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? 

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. 

Monday, 24 April 2017

Only You Can Make Yourself Happy

Clumber Park April 2017 - Maria A Smith

If you’re not feeling tickety-boo about yourself, or your situation, maybe it’s because you’re not happy? Perhaps it’s time to stop focusing on the negative things, and instead focus on what really makes you happy. When it comes to emotions, what meaning you give to things and what you focus on, control the way you’re going to feel. If you feel negative about what you’re doing, it’s going to eventually make you unhappy. 

So if you don’t look forward to going to the gym, and feel it’s something you’re obliged to do, then find another exercise. Stop beating yourself up - the gym isn’t your only option, you could join a running club or go to a yoga class instead, or walk to and from work every day. Stop doing stuff that makes you feel unhappy and grumpy. 

Likewise, if your goal is to write short stories, but you’re not enjoying it, reset your goals. Write a novel, or a poem, or try you hand at articles instead. You’re still a writer, and you’ll be happier finding something you enjoy writing. 

It’s the meaning of things that make you happy, not the things, and if you can change your mindset, then you’re on your way to happiness.  

I’ve had a very happy weekend away (which is why this post is a little later than usual) I’ve been recharging my creative batteries at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire. The weather has been beautiful, and I did lots of walking through the ancient woodland. Life slowed right down, allowing me time to refocus and I’ve come back feeling energised.
Have a good week and let me know what makes you happy? 

Squirrel at Clumber Park  - Maria A Smith

Let's Build a Den!  - Maria A Smith

Anyone seen the bats?  - Maria A Smith 

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Pause and Plan

Last week I hit the pause button and took stock of my writing life. What I've been doing since the beginning of the year isn't working for me. I set out with good intentions in January, however I've lost my way, and it's time to reorganise and go forward with a different plan. Easter is a good a time to begin the process, it's a little like starting afresh on January 1st, and already I'm feeling more energised with my decision. I've been thinking about how I'm going to recharge my willpower batteries, and how I'm going to build good habits, so I've made a list. 

  • Sleep - I really must get at least 6.5 hours sleep every night because any less is no good for me, and it's a struggle to get through a working day, let alone do any writing. 

  • Diet - Making healthy choices will give me more energy, and I've already started. Adding more fruit and vegetables to my diet, and less cake! I haven't cut it out completely, because a little of what you fancy now and again does you good.  

  • Hydration - Drinking water helps you to think and focus and you'll be more motivated. It's also a natural headache remedy, and in my case, drinking more water eases backache too. Don't believe me? Try it yourself - increase your water intake this week, and see the difference. 

  • Walking - Just five minutes outside in the fresh air makes a difference to our mood. Especially if we are close to nature. 

  • Exercise - Other stuff apart from walking which makes you feel energised. I like pilates, and stretch classes. You may do something else to get your endorphin fix. Whatever it is, it will make you feel better about yourself. 

  • Tell a Writing Buddy - Get someone on side to cheer you on from the sidelines. They'll be your moral support when times are tough, they'll gee you along and help you get back on track when things go wrong. 
I've no doubt there are many more ideas I can add, this is only the start - What can you add to the above to help me stick to my new plan?

Happy Easter! 

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Catching Up

Wow! What fabulous weather we've had this weekend. It's definitely lifted people's mood, and great to see folks enjoying the outdoors, and because it isn't as often as we'd like, you have to make the most of it, at every opportunity.

In the last week I've managed to catch up with lots of writing buddies, which is fuel for the creative well. On Friday I saw the ladies from the Leicester Chapter of the RNA (Romantic Novelists Association) for lunch, where we exchanged happy chatter and lots of news. It's uplifting to hear how everyone is getting on, and listen to their plans for the next few months.

Saturday I went to my writing group and got some useful critique on a short story I'm writing for an anthology in aid of Cancer Research. I haven't written a 1000 word story for a long time, and it hasn't been easy! The theme is 'Identity' and after three failed attempts at different ideas, I finally got going and wrote 1750 words. Which resulted in me spending two evenings trying to get the story down to the required word count.  It was 1250 before I read out, so now this coming week I will tackle my revisions and get the word count within range.

