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? 

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Can You Really Write And Punch the Clock?

Woman at Work - Maria A Smith 

When I hear about folks who hold down jobs and have a string of published novels or a successful online writing business, I want to congratulate them. If that's you, pat yourself on the back, you're awesome! I'm guessing you've made huge sacrifices in the form of time spent with family and friends, and sleep deprivation.

Alternatively, you could be a very calm and focused individual who is highly organised. You see your situation differently. You're a writer on Monday, Tuesday and Friday mornings, but you're also a nurse, florist, Police Officer, engineer, waitress, or a teacher. Not to mention being a wife, husband, or parent. You've got it sussed.

Most of us find it incredibly hard juggling everything. When I told a friend I was struggling, she said, 'you're the busiest person I know, you don't stop, it's like you've got a full-time job and then you go to your part-time job.' Alas, it's true I'm busy, but that comment got me to thinking. I'm not just busy - I'm overwhelmed. Perhaps you are too?

This isn't just a writer thing, but unfortunately, we seem to get a bigger dose of overwhelm than most. There's so much to do. When we're not writing, we're supposed to be promoting ourselves through social media or coming up with fresh ideas for blog posts. Our brain jumps around with our next idea, adding to our 'to do' list, and we're at the point where it's becoming ever more difficult to sit and focus on scheduled writing time.

We need to figure out our goals, our timelines and our priorities.

1. Don't pile any more things onto your 'to do' list. Instead, look at what you can cut, and keep your list short. Agree you'll do at least one thing on your list each day, this way you'll see progress, and it won't seem so overwhelming.

2. Address any bad habits that hamper your productivity - Checking and responding to emails as they come in, spending hours on Twitter or Facebook, or finding things to do to get out of the task in hand. Even housework!

3. Get rid of what's holding you back - List everything that you believe is stopping you from writing. and deal with it. This could be something like getting a cleaner to do the chores, or ending a toxic friendship.

4. Let go of destructive emotions such as resentment. Stop using the quick fix route for a problem, all you're doing is delaying dealing with it until the next time. Regardless of if it's someone taking up your time, or a dodgy laptop you need to get to the root cause, and deal with it now. Resentment, anger and fear are all connected - if you don't deal with it you'll be stuck in a self obsessed circle. Stop being afraid of what someone will say, or act, or how much it's going to cost to repair or replace that laptop. Stop being afraid of the future.

Whatever it is that is keeping you from being your best, subtract it from your life. If you need to work, and the majority of us do, then find a way to fit your writing around your work and family life. Who knows, if you do enough maybe you won't need that day job anymore.

Pease do share  any tips you may have, here in the comments.
Thank you.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Time to Pause

Hardwick Hall  - Maria A Smith 

Sometimes, when the words won't come, or you're feeling exhausted, it may be that you need to get away and take time out from your usual routine. A day, or even a few hours can be enough to fill your creative well back up again, and it will also give you time to pause.

Visit an art gallery, see a show, listen to a concert, or walk around a stately home. Soak in the colours, the sounds and the atmosphere. Slow down, wander around and take it easy. Even better go alone, then you can do exactly what you want to do at your own pace. It's amazing how a few hours away from the desk will energise you and make things feel so much better. Ideas will pop into your head to take your writing forward, perhaps not immediately, but they will come to you later.

Last Saturday, I felt restless and fed up, so decided to get out regardless of the fact that it looked as if it was about to tip it down with rain. And it did of course. Those who read my blog regularly will know I love the National Trust  and I'm lucky enough to have a few within an hour from home.

I set off to Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, and after initially having to take refuge from the rain, in the cafe with tea and a slice of chocolate and beetroot cake, I set off with my camera.
Going around the park or gardens wasn't an option so I went into the house. It was busy, as everybody had the same idea.

I strolled at my leisure, snapping away, (without flash so the quality of my images aren't the best) and thought about the people who'd lived here over the years. How they had lived. How they'd worked, and what they'd done for fun. There is always the story of who built and lived at the hall, in this case it was the formidable Bess of Hardwick, but I wasn't thinking about her. I wanted to know who worked in the kitchens, the gardens, or who built the house and what were their stories. Before long my brain was running wild with ideas. As I took my pictures, I thought about who owned that hairbrush? Who were the children in those pictures, and did they really wear those clothes?

