Melissa Hood is one half of The Parent Practice – with partner Elaine Halligan she has just been named one of the top parenting gurus in the UK by The Daily Mail. Her book Real Parenting for Real Kids, published by Practical Inspiration Publishing in April 2016, was described by Carl Honoré as ‘a blueprint for building families that allow both parents and children to become their best selves. A wonderful book.’
But it nearly didn’t happen. Melissa had been writing this book for more than six years when she started working with me on The Expert Author programme last year: in this interview we discuss how she overcame all the fears and doubts that had been holding her back, and how she assembled a team to support her through the writing and publication of the book that meant so much to her.
Alison Jones: I’m here today with Melissa Hood. Hello, Melissa.
Melissa Hood: Hi, Alison, so nice to be talking to you again.
Alison Jones: Oh, it’s fantastic to have you and it feels like, yes, we’ve been talking so much over the last few months, haven’t we? It’s really nice to be talking to you as the published author, rather than the writing author.
Melissa Hood: I know. Moved on a bit, haven’t we?
Alison Jones: I know, it’s great, isn’t it? Well let me just introduce you to everybody first. Melissa is the founder of The Parent Practice, which she now runs with Elaine Halligan. She took a parenting class a while back to help her manage her own sons difficult behavior, and what she learned transformed their family life so she went onto retrain, she became an expert parenting facilitator and over the years she has then transformed the lives of countless other parents and children. I have to say editing this book has transformed our family life as well, it’s one of the most personally important books that I’ve ever worked on, so thank you for that.
Melissa Hood: No, that’s brilliant.
Alison Jones: Yeah, it’s good, isn’t it? Melissa, tell me, well first of all, congratulations on the publication of Real Parenting for Real Kids.
Melissa Hood: Thank you.
Alison Jones: Tell me, what’s been the best bit of being an author so far?
Melissa Hood: Well it’s the sort of comment that you just made actually. I mean I really enjoyed the process of writing it, and while I was writing I tried to think about the person for whom I was writing and I assumed that this parent, the reader, was much like many that I’ve met in our face to face courses and workshops, and the fact that he or she was reading the book meant that they were interested in doing the best they could for their families, and that’s what we find parents are really committed to bringing out the best in their children and being the best parent that they possibly can be. I tried to think about what they would be feeling when reading it and I really didn’t want them to feel preached at or to feel guilty in any way if what I was recommending to them was different from how they’d been doing things.
My greatest pleasure has been to hear from parents who’ve read the book, or at least have started reading the book, about the skills they’re using are making a real positive difference in their families. It was a real thrill to hear from one mum, after she’d read the first chapter, she said she had to put the book down to send me an email to tell me about how it was helping her understand her son so much better, and she said that she’d had a real “a-ha” moment in sort of really understanding his temperament. It was also pretty nice when my mum told me it was an exceptional book, and she’s not really given to false praise, so that was good.
Alison Jones: Wow, now that is high praise indeed, isn’t it?
Melissa Hood: Well you never stop seeking your parents’ approval, do you?
Alison Jones: Absolutely. That is lovely. Yes, I bet that feedback meant the most to you. Tell her to put that up on Amazon please. Now, Melissa, before we started working together, it was April of last year, wasn’t it? That you started on with me with The Expert Author program.
Melissa Hood: Yes, it was.
Alison Jones: Now you’d been thinking about publishing a book for several years before that, was it six years or so?
Melissa Hood: That’s right, yes.
Alison Jones: Tell us a little bit about those years. You know, what was it that stopped you getting it finished?
Melissa Hood: I mean as you say I actually first put pen to paper, or these days it’s finger on keyboard, six years previously to this attempt. I’d accompanied my family on a skiing holiday, my middle son who I always described as the reason I took a parenting course in the first place, he was my challenging one. He was actually doing a snowboarding instructors course in Canada, and I don’t ski, so that gave me time to write and I started writing it then, but then when we got back to real life it got put on the back burner as other priorities took over.
I think the real thing that got in the way, because there are always other things going on in your life, but it was the little voices in my head that were saying that, there were already lots of good parenting books out there and what did I have to offer that hadn’t already been said, and who did I think I was to be professing to be an expert? It wouldn’t be perfect and it needed to be perfect, and if I put it down on paper and it actually got published I wouldn’t be able to change it and I’m bound to have better ideas later.
