It was SUCH a joy to speak with my writing mentor & bestselling author, Beth Kempton, who is an award-winning entrepreneur and producer of online courses, a Reiki Master, a yoga teacher, a mama of two young girls, and a self-help author whose books have been translated into more than 25 languages.
Even if you don’t have a copy of her book ‘Wabi Sabi’, you would likely recognise it from it’s gorgeous pale green cover… I see it in practically every book shop, gift shop & boutique!
I loved speaking with Beth about what the pandemic revealed about the true nature of things, her fifth book ‘The Way of the Fearless Writer’, as well as this small but significant details of what tea & toast she likes best when she gets up to write at 5am!
In this episode we chat about:
- The significance of ‘Wabi Sabi’ in a post pandemic world
- Why we always use pencil in diaries
- The correct pronunciation of the word ‘gaseous’
- Why we should make a list of things we do for ten minutes every day
- The joy of Japanese stationary & best writing notebook tips
Vanessa: So I am thrilled to be speaking with Beth Kempton today, who is a Japanologist, a mother and author of inspiring self-help books, which have been translated into more than 25 languages… and have become like old friends to me, personally. So, she’s got a fifth book ‘The Way of the Fearless Writer’, which will be out in early October.
I’ve just been really enjoying revisiting Beth’s books. She’s a mentor to me, and thousands of others around the world. And I have to say that the spaces that you hold within your books and courses for your community – to create a life of intentionality – cannot be overestimated. So thank you Beth, for your generous work and welcome to The Way to Japan podcast!
Beth: What a beautiful introduction. Thank you, Vanessa. What a joy to be here with you and talk about Japan. I think you are someone who loves everything Japanese as much as I do…I’ve been looking forward to this!
Vanessa: Oh, wonderful. Thank you. So I thought we could begin with your bestselling book, ‘Wabi Sabi’. And I just saw on your Instagram that with 200,000 sold, that’s one sold every five minutes for the past five years! That is extraordinary!
So could you speak on what ‘Wabi Sabi’ means to you? I realise you’ve written an entire book about it, but how has it changed, in this post pandemic world, and how has your understanding of it evolved since you wrote the book?
Beth: Goodness me. I mean, the success of ‘Wabi Sabi’ has completely blown my mind, and I absolutely do not take all the credit for it. It’s a very beautiful book, aesthetically, the publishers did a gorgeous job with it.
And also the timing was incredible. Timing is a lot – when it comes to publishing books. And I had the idea of doing a book like ‘Wabi Sabi’ for a really long time. And just the universe seems to guide us in certain directions at certain times.
And just as that book came out, ‘Wabi Sabi’, that the word ‘Wabi Sabi’ was named a global design trend, which if you’ve read my book, you’ll understand, it’s really quite odd… it’s just how the West has come to use the term. But that obviously helps immensely because people are interested in it, looking for it, and then they find a book all about it.
But I hope that the book has done for them what lots of Japanese people did for me, and the writing of it, which was, steer me towards a much deeper understanding of a term which doesn’t exist in the Japanese dictionary, but absolutely exists in the heart and minds of Japanese people.
I’m sure it’s true for you, Vanessa. I know it’s true for many, many foreigners who visit Japan, live there, work there. It gets under your skin – and it’s really difficult to explain why. And I mean, I’ve travelled all over the world and there is nowhere like Japan, and it’s, when we try and communicate that to people who’ve not been there, we end up showing pictures of Mount Fuji and cherry blossoms and talking about sushi and all the stereotypical things…which are absolutely a part of the picture of Japan…
But they’re all on the surface and it’s so difficult to, it’s because of the depth of the environment and the aesthetics and the way people live that I think it feels completely different. And for me, not, I want to say not unfamiliar, it’s not, when I first went there, it wasn’t familiar at all. Everything was different, but I felt really comfortable there, in a way that it’s like I’d lived there in a past life or something. I don’t if you can appreciate that?
And so for me, writing ‘Wabi Sabi’ was really my attempt to explain the Japan that I’ve come to know and love, without going to all those kind of images. And I knew that there was something in my connection with the country and the people and the culture and the language, which was to do with aesthetics, and to do with gentle living, and a particular way of walking through the world.
And I think that all the contrasts that you see in Japan (that everybody ends up writing about because they’re so blatant) the tradition and the modernity and the you know, the bright lights, but also the very kind of dull and subtle colours that are also everywhere. They both exist. They’re both real. They’re both part of what Japan is.
