What I have learnt from 2016

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I have learnt far more than I was expecting to this year. Not all of it was easy to learn, but is was useful now I know. Here is a round up of what I have learnt looking back over 2016.

 

I don’t put in as much time as I think I do on my writing

I’m still tracking my time but I go through stretches where I’m really good, other times I’m not.

 

I need to look after myself

If I’m too knackered to write, don’t beat myself up but rest and regroup. Found this out the hard way when I really crashed in February this year. And working around day job and children means there will be time when there isn’t the energy to write.

 

Life happens – go with it

And that isn’t always easy. From crazy dance schedules to losing a friend, life will interrupt the writing. But then writing can help deal with life at times. There will be times when writing can’t happen and you just have to go with it. The key is to ensure you write when you can.

 

Be realistic in planning

I try to do this all the time, but this year I really didn’t allow appropriate time for several stages of a project and it threw me out completely. I have adjusted for this for 2017 and spent lots of time double checking and then allowing extra time – just in case. I just need to ensure I’m where I want to be at the end of December.

 

I am still enjoying the writing process

Sometimes it all seems too hard to rework a story or fix a plot point; but when it comes down to it I would rather be writing than doing anything else. I still enjoy the flow of words across the page (when they flow) and the stories that develop as I write. I have a developed a few more ideas this year that I’m not going to be able to do anything with yet, but they are little seeds growing into story ideas all the same.

 

Outsourcing is great

I’m not always very good at this, but I have reached outside of my comfort zone to employ cover designers and a proofreader this year. The relationships with both worked really well and will continue it into next year and other projects.

 

Changes for 2017

There aren’t many – in fact there is only one. I found as the year continued that meeting my blogging schedule in my limited writing time was becoming harder. I would like to continue to blog but not as often. So it will be more of an irregular blogging schedule and more when I have something specific to talk about.

I will continue to release a monthly newsletter and will maintain the website.

I have big plans for books next year and leading into 2018!

Stay tuned, I’ll release my plans for next year in January.

What exercise can do for your writing

Having fun with exercise helps clear the mind.
Having fun with exercise helps clear the mind.

I got a little sluggish over winter and then we were away for the annual retreat (although my writing buddy exercised, I chose not to). Over the weeks that followed I struggled with my writing due to a lack of confidence with the Raven Crown Series and I slacked off – with everything.

Then with a bit of a push I got back into a regular exercise regime and I’m finding the shift in energy is assisting with my writing.

Looking after the body looks after the mind.

I find that I need to concentrate when I exercise, particularly at the gym with weights, and counting repetitions. Concentrating so fully on the exercise cuts out all the noise in my head; all the worries and story ideas and lists of things to do. As well as building up my strength, and getting out of the chair – as my day job is sitting down, my writing is sitting down –  it clears the mind to allow the creativity to flow when I do sit down to write.

In a way exercise is a form of mindful meditation.

To assist the writing it is worth ensuring the body is strong. Managing exercise time is just as important as managing your writing time. And it helps maintain your energy levels so that you can write when you have the time.

3 Easy Energy Management Tips

3 energy management tipsWhen life gets busy you may not have the energy levels to do what you want to creatively.

My day job is crazy at this time of year. The end of financial year is full of deadlines and pressure. During this time I arrive home exhausted and have spent the entire day staring at computer screens and spreadsheets and my eyes are usually more tired than the rest of me.

I am pumped up as I review my goals and progress but my energy levels don’t match.

Trying to be creative when things are crazy is hard.

But it is possible.

 

#1 Prioritise

Be aware when there are other things happening in your life that you don’t have to maintain the same momentum with your creative work. Prioritise your work and work on the most important first. It is ok to leave things. As much as we want to, there are times when we can’t do it all.

 

#2 Rest

Make sure you get plenty of rest. When you are worn out from the day job it is crazy to try and sit up most of the night to write – you won’t get anything productive done. Rest first.

Do something fun to give yourself a boost. We all go through these times and they will pass. Sometimes we need a treat just to make it through. Allow yourself the time, spend time reading a book for fun, take the kids to the cinema or the park. Sometimes free time away from all pressures is just what you need.

 

#3 Reschedule

Use other times. I like to get up early and write, although recently this writing time has transformed into my social media time. Being too tired after work to write, I have switched it back. I’m writing in the morning when I’m fresh and then I’m not feeling as guilty in the evening when I can’t write more.

