and its climax – but none of the in-between. I know I’m often stuck with what ‘stuff’ to fill my book with. If a scene isn’t driving the plot, then it’s unnecessary, right? The result of this mentality is a manuscript with lots of action, but no reader-character relationship because every scene is about moving the plot.

Taking a moment to plan and understand the purpose of your scene has the potential to dramatically improve your writing and allow you to incorporate all the work you’ve undergone leading up to the writing. So, whether you’re a Planner or a Pantser, take a moment to think about these two, simple steps.

  1. Decide on the purpose of the scene.

Every scene has a purpose. To keep it simple, something either needs to be done (an action) or something needs to be learned (a lesson). This is true for writing a plot-driven scene or a character-driven scene. So, the first thing you need to decide before you begin writing is decide on the purpose of your scene. There are only four combinations:

Graphic credit: Ashley Beeby

*It can also be something you need your reader to learn through the character.

Once you have determined the purpose you can move onto the next step.

Note: the 3rd and 4th combination are the one that is typically lacking in a plotter’s natural skillset. These combinations are the scenes that don’t necessarily contribute to any plot movement, but allow readers to understand the characters more, show character’s relationships or show a character’s development.

2. Dot-point the actions and/or lessons that needs to be included in the scene.

Even a plot-driven scene still needs to include characterisation. So, regardless of the scene purpose, there are a few questions you can ask yourself that allow you to make a list of 5-10 important details that need to be included in a scene. By dot-pointing the actions and/or lessons (even if it’s just mentally in your head, Pantsers) allows you to really highlight the important details that add complexity to your characters as you write. Ask yourself these questions if you need help creating your list of important details:

Graphic credit: Ashley Beeby

By asking these questions, it allows you to apply your understanding of body language to the scene, include subtle details of the Character Profiles you developed for your characters in ‘Step Two’ to the scene with clarity and highlight character decisions. Within a few quick prompts, all the work you’ve put into writing real characters gets to melt together into a beautiful masterpiece and instantly level-up your writing!

Examples:

Details I need the reader to learn about my main character:

These quotes are from my current manuscript – I hope you enjoyed the sneak-peak!

Conclusion:

Improving your writing by levelling-up your ‘weak arm’ doesn’t have to be complicated. All-in-all, if you invest some time in your writing by adding the first two steps into your manuscript planning – Understand People and Understand Your Characters – that leave only the final two steps to be applied on a regular basis. Defining your character’s decisions and planning the important details of a scene allows you to intentionally include all the sticky, complex, gooey parts of your character development into your story and increase you character dimension level from one to ten.

I hope you’ve gained a lot from this article. The lessons in this article are the results of five weeks stuck at home asking myself “how do I write better characters?” Being able to lay it all out here for you to benefit from makes me really excited because I know how pivotal it has been in my own writing. If you gained something from this article please share it with your fellow creative writing friends, give it a like or leave me a comment to tell me what your biggest take-away was!

Good luck with your new tool-belt of character development strategies and happy writing!

P.S. If you’re interested in owning my full Character Profile, make sure to comment so I know and then I can make it available for everyone!

Feeling Nothing. Feeling Everything.

Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Repeat, until the pain goes
Away, they say.
Repeat, until the whirlwind
Stops blowing, and
The earth stops
Crumbling under
Your feet
And your heart stops
Throwing itself
Against the ground
With expectations you set
Beyond what your heart
Will endure.
Breathe in like
It is your only breath.
Breathe out like
You are already whole.
Repeat. Even as you
Feel nothing, yet
Feel everything
At the same time.

Accepting the Ordinary.

The end of 2020 was a period of intense internal assessment and growth for me. I know the repercussions of that time will continue to flow through my entire life, as the knowledge I gained provides me with a foundation to build myself upon.

Through that time my ambitions around personal growth shifted significantly. I want to share some insight on my new outlook as I believe it can help others as well.

I am definitely in the ‘over-thinker’ category. I previously called myself a ‘thorough’, or ‘deep thinker’ so that it sounded less like an issue, but in recent months I have recognised it as a habit that doesn’t serve me.

On a daily level, the plains of my mind can be full of thought without detriment to my emotional state or activity. It will often present itself as a divide in my concentration as my mind wanders through considerations of myself, situations, or decisions while I carry out tasks.