Alison Jones: Gosh, you’d just gone through the gamut of so many of the little resistance niggles that people come to me with…
Melissa Hood: They were huge actually for me, they were real stoppers, and another one was that, “Oh, some people don’t like my writing style. I’ve had negative feedback about other things I’ve written.” The fact is I’ve also had good feedback as well but somehow those voices weren’t as loud.
Alison Jones: Or you didn’t hear them as loudly.
Melissa Hood: Well that’s right, yes.
Alison Jones: Were you aware of articulating those thoughts to yourself at the time, or is it just the benefit of hindsight that you can see that?
Melissa Hood: I think it was sort of not very well formed in my mind, but I was certainly aware that there was a mindset block to getting on with it.
Alison Jones: It’s so interesting, isn’t it? Because this is… I think a lot of the people listening today will recognize probably all of the ones that you’ve just said there. It seemed once you say them out loud that they don’t survive exposure to the light very well, do they?
Melissa Hood: No. Sometimes you need somebody else to say them to you and to help you recognize that that’s what you’re thinking because, as you say, the moment it’s articulated it looks silly.
Alison Jones: Its power is really, isn’t it, before you articulate it to yourself, when you accept it is reality without actually challenging it.
Melissa Hood: Yes, exactly.
Alison Jones: That’s so interesting. Then what changed for you? What was the key, what made it possible to actually get the book written and finished at the end of last year?
Melissa Hood: Well if I’ve learned nothing else in this process, what I have learned is that no one succeeds alone. There were five people really who made it possible for me to stop listening to the voices and just get on with it. The first was Elaine, my irrepressible business partner, who gave me the kick up the pants that I needed to get started. She also supported me practically in making time for it, and she also helped convince me of the business case for it.
Alison Jones: Ah, now, those are two, just before you go on I think those are two really, really important points, aren’t they? Because, A, if you haven’t got the time for it, it’s just not going to happen. Now you could say that you don’t find time you make time, but there is something about setting time and starting to write, isn’t there? I think the really key one is that the business case point, because unless you know why you’re writing the book and what the benefit is, it’s really hard to then to carve out the time to do it. I mean those two are linked so closely.
Melissa Hood: Absolutely. Yeah. She helped it become more of a priority for me.
Alison Jones: Did you actually sort of sit down and work out, you know, a return on investment? Did you do a formal business case thing or did you just have a sense of what this would do for the business?
Melissa Hood: We had pretty clear ideas about how it would help the business. I don’t think we put any figures on it, but, you know, it was clear that we wanted to give ourselves greater exposure as the experts in our field and to solidify our credibility in the area.
Alison Jones: Yeah, and I can see that that changes everything because suddenly it becomes a job that’s part of the business rather than something you’re doing as an indulgence on the side.
Melissa Hood: Exactly, and actually that’s a good way of putting it because there was a small part of me that did feel it was an indulgence.
Alison Jones: And a personal-
Melissa Hood: Yeah, so it definitely was a personal thing, and that’s where my, the second person who helped me stepped in, and that was Caroline Ferguson, who I know you know, a mindset guru. She helped me to quell the voices and helped me find the courage to start and to deal with the perfectionist demons, but part of what she did was help me accept that it was okay that it was quite an individual pursuit for me, that I really wanted to write it, and that it wasn’t indulgence to want to do that, it was just something I had to do.
Alison Jones: Do you know we probably need to have Caroline in the club because she’s-
Melissa Hood: Oh, definitely.
Alison Jones: Yeah, I spoke to her at the World-Changing Writers summit last year and she’s so powerful, that sense of kind of acknowledging what it is that’s holding you back and giving you really powerful strategies to overcome it. What you have now of course is the two thing, Elaine from the professional side and Caroline from the personal side, removing those markers. Yep, brilliant, go on.
Melissa Hood: Then the third person was you.
Alison Jones: Oh, yes, me!
Melissa Hood: When I did the Expert Author Programme and when we started working together you gave me a real belief in myself and in this project, and a huge amount of encouragement throughout the process of the writing, as well as many practical tools for organizing the writing, which helped me feel really on top of the process. That gave me a lot of courage actually, once I had the structure sorted out, with lots and lots of Post-its as you’ll remember.