But for me, there was, there was a kind of thread somewhere, that meant that even in Tokyo, one of the busiest, most packed cities in the world where I lived for several years, it doesn’t feel like any other metropolis that I’ve ever been to. There is this kind of gentleness to it, and there are pockets of calm. And, um, yeah. It is so interesting.
So for me, the book was my way of trying to communicate what is different. And actually what it ended up being was this term, which is, as a non-native Japanese, I felt incredibly, um, at odds trying to like, like, yes, it, it felt like a, a really big deal to take it on, to start with. And also absolutely, who am I to, to write this book?
But if you think of it from coming at it from the perspective of what I, as someone growing up in the West experienced, so I notice it because it’s not what I know from home. There is definitely an element of: you have to not be Japanese in order to have these particular questions. And so I spoke to so many people, I probably had more conversations about Wabi Sabi than most people! And it’s a very difficult conversation to have because Japanese people don’t talk about the term, even though they, they know it. And it led to some fascinating conversations.
So what I hope the book does is to offer the kind of results of my investigation, without trying to be definitive. And, and I actually have a tendency to do that with my books.
‘Cause I take words like ‘freedom’ and ‘Wabi Sabi’ and even ‘Christmas’, about Christmas, that that mean different things to different people and cannot be a hundred percent defined. And yet that is what’s fascinating to me because actually when you ask somebody, everybody has an opinion, even if they don’t exactly know straight away. So really what I came to discover from all of my, research and conversations and ponderings, over quite a long time, um, is that ‘Wabi Sabi’ is really an intuitive response, absolutely a response in your heart, to the kind of beauty that reminds us of the true nature of things.
And when I say ‘true nature of things’, I mean that everything is impermanent, imperfect, and incomplete. And, and the appreciation of that is intrinsic to Wabi Sabi. And it also, is very much connected to the gifts of simple natural living.
And the timing, you asked me about the timing, with the pandemic, it was absolutely incredible because basically as human beings, we have this strange desire or compulsion to try and control everything. We want to know what’s happening next, in the next minute, in the next hour, in the next year.
We kind of want to be able to just know, and of course we don’t know. One of the reasons we don’t know is because everything is impermanent, everything is transient. Everything is changing all the time. And so we, you know, we build solid buildings… and we try and create solid structures.
We write in diaries with pen so that, you know, and we build societies…
Vanessa: (laughs) I never use pen.
Beth: No. I never use pen, never ever use pen. But a lot of people use a Sharpie. You’d be surprised! I don’t think they do anymore! But pre-pandemic I think people used to use a Sharpie.
And even in our society, we build structures that feel solid, but the pandemic showed us that everything is fragile and can crumble in a moment. And that actually we need to build resilience to that. And the best way to do that is to recognise that this is what it is, this is how life is. And it doesn’t mean at all that you can’t make plans. I mean, making plans is a joyful thing to do. But what it reminds us is don’t hold too tightly to those plans.
They probably aren’t going to work out exactly as you imagine. And I think actually it’s really important to remember that what we tend to expect or imagine is based on what we already know. And there are so many experiences we’ve not had yet that we won’t even imagine, you know?
Before we started talking, you were telling me about something quite extraordinary that just happened to you. And you probably didn’t expect that to happen when you got up that morning and went for a walk. And so if we fixate on what we know, then we miss out on a lot of things. So there are, there are so many kind of life lessons, I think, embedded in the ideas associated with ‘Wabi Sabi’.
But perhaps one of the most powerful is, is the idea of transience and the reminder that, when things are hard, you know, very famous phrase, ‘this too will pass’, nothing lasts forever. And also when things are, you know, going really well, or you having a very precious experience, treasure it because that will also not last forever.
Vanessa: Be there.
Beth: Absolutely. Be there.
Vanessa: This reminds me of your new book, ‘The Way of the Fearless Writer’. You’ve got the ‘Be Like Water’ section.
And do you know, my dad used to say to me: “Go with the flow”. And he never understood. He felt like he was being carried by it, in a negative sense, unfortunately. And then I started to, you know, I thought about it a lot because it’s one of the things that he used to quite often say, and he felt that he was being kind of buffeted off rocks, and in that way going with the flow, rather than harnessing the energy of the flow and riding that, you know, where it needs to go and, letting it take you round. I just wanted to, to interject with that because I love that section of the book and that fluidity is a big part.
Beth: Just there, I mean, that is what, what an amazing observation and how interesting that your dad told you something, which has been incredibly important to you, even if that wasn’t his particular interpretation.