It can't be, can it?  - Maria A Smith

My mind skipped back to Bess, and I wondered how it must feel to have eight children in six years! And from the age of 14 too. And then I was so wrapped up in it all, imagine my surprise when at the far end of a long hall, I spotted an Elizabethan figure coming towards me. It looked so wrong in a room full of modern day visitors, all of us a little bedraggled from the showers. Of course my writers mind went into over drive, and a story idea came to me in a flash, involving the ghost of Bess, and well, I'm not going to tell you anymore for now, because that would be telling wouldn't it...

Whose trousers are those laid out on the bed?  - Maria A Smith

Who owned that brush? Was she happy at Hardwick? - Maria A Smith
I was only at Hardwick for a few hours, but my mind was calm and happy, and I was glad I'd stepped out into the rain because even on the dullest afternoons it's possible to feed your curious mind, and fill your creative well.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Afternoon Tea, a Prize and a Palace

Last week started with a lovely afternoon tea with a friend. I was forced to put my diet on hold to tackle the scrumptious feast put before me, and I enjoyed every morsel, and the company was very good too. It's alway good to catch up with friends.

Afternoon Tea - Maria A Smith 
Sunday proved very productive, I got a short story edited, and researched some more competitions. Between Monday and Friday the day job took precedence, I was working at a big exhibition, and it felt exhausted being on my feet for three full days, and a day either side setting up and putting down, before and afterwards. I'd sensibly booked a day off on Friday to recover.

I won a raffle prize last week!

Raffle Prize - Maria A Smith 
Ironically, and I did laugh about it, the prize, was a luxurious body moisturiser, which if used regularly will gradually tan the body.  I'm taking antibiotics for my sinuses which forbid me going out in the sunshine. Not that I'm much bothered about getting a tan anyway. It was lovely to win something, and I'm very grateful.

Friday and Saturday were spent in Oxfordshire in the caravan, we were next door to Blenheim Palace. Home of the Duke of Marlborough, and birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill.

I don't know why I thought I was going to get round everything in a few days, it's not possible, not if you want to see all of the palace and gardens. We did half of the house and some of the gardens. There's a lot of walking involved as things are spaced out, but it's well worth a visit. I'm going back.

Blenheim Palace - Maria A Smith 

In case you're wondering how I got on with the 'to do' methods in the last blog post, here's how it went...

Doing just one task a day, gives you amazing freedom, I really like this system, and it worked really well for me whilst I was working away. There were two days when I couldn't complete my tasks. It wasn't for the trying either. Circumstances made it impossible in both cases, the first was an appointment I was unable to make as my Pilates coach is away for three weeks, and the other was impossible to do without wifi, or a phone signal, both of which I didn't have between Friday and Sunday teatime. I didn't get stressed about it, both tasks will go forward onto this week's list.

The other idea, 'The Square Method' I used for writing, and writing related tasks, (you can read about it here along with the 'one task a day' method)    and I divided my squares into 20 minute stints. I love this method of doing things, and I felt really productive and found myself wanting to fill up my squares!

How did your week go? Did you get out and about? Did you try my productivity tips last week? Do let me know, I'd love you to share how you got on.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Winning the Productivity Game

Maria A Smith 

Is it me, or has this last week disappeared quicker than usual? I only worked at the day job four days, but I'm left feeling I worked much more and harder too. I'm blaming Bank Holiday Monday, as my usual routine fell away and I got involved with doing lots of other stuff, and to be honest, it was all stuff I really didn't want to do, but had to do because I'm not on top of things in the home.

Talking to family,friends and other writers it seems that many of us use these days for DIY (Ugh!) or decluttering, gardening, overdue paperwork or housework! Seems like we feel it's time to catch up rather than chill out, and spend time together, which seems reserved for the longer holidays like Christmas and Easter.

There are many advantages to working from a 'to do' list...

I had big ideas of what I wanted done, and of course I over stretched myself and didn't reach my target. I'd made a list which was far too long, but I wasn't overly upset at the end of the day, because by making the list in the first place, I was able to draw a line through what I did get done, which gave me satisfaction and motivated me at the time, but there was stress and feeling I wasn't going to complete the looooong list of tasks I'd set myself when I was actually doing them. Not to mention the resentment that I couldn't use they day doing something else much nicer. Which isn't a good feeling.

