Monday, 13 October 2014

The Stories You Don't Write 1 - Introduction

Around 1998, I decided to write a book about how to change your life. In part it was inspired by a need to change my own, in part it reflected my disillusionment with the 'talking cures', the profession in which I worked, and in part, it was because I was outraged by the bullshit being marketed by the majority of self-help books (there are around 45,000 in print … and I've read a fair cross section).

After years of research and reflection, it finally dawned on me that the world does not need yet another book about how to change your life. Quite simply, the books don't work, so why contribute another one to the pile?

Change is a universal theme in life. Human change has grown faster and more complex since we came down from the trees. We all change - the moment we emerge from the womb, we are launched on a life of change. We can't choose where we're born, who our parents will be, how their experiences and lifestyle will guide us to adulthood and independence, how the world in which we live will impact on us.

If change is a universal theme, there is no universal formula for coping with and managing change. If there were, there would be no obesity, no alcohol or drug problems, no smoking, little or no crime, no prolonged periods of depression or human angst.

If there was a formula which worked, we could all cope with the pressures and traumas of life, if not seamlessly, at least with quiet grace, confident that our troubles and woes were merely temporary and we'd soon be back on an even keel - happy, healthy, and optimistic about the future.

The moment you had a problem and needed to reassess, reinvigorate, or change life in order to overcome pain, worry or fear, you'd either sit down with the appropriate self-help manual or engage the services of a counsellor to help you cope and move towards a better, more fulfilling, happier future.

Of course, that doesn't happen. There are thousands of diet books on the market; every week, every month, thousands of magazines, newspapers and colour supplements carry advice on dieting. And they don't work - the world is facing a major epidemic of obesity.

Some people do manage to lose weight, and to sustain the loss over many years, perhaps over a lifetime. That's down to their personal determination and effort. They might find a diet book or dieting regime helpful, but it's ultimately their own efforts which bring about change.

There are no diet books which guarantee success, none which have been proven to deliver a sustainable change in weight and lifestyle. There are no books about alcohol abuse, drug abuse, quitting smoking, overcoming depression, coping with relationship problems, finding happiness, or transforming yourself into a multi-millionaire which actually work.

At best, some self-help books offer snippets of good advice and suggestions for the best options to follow, but there is no guaranteed formula for change. At best, they might inspire or motivate a few people - but, in the end, it's the individual's determination to change, the individual's hard work, which brings about sustainable change, not some formula offered in a book.

Much of the advice you'll find in self-help books is bullshit  - at best dubious, sometimes looney tunes, sometimes even fraudlent bullshit. The claims made by most of the books are pure marketing hype with no substance to them. The only thing the glut of books on the market achieves is a healthy bank balance for some writers and their publishers. It's an industry which makes a lot of money but which doesn't deliver except by chance.

You'll find thousands of websites selling you advice, counselling, coaching, and 'talking cures'. It's a lucrative market. Advice sells. It rarely works. Skilful counsellors, coaches and therapists are few and far between. There are a lot of charlatans, snake oil salesmen, incompetents, and fraudsters out there.

So, I've concluded that I may, one day, actually produce a book called "The Stories You Don't Write", but I'll only do so if and when I can convince myself that it would be a worthwhile contribution, offering sound, effective, professional advice - no guarantees, no claims that the book contained 'easy steps' or some instant formula for successful change.

We are all unique. While it might be possible to generalise about the problems and traumas of life, each of us faces change from a unique perspective. No book offering a broad sweep of the nature of change and the problems experienced when trying to manage it can ever hope to address your unique, personal needs.

For the time being, therefore, I am pursuing a career as a fiction writer, while I use my website and its associated blogs to engage people in a discussion about change. I'm offering no answers, no guarantees, no simple formula - but website and blogs will explore various aspects of change and will, I hope, encourage you and motivate you to create your own manual for change. The blogs will aim at helping you find the right questions to ask, they won't pretend to offer answers.

So, can I invite you to dip into my contribution to the Blogosphere?

The Stories You Don't Write:

The book I'm not writing. I'll take a critical look at the self-help industry and the advice offered by it. I'll consider what actually works, what clearly doesn't, maybe suggest which books to consider ... and which to avoid. All FREE, but I'll warn you if I ever get close to actually writing a book on the subject of change.