I think it’s really important to remember that words do that, and words mean different things to different people, and that’s okay. The idea of, I mean, life unfolds in every moment, and it is, it does feel to me like it flows in a particular direction. If you, if you really tune in to the world, you can feel like you are being moved towards, not necessarily towards something… you know, the, the, the ocean moves. Of course, it is coming into the shore, but it’s also leaving. It’s the movement that I think is important. And when we try and control everything, it feels like we are going against the current, you know?
For me, one of the most important things I’ve learned in the last few years is when something, especially my business feels difficult, it’s probably not right. It doesn’t mean there’s no hard work. There’s hard work in terms of time and attention and doing things.
But if you are, you know, you’re like trying a book a flight, and the website keeps on crashing, and then your credit card doesn’t work, and you’re just like: I’m just going to go make a cup of tea and think about whether I really want to go on that particular day, you know?
We’ve become so detached from nature, and yet so much of the way life unfolds is a mirror of nature for sure. So that’s an amazing… I was listening to you talking about your dad ON one of your earlier episodes, and his experience of going to Japan and, and exactly what you’ve just said, not being able to describe it, but a wonderful thing that he passed on to you.
Vanessa: I’m glad he pointed me in the right direction. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to kind of internalise what it really meant, but he knew that it had moved him in a certain way, and he was kind of a professional cynic. So unfortunately it didn’t, it didn’t get to the place it needed to reach, but luckily it did for me.
And so I’d love to pick out a detail of ‘The Way of the Fearless Writer’. And I haven’t read many books about writing it actually, although they’ve been on my list. And now I may not need to ever, ever read another. I love it. It’s great.
Beth: Oh, so glad. Um, so it’s always a nerve-wracking time, because of course I’ve been carrying this book for, I mean, you know, I’ve been carrying the book for a very long time. I’ve been writing since I was tiny. But the actual book itself came together quite quickly in the last year. And so I’ve been living with it every single day. And it’s obviously, it’s out on October the 6th, so you are one of only a few people who’s actually read it already, that’s not involved in the creation of it. So thank you so much for, for sharing those words.
And you’ll know from the book that seeking external validation is not a healthy way to live as a writer, but having put so much effort into something, it’s wonderful to hear, from somebody who I wrote it for, like exactly, people like you, that it’s hit home. So that’s great.
Vanessa: Absolutely. So, should we talk about the ideal, the optimum state of writing and the other ways that you’ve decided, uh, defined ways of writing… such as the gaseous state, liquid, and solid states of writing? Could we talk around that a little, please?
Beth: Sure. So I came to see, when I was thinking about my own writing process and thinking about how it feels really different on different days, different times.
And to birth a book, you go from this vague… I call it a blob, a cloud, a floating something… of an idea. And somehow you kind of capture that and turn it into a physical book. Right. This is literally just a thing in the air. And I’m holding this book, which has, it has this fixed form, but it didn’t always have a fixed form. And the job of us as writers in the context of a book, there’s obviously many other ways that you can write, but I think a book really shows you the cloud becomes the thing.
There are different things that you have to do in terms of your relationship with words to take this vague thing and turn it into a book with a structure and carefully polished sentences and all of these things.
And I’ve probably read nearly every writing book ever written! I like to do my research! And there are so many, so many books are about how to write better sentences and, you know, there, there’s quite a lot on: it’s difficult to deal with the doubt that comes with writing and those kinds of things. And here’s how you muscle through. And there’s a lot with kind of very powerful language in that. Like, you just, I don’t know, it’s a battle and all that stuff.
But for me, writing is a very gentle process. It’s a beautiful process. I’m a writer because it’s one of my favourite things to do. And I’ve got a manuscript in, you know, four solid months in front of me, what to work on it day, day by day. I just pinch myself and remind myself like this, right now, here, this is what you’ve been trying to build!
Beth: And so I’m very grateful for it. So, I spent a lot of time thinking about my process of writing, and I didn’t always write books… I’ve written five in five years, which is, you know, the two kids and the business. That’s quite fast! So something is working, and it very much is connected to this idea of water.
Now in the book, obviously I bring in ideas from the Eastern world, and I won’t go to those in detail now cause I think they complicated to explain. And actually that’s, that’s why a book.
Vanessa: They need to read the book!
Beth: Why a book can be a really good thing. But one of the things, I’m glad you picked this out, because basically I see that there’s three states of writing which behave like the three different states of water.
