Monday, April 21, 2014

Self-help within the pages of fiction

Fiction is a genre I enjoy writing, but when I visit libraries and bookshops I also love to browse the self help and personal development sections. I'm always open to the idea of improving something and if any of these books contain ideas I've been overlooking all my life, so much the better. They often boost my mood when I read them; particularly those with lively anecdotes and stories. Perhaps anybody who has been borrowing and purchasing self help books for as long as I have ought to have their act far more together than I do. That's an interesting thought.

Once I found a website which listed what compilers called history's Top 100 self help books. I realised that I'd already read a huge chunk of them, which left me puzzled. Surely, in that case, I ought to have what it takes then, whatever "it" is. My husband said, "Maybe you have too many self help books. I think people ought to choose just one and then stick to it."

Well, recently I found Og Mandino's The Greatest Miracle in the World in a second hand shop for 10c, which proved to be a great bargain. It's a personal development book disguised as a fictional story. The mentor character, Simon Potter, tells Mandino that he'd spent several years dissecting all the great self help books which had ever been written, trying to extract their essence. He listed Norman Vincent Peale, Dale Carnegie, James Allen, Napoleon Hill and many others I've read over the years. Finally, he was able to compress their messages down to 5 main points, a bit like reducing a scientific substance to its chief elements. Rather than suggesting you all go out to buy the book, I'll tell you what they are.

1) Count your blessings.
2) Recognise and appreciate your uniqueness.
3) Go the extra mile.
4) Use your power of choice wisely.
5) Do all of the above with an attitude of love.

It made a lot of sense to me, especially as God IS love. I'm sure that anybody who follows each of these straightforward suggestions consistently cannot help improving their mindset and condition.

Now, here is the unexpected thing that helped me. I'd just done something silly which I was paying myself out over, and I wanted to forget about. I don't know why, but I randomly decided to read a few pages of A Design of Gold, one of my own novels I've written. It was published in 2009 and since then, I've worked on three others and forgotten some of its finer details. Well, I found myself drawn into the story of how my characters Michael and Jerome had fallen down a pit (an apt analogy but pardon the pun). Their feelings and points of view really struck home with me. I even felt like cheering them on as they realised that they needed to change their thinking patterns to improve their lives. It was great for me to re-visit these two young guys with a fresh perspective.

I decided that the advice they gave each down the mineshaft was good and to take it on board myself. It was all about how a simple shift in the way individuals think about themselves can make an enormous difference to their personal satisfaction levels, even when nothing else changes. Can characters actually be wiser than the author who wrote them? Well, I have to say yes, I think so. At least we all may forget some of the wisdom we once knew. I was smiling for the rest of the day, to think that a story I wrote back in 2008 was now coming back to bless me. It felt a bit surreal in a very pleasant way. I never would have thought of myself as a self help agent, but hey, why not? Maybe I didn't need to spend all the money on self help resources.
 Paula Vince is an author of contemporary inspirational fiction. She lives in the beautiful Adelaide Hills of South Australia, which she enjoys using as the setting for her novels. She enjoys filling her stories with a bit of mystery, suspense and romance.


  1. Wonderful when we still like what we have written years later. Feels kind of like time travel to think of God giving you words then to help you now. :-)

    1. Hi LeAnne,
      It feels a bit surreal to read our old work, when it's been a few years, don't you think? Especially when it all used to be so close to us then. I agree, it's a bit like time travel.

  2. What a great experience for you, Paula! To me, it has all the hallmarks of a loving God about it. I can just imagine God guiding you to that book you wrote with a wry smile on his face, waiting for you to see the connection there to how you were feeling at that point, then cheering you on as you took your own message you wrote there to heart! And I think that's a great five point summary too, by the way. God bless.

    1. Hi Jo-Anne,
      Yes, that does seem to be how He works. On the surface, it seems to be a complete coincidence, but I've had too many other similar experiences, and heard of those of others, to believe it. Yes, how thankful we are for books to encourage us, even our own :)

  3. Paula, It's lovely to hear about how you were blessed by reading one of your older books :)

  4. Hi Narelle,
    It's funny, what can happen sometimes. Those two boys were definitely wiser than their author that day.

  5. Your post made me wonder if we do make things too complicated. I loved the five chief elements. Jesus often made it simple as well when he said things like love your neighbor as yourself. Great words to think on, Paula!