 

Take the time now, so that you can put the time in later.

What can you do right now to recharge your energy levels?

What to do when you’re not writing

When not writing begets not writing
Poor Orange Snoopy was too unwell to write too

Over the last few weeks I’ve been a bit worn out, to the point that my writing slowed right down and I spent far too much time beating myself up. Then I became so ill I was trapped in my bed for a week and there was nothing I could do about it.

It is really hard when you can’t write. Particularly when all you want to do is write.

Sometimes we need to take a break. And I can tell you I’m feeling much better for it, even if it was a forced break, despite being well behind in all my projects and even unable to post last week.

 

So, when I couldn’t write, what was I doing?

Firstly, I was sleeping because when you are sickly and run down that is the best way to recharge the batteries.

Secondly, when I could, I was reading. Not as much as I would have liked but more than I have had the chance to over the last few months. You can learn a lot from other people’s writing, not just entertainment and escapism (which are the main reasons I read).

Asking questions about what I have read helps to strengthen my own writing:

  • Why did I enjoy the book?
  • What was it about the characters that hooked me?
  • Why didn’t I like it?
  • Why did that scene/character/event frustrate/annoy/elate me?

In understanding what works or what doesn’t in other’s writing can only help.

I have also been reading more indie published books to see what others are doing and how well that appears to work.

 

When not doing sleeping or reading I was stretched out on the couch watching (binging on) a range of series and movies.

I love TV as it gives a very different story telling experience. Obviously it is much more visual. The setting jumps from the screen and slightest inflections by characters are very effective. I love these little visual clues and it is important to remember to include the details when writing.

One series I watched was based in China during the late 1700’s. The setting was amazing and I got a few ideas from the society and palace design for future stories.

 

I am more or less back to normal now, whatever normal might be. I’m watching my energy levels closely to ensure I don’t go downhill again. But the time out has given me the confidence that as frustrating as it was that I couldn’t write I was still able to feed my creative side and the muse continued to work away.

Managing your energy

This is a rerun of the post “5 Ways to Manage Your Energy” from Janaury last year. As we enter the silly season it’s easy to forget to look after ourselves…

5 Ways to Manage Your Energy

Energy management is just as important as time management. There are always 24 hours in the day, but if you don’t have the energy to use them, life can quickly become frustrating.

I recently returned to my full time day job after some time off over the Christmas period and I’m feeling it. I’m simply exhausted. And when I get home I’m too tired to think about my writing, let alone sit down and do it. I find that extremely frustrating because I know where I would rather be spending my energy.

We all have periods when our energy levels are not where we want them to be. We want to write, or blog, or paint but don’t have the energy.

Here are 5 tips for easy energy management:

1.     Find your rhythm

Energy ebbs and flows, depending on time of day and the activities you are involved in. It is easier to do things when you have the energy for them. By knowing your energy rhythms you are better able to plan your time.

Take the time to measure or pay attention to your energy levels during the week, or over a month, to look at what affects those levels.

2.     Plan time around high energy levels

Once you determine when your high energy levels are, plan to use them for the important tasks. Those things you really want to do. Or need to do to progress your writing or business.

I work best of a morning so I try to focus that morning time on writing and editing.

3.     Use low energy times for the simple tasks

When you still have things to do but no real energy for thinking or creating, use the time to do the low energy tasks.

  • Put the washing on,
  • get the ironing done while you catch up on movies or tv,
  • water the garden,
  • scrub the bathroom; or
  • read a book.

These things still can inspire you, particularly other art forms, even watering the garden can inspire at times. But you don’t need energy to do it.

This also ensures that these tasks can’t act as distractions or procrastination tools when energy levels are high. Then all you have to do is write.

4.      Increase energy levels

When energy levels are low there are ways to increase those levels. Make sure you take the time when you need it.

Rest is very important.

Are you sitting up watching the shopping channel through bleary eyes? The easiest way to replenish energy levels is ensuring you get the right amount of rest. It is not possible to go full steam 24 hours a day. There are times when you need to slow down and even stop.

Regular exercise and eating properly also helps to keep energy levels up and ensures the fitness to continue doing what you want.

Looking after yourself ensures your energy levels are where they need to be.