Narrative Senses:

If you do want to change your life, if you're confronted with problems in your personal life and lifestyle, then achieving positive, sustainable change is going to require a change of mindset. This is the section where I explore how the mind works, and how you go about reconfiguring your own, personal narratives, your own reasoning and rationale.

Images of Truth:

Who and what can you trust? If you want to change your life, you're going to have to be honest with yourself. How do you recognise lies or untruths? Who and what can you trust on the Internet ... it's a marketing tool, and much of its content aims to sell you goods, services, ideas, dreams, delusions. Maybe, just maybe, you'll find some useful advice here ... if you can trust me.

A Profession of Change:

Think you need professional help? The talking cures, therapy, counselling ... these are not sciences. They don't offer a magic bullet. They are deeply flawed, some are corrupt, most don't actually work. A critical appraisal of the professional and the bullshit. Before you buy into any form of talking cure or therapy, recognise that you're a gambler, a 'punter', not a client or patient, because the therapist or counsellor you choose is selling you a relationship from which s/he will profit, and which is based on the scantiest of scientific claims. Caveat emptor - buyer beware.

Battle for the 21st Century Mind:

Want to change your life? The self-help books will sell you advice on individual empowerment and overcoming your individual disadvantages. In reality, many of the disadvantages you face are shared with millions of others. Real change is about politics, is about taking control from the powerful few and using it to benefit the many. This section explores capitalism and economics as ideologies, not sciences - in 15th century Europe you'd be burned at the stake if you objected to the Church or its teachings; in the 21st century West, it's time to make the heresy vocal and tear down the myths and abuses of capitalism.

The Sounds of Right Hands Praying:

I am not an atheist, I simply start from the default position. The default position is, there are no gods: in the whole of human history we've seen not one iota of evidence for their existence, but plenty of evidence that gods are invented by humans, humans with a vested interest in selling a particular god or gods. I don't declare myself a 'gravitationalist' or heliocentrist - gravity exists, the Earth revolves around the Sun. These are the default positions.

Those who do not adhere to the default position should declare themselves 'theists', specify with which religion, superstition or cult they currently delude themselves, and, if necessary, hold themselves up to ridicule, along with anyone else who believes in a flat Earth. Religious myths have sometimes offered aid to the poor and disadvantaged, but have usually been hijacked and used by the powerful to bolster their position and keep them in power. Time to hold them to account.


I'm Scottish, and I'm committed to the principle and the fact of Scotland's Independence. This section celebrates the nature of political protest and the use of art (art in the widest possible sense) to mobilise support for a cause and highlight the contradictions in the opposition's case. Art, and the creative seizure of the social media, is a vital form and a vital strategy in pursuing change.
Get involved, get engaged, get to grips with radical change and the transfer of power away from the big corporations, from the powerful, from the political parties which long ago sold out people in favour of their own aggrandisement.

Postcards From the Moon:

This is where I explore writing and creativity. I'm a writer, so much of my discussion will focus on writing, but this section will also consider creativity in its very widest sense ... whether your creative skills lie in painting, knitting, gardening, pottery, writing, music or whatever, you can use your creative senses in every aspect of your life, and use those creative senses to help build a changed, better life for yourself and others.
I'll try to encourage your creative skills ... and to convince you that you do have them, even if you doubt the fact.

The Authorised Version:

And here's where you find out about me - this is Budge Burgess, unplugged, uncensored. This is me trying to be honest about who I am and how I came to be me. It's not an ego-trip ... far from it. Nor is it a confessional. What I hope this section will do is encourage you to be compassionate and honest about who you are and why you want change in your life. This is not a model for writing your own story, it's not a model for your own self-analysis ... but it might offer you the sort of guidelines you need to create your own model, your own methodolgy for successfully understanding yourself and what makes you tick. Be critical ... but be compassionate.

Like Fleas on a Dog's Back:

My online novel of a post-apocalyptic world, set in the Scottish town of Dunkillin. A chapter a month. The world as we know it collapses. The survivors are faced with the ultimate in change. How do they rebuild themselves and their world? What challenges do they face, how do they cope, what do they value?