Michelle ainslie

Author and Wayfinder Writing Coach

I call myself a writer, but the core of who I am is so much more than that. I see writing as a sacred act and a navigational tool for life.

It’s the way I find answers, figure out what I’m thinking, and deal with complicated feelings. What is most interesting for me is that this truth can be carried into my books. Even fiction needs to resonate with the reader; to be a mirror that reflects something back. Writing that opens awareness, shifts thinking, and stirs emotional healing.

I took my decades of experience, combined it with some fantastic training, and now offer authors one-on-one coaching to help them align with their truth and create work that is meaningful and transformative.

My Story

When I left school I went straight to university and completed a BSc in Zoology, to fulfil my dream of being a marine biologist. I guess that is why, so far, my fiction has been deeply associated with the ocean, and also why I contribute a large portion of my royalties to dolphin conservation.

After graduating I got married and moved from Pretoria to Cape Town. It was no longer feasible to study full-time, so my marine biology plans were put on hold and I started working at the Two Oceans Aquarium. My job was to look after the penguins and seals, do many presentations and feeds during the day, and clean lots and lots and lots of underwater windows. I loved every second.

During this time I started writing articles for wildlife magazines such as National Geographic Kids, Africa Geographic, Beyond Blue, and Animal Talk. I also realised that I enjoyed connecting with people and, having struggled with depression myself, decided to study Psychology part-time. I graduated with my honours degree and then started writing articles around mental health as well, for leading magazines such as Psychologies, O the Oprah magazine, and Cosmopolitan.

Soon after, I got divorced and moved away. To support my freelance writing, I had a number of part-time or temporary jobs, all of which were in publishing in one way or another. I have been a bookseller, worked in marketing for a distributor, been a book rep, done presentations, talks and readings at festivals, and completed countless hours of writing and editing for magazines and businesses. I kept pursuing my interest in helping others, and went on to get my Advanced Diploma in Counselling. I began freelancing as a consultant writing coach for a leading agency, and while I loved working with authors, I disliked the structure that was imposed on our sessions. I started to explore coaching on my own terms.

Being the ocean mad dolphin girl that I am, I hosted a few writing retreats in Mozambique which included swimming with wild dolphins and in-depth one-on-one coaching. I was also a crew member of the NSRI in Kommetjie, and was trained in whale disentanglement. I soon realised that I could not get away from my three passions: the ocean, connecting with others, and writing.

I self-published my first collection of poetry, Helium, in January 2018. It was highly praised and I was a featured poet at the McGregor Poetry Festival that year.

My training finally reached the point where I felt confident to really put myself out there. I attended and hosted a number of writing workshops, completed my MA in Creative Writing through Rhodes University, and wrote my first book, 300 Grams. I also finished my Martha Beck Wayfinder coach training – a lifelong dream of mine.

Which brings me to where I am now.

What I do:

  • I treat my life as an author as a full-time job and spend most of my time researching and writing. I am busy with my second book.
  • I coach writers and authors about the work that is dearest to their heart. This is usually around motivation, accountability, and really honing in on their writing strengths. You can find out more about coaching here.
  • I spend as much time as possible near or in the ocean. It fills me with the sunshine energy I need to do the work that I love.

My Writing Process

My fiction can best be categorised as magical realism – it fits in the real world (for example the main character in 300 Grams has anorexia and struggles with self-harm), but carries elements of the fantastical (in the same book there is a giant octopus that demolishes her research vessel). I have found that writing with dense imagery and otherworldly elements helps me to talk about difficult topics – and my readers resonate on a deep level with my work because of that.

The stories of transformation I started getting from readers propelled me to share my process. Over two decades I have developed powerful techniques that I use when my writing my books and stories, and it has also been monumental to my personal healing.

I am now sharing that process with my coaching clients.

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