5.       Don’t beat yourself up

Life is busy enough, don’t add guilt to the mix.

Sometimes there is very little you can do other than ride out the low energy levels. Life can get hectic and different things occurring in your life can affect you differently. We all have family and work and friends and pets and well the list goes on.

Don’t add guilt to this pile of things. Adding extra pressure to yourself may lead to writer’s block or anxiety and stress.

When it comes to energy management adding pressure to your self does not increase your ability to get things done. Breath, think about what you do have to do, need to do, want to do. Make a plan and do what you can.

Following through with the simple steps above will help you understand your energy levels and better manage your time in conjunction with energy.

Summer Distractions

springI know it is only just spring and here in Tassie we’re still fluctuating between warm and sunny to snowing.

But the days are growing longer, the trees are developing a green tinge and the scent of flowers is carried on the breeze (or gale depending on the day). It’s lovely being able to sit in the sun and feel the warmth of it against your bare skin. Ahh.

But despite the renewing energy Spring seems to bring with it, it is also a distraction.

It was my first quiet weekend in ages. No classes, no commitments and the sun shone. And so it was also time to get into the garden and start trying to tame the wilds that had sprung up overnight. The physical exercise was great and although I have a long way to go it does look better. Yet all of this sunshine and yard work distracted me from my writing. I did spend some time early Saturday morning at my desk but I’m in the final chapters and I’m worried that they aren’t worthy of being the final chapters. So I welcomed the distraction.

Actually I only have three chapters to go. Although I’m not confident in the few leading up to those and I think this current chapter could become part of the pervious. Thus leaving only two to go.

I’m at the climax and I’m not feeling particularly climactic. Or at least the writing isn’t for me. I’m hoping it will find its feet but that does mean more hours working on it rather than thinking about it as I move wood piles and dig out weeds.

It may be that it needs another rest and yet I worry that a rest would do more harm than good at this point. I’m trying to see the end without rushing toward it to keep me going. There have been too many times that I have put this book down and walked away for a bit and I know it is close now so I don’t want to do that.

It isn’t a matter of refocusing because I have been very focused on this story. It is a matter of maintaining that and trying to prevent any doubt from creeping in before I finish it that might prevent a finish.

Between the writing and editing and gardening I am also developing my writing plan for the rest of the year. I’m hoping that will maintain my motivation too. I was a bit soggy over winter and the retreat helped revive me. I’m hoping spring will help keep that going. So a couple of days off to catch up on the garden is ok, as long as I come back to it.

 

What happens when you can’t write…

My usual evening position - trapped beneath dogs.
My usual evening position – trapped beneath dogs.

My life over the last couple of weeks has been a bit crazy. My parents are away and I am chicken watching and puppy sitting. It has not been quite the two weeks I thought it was going to be.

I had plans. Great plans of what I would do with my evenings alone, my free weekend and my uninterrupted mornings. But alas life does not turn out as we wish it would… mine certainly hasn’t this week.

Two days before my parents left on their great adventure one of the above mentioned puppies broke his leg and he needed to be kept quiet. It was harder than I thought to explain that to the puppy, or his brother. And the two of them have turned my life upside down. They have cried all night, clung to me all day and made doing anything very difficult. I have been so tired that when they do go to sleep (usually on me) I don’t have the energy to do anything.

Amongst all of this we have had the usual school and dancing stuff and I still have to go into work (which is a welcome relief other than my eyes slamming shut at my desk).

So I sound a bit whingey. I feel whingey. I am not writing and I want to be and that makes me grumpy – to the point I can see my daughter pause before she asks me anything in case I don’t react quite right, which just fills me with guilt. And certainly does not help.

I will make it up. It is just the frustration that I can’t put in what I want to. I had hoped to have my next short story ready for publication over Easter but it won’t be. I feel behind with my blog and I am working through the last week of an online course which I feel I can’t give my all.

The parents return in a couple of days. I can hand back the house and the chickens. The dogs will be handed to them at the airport (OK, I’m fantasising now) and I can shut myself in my room and sleep for two days to catch up and then I’m ready to go again. But it also means that until my house is finished I need to find better ways of writing while the parents are home because waiting for them to holiday hasn’t work well at all.

