Sunday, 20 August 2017

Artist's Date

Street Art in Leicester - Maria A Smith 

It's been just over a month since I last posted to this blog, and I'm eager to catch up and get things back on track. Firstly, thank you to everyone for their best wishes, my mum is making good progress and things have settled down. 
Real life happens to all of us, we and sometimes you have no choice but to stop what you are doing, and pick up and run with whatever it is that takes priority. Interestingly, with all the many changes, I've managed to keep writing throughout the last month, albeit in short bursts. I have a new monologue, and I've managed some flash fiction too.

I've also started doing morning pages, which some of you may be familiar with yourselves. It's a twelve week course taken from the book The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, which involves writing three handwritten pages  of A4 each morning, upon waking. The idea behind it is to get rid of all the stuff in your head which is holding your artist back.  I've already completed four weeks and feel so much happier for doing them. It's hard to explain but they really do help clear your head and leave you feeling energised. The book is a game changer for anyone feeling jaded or blocked. Or if you need some motivation.

You also commit to going on an Artist's date once a week, which is basically time spent on your own doing something different. So far I've been to the cinema, done my own version of aqua aerobics at the pool, and most recently I walked around the cultural quarter in Leicester with my camera, capturing images of the street art on the walls of buildings, and hoardings around renovation projects. 
Street Art Leicester  - Maria A Smith 
Some of the murals are large scale and cover complete building walls. All are part of Bring the Paint International Street Art Festival, which happened a few months ago. The idea was to transform Leicester with high impact street art of a superior quality.

Street Art Leicester - Maria A Smith 
The event bought 150 artists together, and there are more legal spray sites across the city which I have yet to explore. The art work is a visual celebration of Leicester's diverse culture. I found it fascinating, and really enjoyed photographing the artworks.

Street Art Leicester - Maria A Smith 
Spending time on my own has been enjoyable, and I'd encourage you to try The Artist's Way for yourself. At first it will seem like a big ask of yourself to make a solo expedition to explore something that makes you curious, because we are too busy, and won't take the time out, but trust me it's worth it.

It will be a challenge for me to come up with more interesting dates, but I'm going to give it my best shot.

What have you been up to?                  

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

How Long is a Chapter?

Writing Magazine arrived last week or perhaps even the week before, I'm not sure if I'm honest. Life has gone a bit wobbly. I'm exasperated, last month I spent serious time ridding myself of things that stopped me from getting on with my writing. Some were things I really like doing.

I'd made headway, freed up time, made a plan and then WHAM! Life throws me a curve ball. I'm not alone, it's happening daily to others too. Having almost got my offspring sorted, it looks like I'll be needed to help (do everything) for my mum. I'm all at sea, I have no idea how to manage work, home, and care. It's a shock. But you do what you have to do.

I've dipped my toe into the treacherous waters known as 'the system' of caring for someone who can no longer care for themselves. I've made more phone calls in three days than I have in the last two months, just to get someone to come out and change some dressings. Mum had a cancerous lump removed from her head, and skin taken from her leg has been grafted onto the head wound.  It's okay hospitals saying the dressing need checking and changing daily by a nurse, but if there is no care in the community, or very little to go around, what are we supposed to do? The GP surgery advised me that as of eight weeks ago they don't do secondary care.

We had to cope. I took matters into my own hands, well it's not like I had to deliver a baby - it's a dressing! Two actually. I managed the leg okay, but faltered with the head wound, it didn't look right - it looked nasty, I'm not squeamish, but you sort of know when something isn't right don't you? Or do you? What do I know, I'm in engineering, not medicine. More phone calls. Lengthy repeated conversations with people who you know are stretched to the limit.

Then success, someone will come out between 7.30am and 7.30pm, so while I go about life, Mum sits and waits. They come, they say I did okay with the leg, but I'm right to have called about the head wound. They'll come back tomorrow.