So what I call the gaseous state, the liquid state, and the solid state and the gaseous state – is when the words behave like steam and they fly around all over the place, basically in your head, filling your head with stuff, you know, noise. And that can be anything from things you’re worried about to any anything stuff you’ve got to do. Just the stuff that goes on in your head…
Vanessa: One of my good friends said to me… I said, how are you? And she said: “I feel like I’m herding particles.”
Beth: Yes. Yes. Exactly. Exactly. So when we write in the gaseous thing, what we are doing is looking at what is going on in our heads, the work that the thoughts, literally looking at the thoughts and writing them down so that the page becomes the container for those thoughts. Because I see it like a bottle, like the, all that noise is like a stopper. You have to release it, you have to take it out so that the gold inside can come out.
And if all you ever do is look at the noise in your head you never get to the good stuff. I think lots of people get caught up in that. So journaling essentially gaseous state writing is what some people call journaling. And it’s just getting all those thoughts onto the page.
The problem if you only ever do that, is that you can end up just ruminating and you never get anywhere interesting, to be honest. because often the, the thoughts in our head aren’t that interesting, and certainly not for other people. But they’re very real and in terms of: they’re there and they get in the way of parts of the creative process. And so paying attention to them and sometimes giving time to write those onto page can be incredibly helpful, and also very calming. You know, there’s very, there’s really important wellbeing benefits of journaling. So you’re getting all that out onto the page. That’s gaseous state writing.
Liquid state writing, is what is my favourite. Although you’re not allowed favourites! You mustn’t attached to anything. Um, but it’s, it’s, it’s the, the, what is deep writing? It’s, it’s going into a place where you, you don’t, it’s almost like you are being written.
Beth: So you are the vessel, you are the person holding the pen and writing the stuff down. But often you’ll, you’ll be in that state for maybe a few minutes, maybe much longer, once you are used to it. And then you’ll look at the page and you’re like, I didn’t realise I knew that…where did that come from? I haven’t thought about that thing in 15 years. And yet there is on the page and it’s impossible to describe, which is probably why I like it, because I like the things that we can’t particularly describe.
And, but it is, it feels like to me that this writing, the spirit of writing is like a sentient being that we have to work with to write. And in that state that we are basically almost becoming one. And we are just pouring words onto the page. Um, That’s liquid state writing. Yeah. And that is, that is where the gold is.
That is where often the writing is raw and wild and doesn’t necessarily feel like us in terms of the US that we put out in the world every day in our roles as mother and all the other, you know, wife or, um, friend or whatever, worker or whatever it is that we do. But actually the true version of ourselves is that, and I went to a live concert with Xavier Rudd this week, and I absolutely love him. And if you don’t know him, go and listen to his music, it’s incredible.
Vanessa: I’m going to, I saw that on your Instagram. And I thought, I must listen to…
Beth: Oh my God, I literally have written my books to soundtrack of his voice. He’s Australian and he plays about 12 different instruments, including the digeridoo, and guitars, and drums, and all this. His voice is incredible.
But his lyrics are, they’re just amazing. They’re all about freedom and nature. And his very, he has very strong connections to the 6,000 year history of Australia and how we’ve lost touch with, you know, many traditions and things. And so his lyrics are beautiful, but there’s something in all of it that I kind of feel in every cell in my body. And when I’m in deep writing, it’s like, that’s, that’s who I am. And at this concert, you know, I just like felt so much younger, and free, and just dancing, and crying, and all this… and I’m like, this is, this is who I am!
And so for me, writing is very much part, part of it is getting to know our true, our true self, whatever it is you, you see that to be. And that, that is what comes out when we dive deep, we hear our true voice and we can scoop that up and put it onto the page. And so that’s liquid state writing.
And then solid state writing is where… the words are… it’s not that they behave so like ice so much as we shape them as if we were polishing ice. And that is the editing process. And that is taking, paying attention to sentences and paragraphs and structure and all of those things.
And if you think about it, when we are the fears that come up with writing, so many of them are connected to what happens when our words get out in the world. It’s not, it’s not really that much to do with us and a piece of paper. Even when we look at blank piece paper and feel intimidated by it, it’s cause we are worried about what people are going to think before we’ve even put one word on the page.
Nobody is going to, believe me – It’s hard work to get people to buy your books and read your words! There’s so much out in the world these days! This is why authors work really, really hard. And yet it’s so interesting when we sit down to write and suddenly think that the whole world is going to read our words – they’re not!