I got to thinking about it, and thought, how can I do things better? How can I feel less stressed during the day, but also achieve what I need to get done? The 'to do' list brings clarity to what you need to do, and helps prioritise actions, you feel more organised and it helps with planning. I kknow I work better with some sort of plan, so I asked around and listened to podcasts on the subject, and it seems there are many more ideas on the 'to do' list and productivity.

I heard about a different way of doing things, which I'll try this coming week. It will either drive me totally mad, or it will work. So here's what you do...

Condense Your List 

Before you go to bed, think of one thing you need to get done the next day. Just one, and write it down. When you get up, look at the piece of paper and promise yourself you are going to do this one thing today. Then go do it, and remember, you only have to do this one thing.  Then do the same you did the previous evening, write down a single thing that needs your attention and do it the following day. And so on, and so on. Resist adding another task to your one, until you have successfully completed your daily 'to do' task for two weeks. See how it goes doing two tasks a day but never add more than three tasks to your day, and if you don't succeed, that's okay you just add the unfinished task to your list for the next day.

It sounds easy doesn't it? I can see the logic of not overwhelming yourself, and training your mind, but we will have to see if I'm able to resist adding other stuff, or feel I'm falling behind with stuff. Personally, I'm going to try the above for non writing related stuff.

The Square Method 

Another idea I heard this week I'm definitely going to try for my writing tasks. Now the person who I heard it from applies the principal on a daily basis, but that isn't possible for me due to working, so I am just going to see what I can achieve in a week.

Here's how it works - Imagine the side of a Rubik cube, you have nine squares, (make a grid) each squares represents twenty minutes. The idea is that you set a timer and write, or do something writing related to fill up each square as you go through your day. So that by the end of the day, you know you have done three hours of writing or writing related activity. It is also a good indicator, or a bar to measure where your time is being spent.

It also focuses you - you know you have twenty minutes to write a flash fiction piece, or to do marketing on FaceBook, or some tweets, or a stint of editing. It will also make you feel good if you are someone who has to fit writing in wherever you can, as you'll see the bigger picture of your day.
If you do more than your nine squares, then that's great!  And if you're a full-time writer, maybe your squares need to bigger time chunks? I'm quite looking forward to trying this out, and I'll share my outcomes next blog post.

Organising myself has fell down a bit this year due to this and that, BUT, I have given myself a pep talk, and finally, I'm doing things to get myself back on track. How did your week go, and what plans do you have?

Sunday, 30 April 2017

5 Quick Writing Ideas

Maria A Smith

Are you in the middle of a creative slump? Has the creative well dried up? Or do you just need some inspiration? Most writers feel blocked at some time during their lifetime. Don’t worry it won’t last for ever, and there are things you can do to get yourself unblocked. 

Maybe you just need to change where you write, or when you write, or perhaps it's what you're writing? 
Have you tried talking it over with a writing buddy? Or doing something completely different may be enough to get you back on track again. Or perhaps you need a little inspiration to get you started. . 

Here are 5 quick writing ideas to get the muse flowing again.

1. Free Writing - Pick up a pen and write, don’t stop, simply write, forget about spelling, and grammar just get anything that comes into your mind written down. Do this for five minutes, and if you’re stuck starting, write ‘I’m stuck, I’m stuck until a word pops into your mind, then write that down and another will follow. 
Afterwards, look through what you’ve written and find a phrase or a sentence, something you can use. It may take a few sessions before you can use free writing effectively. 

2. Random First Line Prompts - Generate one by either opening the nearest book and reading out the 7th sentence such as I’ve just done; ‘She decided to go to her father’s grave to ask his advice.’  Or pick out the first line of dialogue you see on the page. ‘I’m ready to try again, if you are?’ Use either to begin your writing. 

3. Write ten ‘factual’ statements about a character you don’t know yet. Write them quickly, like I’ve done here.
     1. He wears different wigs.
     2. He like to be called Billy
     3. He has a poodle
    4.  He drinks far too much
    5   He used to be a conductor
    6.  He is married to Joan
And so on, until you have ten statements, then write one sentence about your character and more will follow. 

4.  Write about your favourite childhood toy? 

5.  The most interesting place I have ever been to was? 

The bottom line is - you overcome writers block by writing. Give my suggestions a go and let me know how you get on, whether you’re blocked or not.