They don't. Or the next day, or the next. I keep ringing up and finally they say they'll come out. They've been busy dealing with the sick and dying.

Tuesday - Mum tells me it was a different nurse. 'Very young, lovely girl, had to look up  how to do the dressing on one of those things you've got with an Apple on it.' I'm calm - it's been done, all is well and happy. I slap down thoughts about proper training and feel guilty about having nasty thoughts. These people are doing their best.

Twelve hours later the phone rings 'Maria, I'm sorry, the dressing has come off, it wasn't put on very well.' Tears. Not mine.

I ring. They say they are coming.

Friends told me tales, I've been sympathetic, but it isn't until it happens close to home, that you realise, they aren't crazy or being mean, when they tell you, they feel guilty because they don't feel they are doing enough, because they are going to work, looking after children, their own or their grandchildren, can't remember when they last went out, exercised, or sat down and read a book. They get called out at night, they tell me they can't go on, they can't sleep, they feel angry, and in one case, they want to run away, and never look back.

They tell you the system is overloaded, because we're living too long, having too many children, letting too many folks into the country, blah, blah, blah you've heard it all before. You think maybe they ARE having a mental breakdown. Because this friend doesn't usually rant, or snap. In your heart you know it's frustration. You understand now what they meant when they said, 'It's hopeless.'
My week has passed in  flash, I've done 500 words of prose and written this blog post, I haven't got time to edit, please forgive any typos.

At 4.30pm I forced myself to sit down and have a cup of tea, picked up Writing Magazine and read an interview with AA Dhand, crime novelist, (page 16 August edition) I'm not familiar with his books, but after reading the interview I want to read them.  You can find out more about him here

Amit, a trained pharmacist writes between 9pm and midnight, I smiled when I read that - his books are dark noir. In the interview he says he has a formula, he's all about pace and driving the story forward. All his chapters are 1,700 words per chapter, because Writing Magazine competitions are 1,700 words. He wants to make sure readers finish reading each chapter. He always leaves his chapters on a cliff hanger, he got that from Dan Brown, I'm nodding in agreement, I read that too and try to do the same. He listens to Hans Zimmer when he's writing, that is so spooky, so do I, and he reads Stephen King.

It got me thinking, how long is a chapter? Are all your chapters the same length? Mine aren't, maybe I should try it? Let me know your thoughts?

Meanwhile, I must return to this new chapter of my life, I must find out if the nurse has been? If she managed to change the dressing? Or if she had to go before she could finish?

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Podcasts - A different Kind of Entertainment

I love listening to podcasts, those digital audio files you can download onto your phone, tablet, or computer are so convenient, and in most cases they're free too. In no particular order, here is a list of the podcasts I listen to regularly.

Writing Excuses  - A weekly fast paced 15 minute podcast which has been going since 2008, it's aim to make listeners better writers.

The Joined Up Writing Podcast Ran by writers for writers, with a variety of guests offering hints, tips and inspiration.

The Creative Penn Podcast   - I love Joanna Penn's positiveness, it's infectious. Her podcasts cover interviews, inspiration on writing by the bucket load. Joanna updates her podcast weekly.

The Worried Writer  A podcast for the timid, Sarah Painter interviews a different writer every month, and speaks frankly about emotions during the writing process.

Podcasts are great because you can learn new things, and they are also easy to listen to whilst you are doing something else.

Please share any podcasts you listen to, and tell us why you like them.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

3 Ways to Make More Time for Passions

Wouldn't it be great if you could free up an extra hour here and there? With a bit of thought most of us can free up enough time to relax or follow something that makes us feel happy and less stressed, which is good for our health and well-being. Let's look at ways we can simplify our lives today, so that tomorrow we can begin to spend more time on our passions.

1. Trim It Back - Household chores don't need to be done every day, or even every few days. Pushing the vacuum around once a week is sufficient for most of us without children. Some of you will be wincing, but try it for one week and put the time saved to better use. If it's a real issue, tweak it, so that you vacuum every fifth day instead. Take a look at all of your weekly tasks, make a note of how long they take, and see what you can trim back. Over time, you'll be saving precious hours. Better still, outsource it - if you can afford it, get a cleaner.