But, when I am emotional charged, the plains of my mind become more than just full – they become turbulent.

This is where the challenge exists. If my mind is full when I am emotionally rested, the crowd of thoughts don’t disappear when I’m emotional drained and unable to handle them. Suddenly I’m throwing stones at myself with thoughts I’m incapable of dissolving.

I have found two strategies which I am currently implementing into my life that have aided me in better managing my mental space.

The first, and more well-known approach is: mindfulness.

I meditate in the mornings to practice mindfulness. Yet, I find that regardless of how mindful I am during my practice I am still better at managing my mental headspace during the day – both, overall and when triggers arise.

torrent of thoughts that occupy my mind. As I have recently come to appreciate, we are not really in control of our thoughts. Our thoughts occur just like our external environment, so I am learning to refrain from fuelling or fighting my thoughts.

The second approach has been inspired by my own self-awareness of my thinking patterns: accepting the ordinary.

In recent months I have become hyper-aware of the self-generated expectation I have of myself to perform (in my personal life and career). It is a significant trigger for my over-thinking, and often leaves me paralysed with indecision between what is the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ choice. It sends me on a thinking pattern where I expect myself to know where I want to be in not just twelve months, but ten years.

When you contemplate decisions at that duration it can be easy to feel overwhelmed.

And, when you’re contemplating what colour duvet cover you want, and are struck in a long-winded decision because you must find the ‘right’ one, that’s when you know that your over-thinking habits are hindering your life.

But it was my expectations that were the real antagonists.

The expectations I placed on myself to be ‘successful’ – which translated to making the ‘right’ decision in other areas of my life – stopped me from acting and surrendering to mistakes. This trigger demonised my tendency to ‘over-think’, all because I had to strive for more, be more, achieve more.

That’s when I realised (with the insight of some great books, mentioned at the end for your interest) that it was okay – even better – to accept the ordinary.  Ordinary activities, like having an easy weekend watching a movie, reading a book, taking a walk with the dog, and ‘achieving’ nothing without doubting my worth or my ambition can also be an ‘achievement’.

The head space to accept that I still have value when I’m not working or progressing in my goals is a challenge I am rising to. But I have found the decision to accept the ordinary and not expect myself to have to be the ‘best’ or ‘first’ is the freedom I had been seeking by aiming for ‘more’.

In accepting the ordinary, I am finding more joy in simple daily experiences. I believe that is true success, because, in the scheme of life, the simple, repetitive daily or weekly activities we undergo are as truly remarkable as the feats of humans climbing mountains and winning gold medals. Probably because those end successes are a result of the small, daily mundane tasks that we carry out repetitively.

This joy has aided me in being more present, taking me away from the over-thinking that barricades me from experiencing life. Overall, I am a better person for it – both for myself, and for others.

Let me know in the comments whether you practice meditation, mindfulness or have any of your own strategies to manage your mental space. I’d love to learn of different approaches!

Two books that have aided me in my self-awareness are:

  1. The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle
  2. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***, by Mark Manson.

I highly recommend both!

A Comment on Work Experience.

I was recently asked to make a short video talking about the value of Work Experience for my high school. It’s an exciting topic for me because Work Experience was a pivotal moment in my life. Due to the industry connection between my first employer and my high school’s Trade Training Center, I was able to attend a career-defining week.

If it wasn’t for the opportunity to enter the workforce early as a Work Experience student, I don’t know what career I might be in now. Fortunately, I found my trade because of my week with in the workshop.

I’ve often wondered why Work Experience is only a once-off activity. Especially when educated, trained and skilled people can still struggle to get into jobs due to the competitiveness and requirements for ‘previous experience’. Wouldn’t it be amazing if it was a common practice for Work Experience to occur at all ages, helping companies employ the right people for the job and giving workers the chance to gain valuable experiences?

I’d love to know what your experiences of Work Experience were. Let me know below!

Here’s the video I made for the year 10 students:

Do Not Suck It Up.