And so it, when you think about writing in these three states, you can realise that gaseous state writing, liquid state writing, that is not intended for anybody else’s eyes. It’s only when you are actively shaping your words with an intention to share them, and along that way you realise that not everything you write is intended for sharing anyway. You know, you worry about stuff, but then you don’t have to share it. It’s up to you. You know, And there’s a lot of things that you can do to prepare yourself and prepare your words, you know, ask for feedback in certain ways, which doesn’t have you crying in a puddle on the floor, you know, all those things. And so, I find it really helps to think about those.
And there are different ways of entering each state, and they’re not stages… So it’s not that you journal, and then you deep write, and then you edit, and then you give it to somebody. For me, the whole thing is fluid. It’s like as if in the day the temperature is changing, and you’ve got fog, and you’ve got rain, and hail comes and then the sun comes out.
Like it’s that, it’s a dynamic process. But if you can recognise, those pieces, then I think you can completely skip a huge amount of the self doubt that comes. I know, certainly I have, I have zero self doubt when it comes to journaling or deep writing, absolutely nothing. I could do it for years, for hours and not think about anybody else.
All the problems come when I think about sharing it with the outside world. And that’s, that’s fine. Because there are ways that you can deal with that. But if you don’t get to the gold and get the gold on the page, you’re not going to have anything good to share with the world.
So it’s practice, you know, through ritual and dedication and practice and just showing up for your words, you, you get into the rhythm of being able to access these different states very quickly, anytime, anywhere. And suddenly you realise you have a lot of amazing things to say, and it, you can spill beauty and insight onto the page by lighting candle, taking a breath and writing, you know.
Vanessa: Oh, I love that. I, I really, really enjoyed this because I think… I love the way you pronounce it. Gaseous. I was, that’s where my Canadian is coming out. I’m like: gaseous? Um…
Beth: I had exactly the same question. I did the audiobook and I was like, how do you say this word? It’s not a word I’ve actually said out loud.
Vanessa: I’ve never said it in whole life before.
Beth: I’m not sure I actually like it that much! I much prefer liquid. That’s a gorgeous word!
Vanessa: Makes it sound so much more elegant. It’s ‘The Artist’s Way’, isn’t it? You know, I always struggled with that kind of, you know, the morning pages or that gaseous state because I just think: oh, well, this is a load of rubbish and I’m just wasting my time. And so to view it as intrinsic to the whole process is really freeing. Instead of trying to get to the gold immediately, I mean, that’s just not realistic, is it?
Beth: It’s interesting…it’s absolutely vital. I think the thing to remind yourself is to not stay on morning pages. Always. They’re amazing. They’ve changed a lot of people’s lives and helped a lot of people. But that is gaseous state writing.
And actually, if I think about anything that’s ended up in one of my books, almost all of it has come from liquid state, liquid, you know, going deeper and, and finding out what really want to say. So if you, yeah, If you can tell yourself that this practice of doing one pages or whatever you want to call it, journaling it’s really important because it gets all this stuff out the page so that everything else can spill out.
Vanessa: Yeah. Kind of clears the way. Yeah.
What about for people who might be listening and thinking, Oh, well, it’s okay for Beth to explore writing in this, in this way as a ‘sacred pursuit’ because she’s so lucky and successful. She’s written these amazing books and has this wonderful family… but I have bills to pay, and I can’t afford the luxury of writing in this way. What would you say to people thinking that way?
Beth: I would say: oh, I get it. . . (laughs) I understand. And I used to think that about other people as well. How do people find the time to write books? My first book, I got the book deal for it when I was pregnant with my second child. So I’ve never known writing…
Vanessa: No pressure!
Beth: …without children, and I, you know, had business that whole time. And that this is not me saying I’m amazing at time management or anything like that! It is literally down to choices.
And you can spend 10 minutes a day. Think of what, what do you, there are many things that you do for 10 minutes a day. I’m sure scrolling Instagram is one of them. You know, you just going around picking up stuff off the floor in your house. My house is quite messy quite a lot of the time!
We can all find 10 minutes, you know, even if we are caring for sick parents and we have to go and sit by their bed, well, there’s some quiet time you can find 10 minutes. Where children are, you know, you are waiting, going on the school run, go 10 minutes earlier, park outside school: I’m on the school run! Don’t worry! There’s nothing to feel, you know, there’s nothing to feel guilty about. Full stop. But that is our natural tendency…
So build it into the schedule that you already have and instead of, you know, once a week or whatever, instead of getting out and chatting to everyone at the school gate (about not very much) sit in your car for 10 minutes with your notebook and write something.