2. Shop like a Boss  - Give online grocery shopping a go, but don't stop there. All manner of things can be purchased online these days. Need a new garden rake? No problem, do your research via a search engine, find the product you want and buy it! From the comfort of your armchair you've probably spent thirty minutes, it's a good idea to set a limit on how long you look as too much time browsing is different problem entirely. In a day or two you'll have the item you want delivered to the door.

As for the grocery shop, there is so much to gained by doing your weekly shop online. No traffic for starters, no fuel being used, which is better for your wallet and for the planet! No adding things to the trolley that you don't really need, and no lugging it out of the trolley, onto the conveyer, and then back into the trolley once you've packed it, and lugging it back to the car. Not to mention dragging it out of the car into the house. It's so much easier on your back, your wallet and the planet to spend half an hour shopping on line, five minutes answering the door to the delivery driver and not much longer putting everything away.

3. Manage Your Inbox -  Don't despise your email - don't let it manage you! Here are a few things you can do. If you want to receive less in your inbox - send less email. Seriously, have a think about it, do you really need to reply all? Do you even need to reply?

Checking and responding to emails at certain times of the day will free up more of your time than you realise. Decide what times they'll be, and stick to it for a few weeks. Resist the urge to see if Amazon has sent you details of it's latest book deal, or if your favourite blogs have posted. Instead, set a specific time when you will sit down with a cup of tea and go through your inbox.

Create a new folder where you can store newsletters and articles for reading later, perhaps on your phone in the waiting room at the dentist, or when you're on the sidelines, waiting for your children to finish their sport.

It goes without saying that it's good practice to unsubscribe from any emails you no longer want to read. Be that from the shop that sold you a fridge six months ago, or a regular newsletter on 'Living with Relatives/Warts/A Labrador' after all you may not need another electrical appliance in your life, the relative has moved out, the warts have disappeared and the Labrador is now settled. You can clean up your mailbox during those boring moments in life, such as the TV commercials, although many are often better than the programmes!

And don't forget to reschedule your schedule now you've got more time. It's important to add in the things you want to do, be that reading or writing, or relaxing.

Perhaps you have some time saving tips to share?

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Try Again

I've been getting outside as much as possible this weekend, either reading in the recliner, or walking, or cycling. Yes really - I'm riding my bike again!

Confession time. I've avoided cycling for years, because it makes my back ache, and the saddle's uncomfortable, and although I fancy the idea of getting fitter, and seeing more of my surrounding area, I haven't pursued it. However, after some nagging from hubby, I reluctantly had the bike serviced, and a new tyre fitted, and yesterday we went out for a ride.

I haven't ridden a bike for fifteen years, and then it was only now and again - I should never have got this bike, the previous one got next to no use either, it had racer style handlebars, and it really did hurt my back. Hubby took it to the local bike shop and swapped it for the one I have now, which has upright handlebars. Looking after young children, working and keeping house meant the bike stood in the garage glaring at me every time I went in there to fetch some potatoes. At the time, it was the thing easiest not to do, and I needed little encouragement.

I don't feel quite so guilty because the bike has been used. My youngest progressed from tricycle, barbie doll bike with stabilisers, big girl bike and then on to use the bike known as 'the bike mum never rides' we all laugh about it now and again. She was most put out when I told her I was taking it away with me. She's home from University and goes everywhere on it. I did feel a little guilty about taking it away this weekend.

Hubby and I set off down quiet country roads towards the country park close to where we're staying in our caravan. At first riding it felt clumsy, I wobbled a little, but my back was fine, and I got used to the gears and the brakes easily enough. The seat is an issue - I've heard you can get gel saddles which are supposed to be more comfy - I wonder if you can get an extra wide saddle? Memory foam perhaps? A back rest? Well you never know. Either that or I need to try harder with my healthy eating regime and lose some more weight!