Alison Jones: Oh, yes.
Melissa Hood: The book flowed fairly freely.
Alison Jones: Yeah, and I always think that that the structure is key for so many people, because they’ve got the will, they’ve got the ideas, but it’s quite a shapeless mass, and as soon as you give them the tools and the clarity of thinking to see how it all fits together then there’s nothing stopping them.
Melissa Hood: Yeah, because I mean I’ve been working in this area as many people who write a business will have for many, many years, seventeen years I’ve been doing this. There were lots of ideas going around in my head, and I teach this material all the time, but it was just getting the structure to help the flow, and then it did.
Alison Jones: Great. I remember being so excited about this book, right from the get-go, as soon as you described it I thought, you know, A, this book needs to be published, and B, I want to read it.
Melissa Hood: Well that made such a huge difference to me, that you helped me believe, especially from your publishing background, that there could be another book on parenting that might have a different way of saying things or something different to say that would be a useful contribution.
Alison Jones: Absolutely, and your book is really distinctive actually because it celebrates what you do do and helps you notice what you do, rather than preaching at you or giving you a kind of overly formulaic thing, it just gives you these really simple, flexible, tools. Sorry, I’m giving you a great book review now, but actually that is what’s distinctive about it, and it makes a very different-
Melissa Hood: It’s supposed to, yep.
Alison Jones: Yeah, it makes a different experience reading it, to reading a parenting book where you simply feel that, you know, you’re being told what to do or they don’t understand your child.
Melissa Hood: Well I mean that’s how my next supporter really helped. This is one of my work colleagues, Juliette, and she was so helpful in the editing phase, that is even before I sent it to you, Alison. She helped me make sure that the reader was always front and center and helped me keep the voice consistent, and because she works with parents all the time as well, she was really used to thinking about the parent in front of her so that we could between us make sure that it wasn’t preachy, and understand how people were feeling, that, “Oh, goodness, you’re talking to me about praising in a particular way and I’ve been doing it in a completely different way and I’ve ruined my child.” You know, just being aware of those feelings that people have. She reigned me in if I was veering off towards pontificating it all.
Alison Jones: Which is a real temptation, isn’t it? When you do know a huge amount about a subject it’s very easy to just jump behind the podium and start lecturing about it.
Melissa Hood: Yeah. The last person who was very vital in this process, and will be for lots of writers I’m sure, was my husband, you know, my partner who was a very understanding writing widower. You know, he spent long evening watching Game of Thrones on his own, so it wasn’t all bad.
Alison Jones: I was going to say, that sounds bliss for most blokes I think.
Melissa Hood: We did eat, but the quality of meals may have slipped a bit.
Alison Jones: It’s so true, isn’t it? You do need support at home because somebody who gets it and understands why you’re doing it. I remember Sheri Bevan saying that as well.
Melissa Hood: Because he works with me as well he was very understanding about the need for writing it and hugely supportive.
Alison Jones: Fantastic. You’ve had your team around you from all those different perspectives, and that’s what made the difference. Fantastic. What advice would you give to somebody who finds themselves, you know, where you were two years ago, before we started working together, when you had this sense of something to be written but all the reasons not to and a sense of frustration? You know, imagine yourself back there now, what would you tell that person?
Melissa Hood: I suppose the strong sense I have is the need for the team to get your support structure, whether it’s personal or professional, and that will help you to get started. It might be an accountability partner or someone to encourage you or just someone who helps honour the spaces in your diary which you’ve carved out for writing. That might be a work colleague perhaps who’s not putting meetings in there because that’s your writing time. How each person finds time of course is going to be really individual, I was lucky in that the summers are quiet time in our business so I could devote good chunks of time to writing. It did mean I didn’t take any holidays last year, but it was worth it.
Alison Jones: How did you actually go about the writing process? Did you just literally sit down and spend a day writing or did you do it in chunks while you, you know, how did you actually physically sit and write?