I learnt the hard way that ‘sucking it up’ doesn’t work. Not long term. Whether it is a physical or mental ailment, eventually all that hard work pushing through the pain will return. When it comes back, it won’t just knock on your front door, it will burst open the door and you won’t have any choice but to address it…

The notion of a ‘mental health day’ is an increasingly prevalent concept with more societal awareness of the reality of mental ailments. It is something that I have encouraged many times with family and friends. Whether it’s the extra hours of sleep to feel rested and mentally capable, or a needed break to unwind after weeks of mounting stress, wellbeing is something I have learnt to value. It goes against the old-school mentality of ‘sucking it up’ and prioritising work over self-care, but it is essential. Often, people need the push or permission from someone within their circle to take that break due to the guilt of not attending work – a self-generated idea born from the old-school thinking. I have always done my best to be that push or person for others, but sometimes it can be hard to be that push or person for yourself.

This article may be the most raw and vulnerable I have ever publicly shared. While, in hindsight, I can see that I have shared many glimpses of my mental health, I also know I have always been careful to not fully disclose the extend of my own personal mental health challenges. This is due to the old-school mentality of valuing hard-work and feeling that I must leave my personal life ‘at the door’, like work is not one of the biggest aspects of our lives.

I have been working on unwinding these old-school beliefs to prioritise wellbeing over work for more than a year now. It has been a gradual process as I have dug deeper and deeper to the real root of my challenges. It started as fortnightly breakdowns, then progressed to gut health imbalances. From there, COVID hit, and I allocated my depressed mood to the living restrictions in place during Victoria’s lockdowns. After each hurdle I overcame, I thought: ‘Finally, I have figured it out. I am better.’ I couldn’t see that the race wasn’t over yet, and there were still hurdles ahead.

I am sharing this because I know there are others out there who need to hear it. I was fortunate that I have family and friends who are extremely supportive and weren’t afraid to tell me their story so that I could see past my own doubts. As I struggled with my mental-health I was constantly worried whether the mental anguish was self-inflicted. If it was, then that meant I was weak. I had all the tools, had spoken to psychologists, and in every emotional spiral I knew that I wasn’t myself and wasn’t thinking rationally. Yet, I couldn’t get myself out of the spiral. If it wasn’t my own fault, then what else could it be?

I am not clinically diagnosed with a mental health condition. I am not depressed, and I do not have anxiety, but I do experience them. The biggest mistake I made regarding my mental health was assuming I had to be ‘depressed’ to benefit from anti-depressants. After speaking to a family friend, I was enlightened to the broad application of anti-depressants as a support for mental health. Despite applying all the tools I have learnt from professionals to help when I fall into a six-hour or four-day emotional spiral, I have never been able to disconnect from the mental chaos until it has drifted away on its own accord. The combination of my personality and my life circumstances has left me chemically depleted in my brain, and until I have the right medicinal support to improve my mental health, no matter how many tools I have to help myself, they won’t work. Even though I am completely well and feel capable of handling life’s emotional challenges 90% of the time, the 10% that I don’t, I need support that I am not able to provide myself and that others aren’t able to offer me.

As I write this article, many of my family and friends still don’t know that I am working with my doctor to find the right medicinal support for my mental health. I’ve been unsure about whether to share my truth out of a sense of unnecessity and fear of judgement. Why should I share a deeply private challenge when I don’t want pity or want to burden others with it? Yet, after struggling through a week away from my usual support network, I have come to realise that taking the jump and trusting others with your challenges is a deeply relieving experience.

The reality is, against the old-school mentality, work is a huge part of our lives and we cannot just stop experiencing life because we are at work. Sometimes we cannot just ‘suck up’ our pain and get on with it. Opening up to friends (and even superiors) at work has allowed me the relief that I have people who will support me when life and mental health comes up at work – which it will.

While the old-school mentality may be planting doubts in your mind telling you to keep your challenges to yourself, you might be pleasantly surprised, like I often am, by the subtle kindness that exists all around you. We are all human beings, we have all experienced or know someone who has experienced mental health challenges. You can value work-ethic and professionalism and still be vulnerable as a human being. Do not suck it up. Your wellbeing is worth more than a day of work.

Ashley

Disclaimer: I am not trying to advocate for anti-depressant medication, as there are many avenues to consider prior to seeking medicinal support. My advice is to talk to your doctor if you are struggling as I have done with mine. Also, don’t be afraid to talk to others about your challenges. There is more support around you than you may realise.