It was good to feel the wind in my hair and it's true you do get a different perspective on things when riding a  bike. Also it would of taken us a lot longer to have walked, so yes, cycling has something to offer.

We happened across a cafe in the park, as you do, so we stopped for a cheeseburger and a cup of tea, and sat watching the people around us, which is an inspiration for any writer.  Afterwards, we set off again to explore more of the area, and although my legs were beginning to feel the burn on the inclines, I still made it back to the campsite with a smile on my face.

Now who knows, with a few adjustments to my bicycle, and my attitude, I might try it again soon, and reap more of the benefits too.

The same can be applied to your writing - Is there something you've tried before? Something you gave up years ago because it felt uncomfortable, or seemed too hard. A memoir, or a novel, or writing non-fiction? Whatever it was, have you ever thought about giving it a second chance?

Perhaps, there is something you could try again, and who knows, with practice and adjustment, and a little perseverance, you might find it makes you happier too. Go on, give it a go today and let me know how you got on.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Full-time Writer?

Is it true that there are very few full-time writers actually writing full-time?

If you're a journalist or work in media or education, then you could be classed as a full-time writer. However, you aren't writing your own stuff are you?

Those writers who are writing their own stuff, and getting it published here and there, often have a full-time job, doing something else to make enough money to pay bills and put a roof over their heads.

However, there are writers who earn a living through writing - they give talks, deliver workshops or sit on panels to make enough income to survive, or hey write articles for popular blogs and magazines.

And then there are a few writers who sell millions of books, and don't write every day anymore because they are past that stage, they have done the slog, and are still doing the slog, but these writers are very rare. If Stephen King gave up writing tomorrow, he'd continue to make a very good living from his writing.

The truth is that most writers don't make a full-time living from writing, but that's okay because they are following their passion, and doing what makes them feel happy and contented, and possibly they are making enough money to enjoy a happy work/life balance. Or the aim is to have a better life, and only work part-time hours.

Writing stuff is hard. You have to love what you're doing, and you have to do a lot of other things besides the writing. There's social media for a start, and marketing and keeping accounts.

Where do you see yourself? I'd love to hear about your journey, and how ambitious you are?
Are you aiming for a full-time income, doing part time hours, or is it more like full time hours for a part-time income? Or are you somewhere in between?

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Recharge and Reboot

Be Happy! 

Are you ready for some sunshine? I'm not talking about the weather, I mean a break from your usual routine. It's good for your mind, body and soul, and you'll feel recharged afterwards, and ready to get on and be creative.

Here's my top tips to get you started.
  • Go for a walk - we all need disconnected time, so get away from your screen, turn off your phone and get yourself out for a brisk walk. Take some deep breaths, and look around at what's happening in your neighbourhood. 
  •  Try a technology fast - This may be hard to do, but it's worth it. Pick a weekend day and switch all your gadgets off. This might feel a little weird, but you'll adjust quickly. In the past people could 'switch off' after work, but nowadays, people work from home and it's much harder to get a work/life balance.  
  • Be a day tripper, go to your nearest railway station and ask the staff where you can go for the day. Buy a ticket and explore a new city, town or stroll along a promenade. 
  • Re-invent yourself - Book an appointment with the hairdresser, change your style, your colour or both! Afterwards find a personal shopper. Next and Debenhams both have a great service. Tell them you want a few mix and match outfits and let them help you discover the new you. 
  • Go to the cinema. Watch a movie, buy popcorn and relax. 
  • Grab your camera and see the world through a lens. Take an hour out at the local market, or the park and take lots of pictures. Be creative, go home and make a collage of your images. You'll be amazed and surprised. 
  • Bake a cake, call up some friends and invite them round for tea!

I hope you'll try some of the above when you're feeling a little jaded.

How do you recharge?