Melissa Hood: I had days when I was working and days when I was writing, so it was just lucky that that was how it worked out for me. There were some other work things that I still needed to do of course, but how my day was structured is that because I’m in Australia and the rest of my team were in England while I was doing most of the writing, I would get up in the morning and there would be a whole batch of emails and I would sort of go through a triage process with those and decide what I needed to deal with. Then I’d go off and take some exercise, and then I’d come back and write. There would be two, three hours maybe that I could write and then I’d deal with the emails before they woke up in England. It was fortunate that that was my structure and it just worked for me.
Alison Jones: That’s so interesting. There’s two things that I think are particularly interesting there. One is the fact that you had that structure in place, so you haven’t got that tension, you know what you need to deal with that day and where you can carve out the day for writing. The second one is the exercise, and I don’t think we talk about this nearly enough for writers because sitting and writing all day is just not what our bodies were designed to do.
Melissa Hood: Yeah.
Alison Jones: I think it’s-
Melissa Hood: I actually have a practical thing that makes me get up and move. I have a kneeling chair, because I was finding that sitting on a conventional chair was making my hip flexes get really tight. My legs are at an angle that I’m sort of kneeling on, but you can’t actually sit like that for very long, it’s not very comfortable to do, so you have to get up and move, so I’ll probably stand up and walk around every half hour or so.
Alison Jones: That’s really good, isn’t it? You’re actually forced to stand up, because otherwise it is possible to sit at a computer for three or four hours at a stretch and it’s just so bad for you, and I think the quality of your thinking deteriorates. You know, the longer you’re sitting motionless staring at a screen.
Melissa Hood: Yeah. That really helped me.
Alison Jones: Yeah, I have to say quite often when I go for, I run quite a lot and quite often I’ll set myself a little puzzle or a topic and sort of feed it into the computer and then just go for a run and somehow during the run even without a conscious thought it seems to sort of come out the other side. There’s something about, you know, you move the legs and the brain starts working somehow.
Melissa Hood: Oh, Caroline’s been helping me understand how our subconscious works. You send your subconscious off on that little task and it deals with it for you, it’s brilliant, it’s like having a personal assistant.
Alison Jones: It’s just in the process as well, isn’t it?
Melissa Hood: Yeah.
Alison Jones: Fantastic, I love that. Tell me what you discovered about yourself, you know, about Melissa in that process of writing and editing the book?
Melissa Hood: Well one thing I discovered is I can actually write pretty fast. I think I already knew I’m quite organized and I’m very disciplined, but I think the process of writing the book meant that I got a lot better at accepting feedback and not being diminished by it. I still grapple with perfectionism but I’m finding that it’s less likely to stop me doing things now. For instance I gave a workshop a couple of years weeks ago and I wasn’t very happy with how it went, but I felt a lot less weighed down by that than I would have previously. Now I’m keen to look at it completely afresh, or actually if I decide to ditch it then I’ll be okay with that decision too. This has been a really good process for my self-confidence.
Alison Jones: Do you think that was as side benefit from the mindset work, or do you think that was directly related to the writing itself?
Melissa Hood: No, I think it was directly related to the writing because unless you’ve got something to show for it. Like, you know, I sat down, I dealt with my demons, I, well, I know I’m going to continue to deal with them, but anyway, and I actually produced something, something of value I think. It’s having that outcome as well that really proves to me what I can do when I ditch the voices.
Alison Jones: The book is almost evidence to yourself, it’s a way that you can counter any voices in your head that are trying to diminish you in the future.
Melissa Hood: Exactly, so I can look back and say, “Well, I did this, so, you know, I can deal with this other concern that I’ve got.”
Alison Jones: That’s really powerful, isn’t it?
Melissa Hood: It really is.
Alison Jones: How interesting. Nobody’s ever mentioned that before, and I can absolutely see what you know, mean. I love that.
Melissa Hood: Yeah. This is my proof, I can do stuff.
Alison Jones: Yes, and anybody who tells you’re not you just wave it at them, and it is quite a hefty book, isn’t it? It’s going to do them some damage if you drop it on their foot. Five hundred and two pages, boom, there you are. Talking about that writing and editing as well, I mean they are two quite separate phases, aren’t they? Did you find yourself being a different person or did you sort of segue between the two effortlessly?