I mean, in terms of inspiration there, there is just an endless supply of inspiration in the world. And I hope that ‘The Way of the Fearless Writer’ really shows that to people so that they can, apart from the 50 exercises in there, that they can look around and find things to write about all the time. Not just from what’s outside them, but also from what’s inside. But I think finding the time is really, really important but it literally comes down to choice – what are you prioritising instead?
And actually to physically make a list. What are all the things that I’m choosing to do instead of writing? Like, look at today, you know? And actually what if I batch cooked dinner? So the next three days, the half an hour I would’ve spent cooking, I’m just going to go and do my writing instead. And so you, I mean, to be honest, if you want to write books for a living, there are sacrifices you have to make for sure, because you need big chunks of time.
But just to develop the practice of writing you don’t really need to sacrifice anything. You just need to make different choices. And then as soon as you get into it, you realise it’s joyful, and so good for you, and something that you wanna do more of. And then you’ll find more and more time and space. I think writing can feel luxurious, but it’s absolutely doesn’t have to be a luxury. It is for everybody, regardless of circumstances for sure.
Vanessa: Yes. Just to, it’s being creative. It’s the output instead of the constant input that we’re getting. And like, creating those pockets of spaciousness, isn’t it, to let the, you know, like it’s so nice to listen to the radio or listen to a podcast but, you know, turning that off and just letting, you know, the neural connections do their thing instead of filling your brain with information all the time…
Beth: Absolutely. And that’s a really good place to start, with that list. We’re saying what you’re choosing instead. At what points in the day today did I open my brain for somebody else to put something in it? So, when I woke up and checked my email, when I turned on the news, when I had the radio on in the car, whatever it is that you’re doing, those are all opportunities that you’ve shut the door to your own expression… because there’s stuff coming towards you. It can’t go both ways. So that’s a, that’s a brilliant way to approach it.
And I think in terms of me, like people, they’re looking at me… instead of looking at me and saying: ‘well, it’s all right for her’. Look at me and say, ‘if she can do it, I can do it!’ because I promise you, I’ve been as busy as you are. And I just cut out all the stuff that didn’t really matter to me. And it’s only a tiny bit each day. And then I’m like, five years later, here we are, five books written. And I don’t say that for like: ‘oh look at me, I’ve written five books!’. It has been an incredible experience for me as a human being to write my books. Yes.
Vanessa: Your intentionality. I mean, that’s what your kind of approach is in all things. I love reading Calm Christmas at this time of year and just building layers and layers of intentionality… and about things which seem too small to even worry about. They make up your life! Like that is your life mate! You know, it’s kind of… so I love the small details, which I’d like to just ask you about now.
So you were, talking about your morning routine to settling down to writing. And I think people would be as interested as me and hearing a little bit about the minutiae of your everyday life. For example, you are having a cup of tea. What kind of cup of tea does Beth Kempton tend to have?
Beth: So I’m not the only nosy one then! Oh, I just love a good recommendation, don’t you?
Vanessa: Oh, it’s so good.
Beth: ‘Cause then it’s like permission to go and buy it, try it out, right?
Vanessa: Yes. Yes!
Beth: Yes. Well, in the morning, first thing… I don’t drink caffeine after about two o’clock in the afternoon… But in the morning, five o’clock in the morning, it’s Twinings English breakfast for me with milk, no sugar.
Vanessa: Milk and no sugar.
Beth: Milk and no sugar. So I stir the tea bag quite like… I used to make it in a pot and I now make it in a mug cause the pots stews and goes too, you know… English tea… like other teas I have in a pot… But yes.
I make it in a mug that I love. I have a few different mugs that I love so I don’t have to search around looking for the mug because that’s a distraction. Lots of mugs that I like!
And then I put the boiling water on the teabag and squeeze the bag quite a lot. So the tea’s quite dark, but then I put loads of milk in. So the final colour is, some people say more milk than tea…but actually there’s quite a lot of tea in it!
Vanessa: Well caffeinated. Yes.
Beth: So as a British person. It’s very important to explain how I make my tea, no sugar.
Vanessa: Do you have that with toast often?
Beth: I have it with toast. Uh, usually 50/50 Kingsmill. Right. Half whole meal, half white. ‘Cause that’s the only bread that my children will eat! So I just have…
Vanessa: My kids love that too.