So cute when they are sleeping...
So cute when they are sleeping…

So while I count the seconds until their return I will work on ways to get at least a small amount of writing done to keep some form of sanity. Maybe a little sneaky time during the day job (it is how this post was written), it saves trying to fend off small dogs determined to chew the cord or screen or me while I try to work at home…

I’ll be back when my sanity returns (hopefully before Christmas).

Tell me I am not alone – what do you do when life gets in the way of your writing?

Creative Exploring Time

My daughter exploring ruins
My daughter exploring ruins

One of my goals this year is to take more time to explore different creative ideas. But making that time can be difficult.

I have already found after only one week how exhausting being back at the day job can be, how it drains my energy and competes with my writing time. When you are tired it can be difficult to enjoy and fully utilise the writing time available. I find after a holiday that there is a ‘return to work shock’ as my body adjusts to full days doing day job tasks, such as meetings and long phone calls. That tiredness that creeps in can interrupt my creative thinking time and cloud the reason I need that time.

The last day alone before I headed back to work I spent at a day spa soaking and steaming, and then treated myself to a Chinese massage. It was a bit of a cheat because I should have been writing and I felt bad for wasting the day until I got into the pool. I had so needed the time to switch off, relax, and let my thoughts go where they liked.

It was worth the escape time. I came up with some new plot ideas, fixed some outstanding problems and even had some revelations and new story ideas and all in a few of hours of just spoiling myself.

I need to do this more often…just breath and allow the right words to filter in. Doing it while I allowed my body to relax was a bonus. I love the sauna and have discovered a new appreciation for the steam room and sitting back with my eyes closed no one interrupts or talks or asks about my day. I can let the stress and worry and general impurities run from my pores and allow my mind to wander.

I am often disappointed when I have to remind myself to breath. It adds to the stress in a strange way, should I have to remind myself so early in the year when I was so keen? Part of it is that I don’t want this year to slip away like others have and find that I haven’t achieved what I wanted.

Last year I marked off most of my goals. This year I have set myself some more challenges with some tighter deadlines. Allowing myself some time to let my creative mind find the answers is not slacking off but scheduling such time can be hard because you think it is.

I am amazed by what I can produce when I allow this creative thinking time. It is taking time out but in the long run I think it will make my writing stronger and me more productive as a writer. During my first week back I had a meeting a good two hours away (a long way in Tassie). The time alone in the car was used as my creative thinking time. Sometimes I spend my exploring time at the computer or with a notebook. It can be whatever you need it to be.

When could you fit in some time this week to sit back and let your mind wander? I would love to hear what you discover.

7 Ways to Boost Creative Productivity

productivity 

I am finalising the current edit of my novel and as it draws to a close I am thinking about the next project and the one after that, and after that and how to ensure I continue to write. My current level of productivity is not what I would like it to be, particularly if I want it to carry me into a “writing career”.

During my breaks from reading through my novel, I have been researching productivity and I have discovered a mistake I may have been making in my current activities.

I have been applying a lot of business related productivity tools and theories to my writing life and processes. Some of these tools and tips have been useful. But overall my creative productivity has not improved. I still struggle with blocks and procrastination at times.

I have a plan and being a single parent there are times when I’m not going to get the time I want to write. And I’m currently living with my parents while I build a house which is distracting and the fact that I’m not living in my own space…

And breathe…

Ok, so a lot goes on in the average writer’s life. That is what life is and it is a matter finding ways to work around it.

I have talked in the past about finding time and taking action on your goals but what do we really need to do to sit at the computer or desk and write and write as much as we possibly can?

 

1. Set realistic writing goals

Before you start you need to know where you are going and why. Set realistic achievable goals that are meaningful to you.

For examples of goal setting see here.

2. Know what and when works best for you

When are you most productive?

The only one to really know this is you.

Keep records of your writing to map your productivity. Include as many details as you can, such as where you wrote and what time of day and how many words you produced in that time. Once you know what times are most productive for you, or writing place you will be able to maximise your writing output. (From 2k-10k)

3. Develop a writing ritual (triggering habit)

A triggering habit is one that triggers your brain that it is time to do something, such as write.

Of a morning, as soon as I wake, I stretch, make a cup of tea and then sit at my desk. This set of steps puts me into the writing mode and I am able to find the flow quite quickly. If I deviate from this, such as check emails first, or check the news on the TV, then I am lost and I can’t settle into writing until later in the day.