Melissa Hood: I found it a bit difficult to separate the two. I was very inclined to want to edit it as I went along, which I know is not recommended. I mean there was some editing even before it went to Juliette and then it came back to me and I’d have another go, and then it went to you. I’m not sure how separate they really were, but of course in the writing phase when it was free flowing and I was just letting ideas come, that is very different from the editing. Which is a good argument for keeping them separate because you’re looking at it in a quite different way.
Alison Jones: Yeah, and I think this is really interesting. I know that we’re going to talk to Natalie Reynolds, she did it if you like in the approved way. She just, you know, blurted out the draft, she got it all down on paper and then she took it away with her and hated it and deleted the whole thing.
Melissa Hood: I mean, yes. I remember reading that. Goodness.
Alison Jones: Yeah. There is an argument there for checking in I guess as you progress, but I think getting that balance right is going to be quite an individual task, isn’t it, depending on what kind of person you are and what kind of writer you and how much it constrains you.
Melissa Hood: Yeah. I think a little space between the first draft and the editing is probably a good idea. That was forced on me from time to time by other business requirements, you know, I had other things that I had to do, and so then I’d come back to it and look at it with fresh eyes and that was always good.
Alison Jones: This is one of the benefits actually of being a writer who’s in business is that you create that space from the book which I think some professional writers, who are exclusively focused on the writing, have to manufacture for themselves. It’s a blessing in disguise I think perhaps sometimes.
Melissa Hood: Yes. Yes. That’s a good point.
Alison Jones: Yes, brilliant. Wonderful, Melissa. Thank you so much, and finally I’m asking everybody who’s invited onto the podcast if they could suggest someone else that they think would be a really, really good guest and tell me why.
Melissa Hood: Well what I’d be interested in hearing about myself, particularly if I was a writer just starting out, I’d be interested in hearing from someone who didn’t think of themselves as a writer but actually who has something really valuable to share. As soon as I thought of that I immediately thought of Elaine, my business partner, because she has a wonderful story that she wants to share about her son’s experiences growing up with severe learning difficulties, but she doesn’t think of herself as a writer. It’d be really interesting to hear her story about making a book with those set of circumstances.
Alison Jones: That would be really interesting, and as you know I’m working with Elaine on this, so we-
Melissa Hood: Indeed.
Alison Jones: We’re pioneering a way of doing it, because as you say she isn’t a writer, we’re pioneering a way of drawing the story out without her actually having to write much at all. I think you’re right, if she’s up for it, when we’re a little bit further down the road, it would be really interesting to share that with people and show how we’ve done it and what the outcome was. I love that. Right, she’s in the diary for a later episode. Brilliant. Thank you. Now, Melissa, if people want to find out more about you, about The Parent Practice, or about real parenting for real kids, where do they need to go?
Melissa Hood: To our website is the best place, which is www.theparentpractice.com, and forward slash book will go directly to the book page. It is available on Amazon but if you want to know more about The Parent Practice generally then our website’s obviously the place to go. On the website I should say, and I might have interrupted you about to say the same thing, there are a lot of additional resources that go with the book and videos and stories and worksheets and things that compliment what’s in the book. I recommend anyone who’s reading the book to access all that material as well.
Alison Jones: Yes, that’s exactly what I was about to say. There’s a huge, huge amount of rich material and things that you can download to compliment what you’re learning in the book and videos and so on up there. It’s got a really good example and, you know, we work quite hard on thinking about how to integrate that, of having an online supplementary sort of resource library that really, really works well with the book.
If you’re reading the book, or even if you’re not actually, go and have a look at the website and see what’s there and I’m sure you’ll be impressed. Fantastic, what a pleasure to talk to you, Melissa, and I’m so proud. I remember I was at your launch the other week, I think I actually put a look in the show notes for the previous episode, there’s that picture of me just gazing at you with that proud mama expression on my face as you-
Melissa Hood: I know, it’s so sweet.
Alison Jones: It is one of the highlights of my career, publishing that book and just, you know, watching you own the stage at your launch. I will never forget that, it was marvellous.
Melissa Hood: Thank you so much for all your support throughout.
Alison Jones: You’re very welcome and thank you for being a great guest today. Goodbye.
Melissa Hood: It’s my pleasure. Bye-bye.
Alison Jones: Goodbye.