Beth: I’d rather have sourdough. But there we are. One slice of that with a little bit of scraping of margarine. And some marmite. Sorry! So it’s not essential to Marmite to be a writer! Don’t worry! Okay?
Vanessa: Ok. That’s good. ‘Cause I don’t like marmite.
Beth: But just, it’s just simple, comfort food.
Vanessa: I think that it’s one of those things. It’s got the umami, doesn’t it? Marmite. I think that’s a very good thing to get into your system. I mean, I might try it again. My dad was a devoted marmite eater as well with dripping… cause he was from Yorkshire.
Beth: Marmite and dripping?
Vanessa: And dripping on, on bread. Yeah.
Beth: Oh, together. Yeah.
Vanessa: Like the drippings from the, you know, the roast. Yeah. Mm!
Beth: I’ve never heard of that. But it makes so much sense cause marmite is made from beef, right? Wow. That’s amazing. And the great thing about having one slice of taste for breakfast at five o’clock in the morning is you can have second breakfast when your family wakes up. It’s very small. Right.
Vanessa: Just a bit of fuel. And you light a candle as well, don’t you?
Beth: Very often.
Vanessa: Do you have a specific type of candle that you like?
Beth: I do have a few. Um, none of them are affiliates. I don’t get paid for any of them… just to make that clear, these days!
And I love the ones from, I don’t actually know how you pronounce it, but ‘St. Eval’, in Cornwall… they have a gorgeous one called ‘Wintertime’. Well they did last year. I don’t if they’ll change their range this year. But when I was… every time I come to work on something to do with Christmas, like working on the podcast or how am I going to share it this year? I like those candles cause they’re just so gorgeously Christmassy.
I love Aery candles. They’re soy candles. And I love, I just recently discovered Bathhouse, which I think is in the Lake District, I’m not sure. Um, so they’re all really nice to light a scented candle when it’s a totally natural scent. I think it’s amazing to engage with a scent when you’re writing as well. Can change things quite a lot…
Vanessa: That’s just lovely: themed candles. I mean, you know, why not treat yourself? Yeah. I love that. And how about your notebook? You mentioned a Japanese thing that you couldn’t live without is stationary. And what, what type of stationary do you like?
Beth: I like many things. I just did a photo shoot this week and I was like, we’ve got to take pictures of all my different notebooks cause they’re, you know, great to share, and the people taking the photos were just looking at me like, oh my god, how many notebooks?
Um, so I love, I do, for me it’s really important that the cover is aesthetically pleasing for me. But the most important thing is the paper and how the ink flows on the paper. So I love MD paper, which is the Japanese stationary brand. They make gorgeous, very, very plain covered stitched together notebooks. And they do plain and dotted and square. They do actually do diaries as well, like free, no, no day diaries. But for my diary, I tend to use a Hobonichi.
Vanessa: Hobonichi. Okay.
Beth: Hobonichi. But these are getting very expensive. I’ve held off buying one this year. Cause obviously now Japan’s opening should be able to get next year’s one in Japan. But they’re brilliant cause they have this diary bit at the front and then at the back they have a daily bit where you can write what actually happens, so it’s kind of a combination. They’re just really smart. The paper is so thin, but the ink doesn’t go through and it’s really smooth and it works well with pencil. We’re talking about, cause you’ve got to write with your pencil. With the pencil in your diary! I do also like Jibun Techo which is another kind of, I think it’s like the big rival… Um, it’s a bit more, it feels a bit more masculine in the design to me.
But it’s, it’s really cute, how to describe it? It has a life book where you can make notes about every year in your life and list all birthdays and all those things, that you keep from year to year. And then it has the diary bit, which you, obviously write in during the year. And then it also has something that says ‘idea’, is the name on it. And it’s like to capture all your ideas and it all fits together in a little package. That’s great.
In terms of notebooks, I love LEUCHTTURM1917 notebooks. I think it’s maybe German. This is one I’ve got the moment. So they have like, bullets (I’m just showing Vanessa here, you can’t see!) like with bullet journals, they have page numbers and then you can easily find your notes, which is really helpful. So you don’t feel like you have to put…now I’m working on this, I have to go back and write at that point in my note, you can just keep writing your notebook as whatever comes up. But then if you put a ‘contents’ at the front when you come back, which you will, when you’re try to write a book or whatever, piece together ideas you’ve had along the way, it’s really easy to find them. So I like that. And I love Katie Leamon’s notebooks as well. ‘Cause they lay flat. They’re really nice, she’s an independent designer here in the UK.