When writing in other places I have other rituals; for example, when writing in the library at lunch time, I walk from my office straight there and select a quiet desk on the second floor, pull my things from my bag, review my plans, put my handbag on the shelf above the desk what I don’t need beside it and the clear desk only contains the writing to do and a pen. Then off I go, trying to write or edit as much and as well as I can before I have to head back to the office.

4. Planning and outlining

Having a clear plan of what you what to achieve in a writing period will help focus the mind on the writing at hand.

An outline helps the drafting process and something I have battled with myself. Determining what may happen in the story before you write it can be just as fun as pantsing – and I am trialling this with my next (nearly current) project and I will explore it more as I start this process.

5. Cut out the distractions

We all find different things distracting, social media, noise or children. Determine what distracts you most and find ways to reduce these impacting on your writing.

It may be that you need to organise some quiet time away from the family, or it may be implementing a blocking program to stop you surfing the internet, or turning off the television.

6. Set deadlines

This doesn’t work for everyone and I know that often if I set my own deadlines they are passed over without a thought. If deadlines work for you, great; if not, consider making them public.

I did this recently with my call out for readers and the promise that my current work would be finished and ready to go around mid-August – which it nearly is.

7. Allow yourself some time when you need it

Don’t try to push too hard when energy levels are low. You have to look after yourself to get the most writing done.

Getting enough sleep is an important part of that. I know that after 9pm I’m not much good for anything. I could sit up and watch the telly then, or go to bed get rested and be fresh to start early the next morning (I like 4.30/5am but it is so cold at the moment that my toes don’t always agree).

 

These are my tips on boosting your creative productivity, and it may be that only some of these work for you, but some increase in productivity is going to get you writing more sooner. For more try these books.

Could one or all of these strategies work for you? Or have you tried something completely different that has increased your productivity? Please share your stories.

Taking Action on Your Goals

220px-Kepler_track_alpine_ridgeline

I have been focused on taking action on my writing goals over the last few weeks. Researching and exploring the reasons we don’t act on our goals. In particular I’ve been trying to determine why my own action taking cycles.

I am a planner.

Hang on, I hear you say, no she’s not, she’s a pantser. Yes, in my writing I am but otherwise I really love my lists and calendars and mindmaps and goals.

I think it is important to set our goals (in ink) and plan our time and set deadlines for ourselves.

This is not enough. To reach our goals we need to take action – to follow through with the plans and work through the lists.

Sometimes it can be hard to take action even for something we really want.

This inability to take action can be due to a number of reasons:

  • Energy levels
  • Motivation/inspiration
  • Fear
  • They are not the right goals
  • lost sight of goals
  • too many goals
  • Distraction
  • Lack of commitment
  • Failing to plan

 

Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading about how to move through these issues/problems to take action on my writing goals and write more.

I don’t want to be productivity focused – I know I can write more, I want to write more – so how do I do it?

Energy management – Knowing when you work best and working to that cycle. I have discussed this in greater detail here. Remember not to beat yourself up when your energy levels are low.

Fear – Whether it be fear of failure or fear of success or something in between, fear can be so overwhelming it can slow or halt all action.

Motivation – Are you working towards what you really want or what you think you want?

Too much or too little – Are you trying to achieve too much and just don’t have the time. Focus on what is most important to you first. Overwhelming yourself with too many goals will only stop you achieving.

Distractions – Understand what distracts you from taking action and find ways to reduce or remove those distractions.

I know that if I check my email before I do any writing of a morning then I can quite happily fill my whole writing time with reading emails and following up on links to articles and Facebook and so on.

Aware of this I don’t allow myself to even think about email or blogs until after dinner, or sometimes during lunch time at work. Even if I want to check for something, as soon as it is open I know my hour is lost.

 

Finding the tools to help you

  • Everyone is different – I have said this before when looking for tools for your toolbox; see what others are doing and what works for them and then take from them what will work for you.
  • Don’t be afraid to mix it up – take tools from various areas
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment – try something new and if it doesn’t work for you walk away, or change it to suit yourself.

 

This isn’t a complete list

There is far more that I could go into. And action taking is different for everyone. Some of you will find it easy to sit down and do what is needed; others will struggle even though you know taking action will get you closer to what you want.

Can it be that easy?  What does it take to be able to action your goals?

 

Image courtesy of Wiki commons