Vanessa: This is… there’s a lot of Christmas present ideas here.
Beth: Pens? Do want pens? Pen list? Love a Uniball I. UB 1 57. You can buy them in in bulk. They’re not very expensive, but they’re brilliant and they do last quite a long time. Um, Pilot V Ball 07, and then recently discovered that Pentel hybrid gel grips if you want a bit of colour. Oh, the other ones do have colour to be honest, but I always write in black. Nearly always.
Vanessa: Yes. I’ve got my, um, what are these called? Pilot The U Grip. And it does the, you know, you shake the lead down, it’s the Japanese one. I’ve had this for a long time and every time somebody goes to Japan, I say: ‘will you get me one of those?’
Beth: Has that… they’ve got the really comfortable…?
Vanessa: …Comfortable grip. Yeah. Just a nice dark lead. And then I use MUJI notebooks because I realised that having very fancy notebooks was stressing me out because I felt like what I had to put in had to be fabulous immediately. And so I thought, okay, if I’ve got just a plain notebook, then anything can go in there and it’s fully recyclable and, just makes me, I mean, you know, it can go in the recycling after I die, maybe (laugh)…
Beth: Must never think like that! (laughs)
Vanessa: You know what I mean? Like, it’s just, I don’t want to feel so attached to the actual physical object. So it kind of eliminates that. So I was thrilled to realise I could choose those.
Beth: Yes. I actually was in Paper Chase recently and they brought out a new line of notebooks with something called ‘Stone Paper’. And it feels incredible. But one of their sales points was that it’s biodegradable. I was like, I did not want my notebooks to biodegrade! Not in my lifetime. Anyway, I need to go back to them like, later on! That’s fine.
Vanessa: You can just get one for the shopping list!
Beth: One for the list. Fine. Exactly. Or just to feel it, you just sit there and just feel your notebook. That’s fine.
Vanessa: Oh, brilliant. Thank you so much. I’ve had an absolutely fantastic time talking to you. And I’m sure that the listeners will want to know even more about your work. So where can they find you?
Beth: So I am on Instagram quite a lot. I’m @bethkempton on Instagram. My websites are bethkempton.com and dowhatyouloveforlife.com. The second one is where you find all my writing courses and all those kinds of things.
The book that we’ve been talking about, the latest one is ‘The Way of the Fearless Writer: Ancient Eastern Wisdom for a Flourishing Writing Life’. And you should be able to find that anywhere you get your books.
Vanessa: I’m confident that will be everywhere!
Beth: And I’d love if you, if you do get it, and do any of the exercise from it, I’d love for you to share that with me. You know, you can tag me on Instagram and I’d love to see what comes out…
And I think just to remember that writing is, is accessible to everybody and you never need to worry about things like spelling and grammar. If you get to the point that you need to worry, then there are professional people who can help you with that. The most important thing is about accessing what is within and releasing that onto the page. And then later you can make decisions about whether you share that with people, who you share it with, what you wanted to be f…
Beth: Just to enjoy the joy!
Vanessa: Yes, yes. Well, I I think you’ve definitely inspired, well without a doubt, thousands and thousands of people to enjoy that. So that must just be an incredible feeling.
Beth: Well, what, what, I mean what a… an honour, really! Honour the wrong word. Like, how amazing that we get to do what we love, and that that has benefit for other people. And I think all kinds of creativity are like that. When someone, you know is an artist and they make a beautiful painting that moves somebody. It’s this ever evolving process. We let something out into the world and it takes on a life of its own in the life of somebody else.
Vanessa: It is what we’re here to do, isn’t it?
Vanessa: Thank you so much for all the inspiration and the notebook tips! Beth, it’s been wonderful. Thank you!
Beth: Well, a joy to chat with you. Thank you, Vanessa.
Get to know Beth’s work better:
- dowhatyouloveforlife.com (for all her courses)
- Instagram @bethkempton for regular writing inspiration and community challenges
- Autumn Light Writing Course – Before October 6, listeners can get free access to a writing course called Autumn Light (a deep dive into the topic of impermanence) when you pre-order ‘The Way of the Fearless Writer’ book in any format (hardback/ebook/audiobook)
Thank you so much for listening!
If the Way to Japan podcast mission resonates with you, subscribe to the newsletter. You’ll be notified of the latest podcast episodes & blogs, as well as receiving our encouraging edit of juicy, Japan-inspired recommendations.
Korekara yoroshiku onegaishimasu. ♡