In the afternoon, I met with my #writingchat friends over at Attenborough Nature Reserve in Nottinghamshire, and we had a catch up in the cafe, followed by a stroll around the reserve. It's good to hang out with other writers, and there's always a lot of creative energy and a little bit of madness which helps.

Writing Plans 

I'm reading through my novel, it's not right, and I need to cut more stuff out altogether as it really isn't doing anything to further the story. Also, several of my writing group are going to meet up at the end of the month to help and assist each other with novel issues. In readiness for this, I need to revamp and circulate my synopsis by the weekend.

I'm Chairing the meeting on Easter Saturday, and need to do the advance admin and write a 150 word flash fictions piece, in the next few days.  I haven't made a writing 'to do' list yet, but I will be doing as soon as I finish this blog post. Things get done if they are on a list.
Time is precious and non of us can afford to spend our free hours doing things we really don't want to do, or stuff that isn't relevant. And with that in mind, I'll be doing a quick check to see where my time is being spent. Like many writers, I'm brilliant at procrastinating, and lately have slipped into bad habits. Too many things are getting in the way of my writing, and other things I want to do.

Is it time you identified what is important to you and what is not? I'm growing my list of unimportant things I need to ditch, such as taking too long over my household chores, and watching box sets into the wee small hours. I need to get good balance again.

Have a good week - Keep writing!

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Start Fresh

What a week that was...

A bit hectic, with work and all sorts of other stuff. But I made it to Friday and have just spent a couple of days away in the caravan. Our first outing this year and I'd been looking forward to the break for weeks. We went to a small site on a working farm, where we were made to feel very welcome. In fact we spent a lot of time in the farm shop cafe eating and drinking, which hasn't done a lot for my waistline, but has made me feel happy and content.

Strange isn't it, how we know when we need a break. It was lovely to be out in the fresh air again, and not have to concern myself about looking at the clock, and even better not to have to think about, or cook what we were going to have for tea. I've come home recharged!

There is much to do, and some tight deadlines are looming but I'm going to try my hardest to do what I can in the time I have this week. It won't be oodles, but I'm planning to write a 1000 words story, a 150 word flash piece and do some other writing related stuff as well as another blog post.

I will of course still have to go to my day job, and do other necessary stuff too, lets see how I get on. I'll also have to work off all the homemade meals I ate over the weekend.

I feel that Spring has sprung! And plan to do lots of things.

Do share what you've been up to?

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Simple Things

Calke Abbey March 2017 - Maria A Smith

I'm a little late posting, and it's nothing to do with the clocks going forward either. It's been one of those days, in fact it's been one of those weeks. Actually, March hasn't been the best month, but hey ho, that's life, and I positively refuse to be beaten!

The internet has been up and down here for the last few days, and I'm caught in the loop of resetting it, in between trying to follow the online instructions my provider suggests. But of course you can only follow these helpful web pages if you have web access! And why is it so hard to find their telephone number? Argh! Having no internet is as bad as having no washing machine, mine packed up on a spin this morning, I had to  drag sopping wet laundry out of the drum, and put it on the line to drip dry. At least it's bright and cheerful here, and hopefully the clothes will dry.

Other calamities have happened this week, too many to mention. Mostly along the same lines as the above. However, I have much to be grateful for too, and I've had some lovely things mixed in with the not so nice this week.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know I was burgled at the beginning of the month, and amongst other things, the thieves stole my jewellery and cameras. This made me sad, mad and everything in-between, but apart from my feelings, it's a pain not having a camera or a watch!

Yesterday, at my writers group, one of the ladies gave me a watch, she said she saw me checking my wrist for the time last week, and wanted to give me one of hers. How kind is that?

The evening before I was looking for some old sneakers to wear in the garden, imagine my joy when I found an old camera in the bottom of the wardrobe. Okay, it's not as good as my stolen one, BUT, it means I can take pictures again.

I'd planned to catch up on housework on Saturday afternoon, however, I simply couldn't wait to get out and about in the gorgeous sunshine promised by the weather woman the evening before. So after my writers group session, instead of driving home as planned, I detoured and set off for one of my my most favourite places,  Calke Abbey in Derbyshire.   Just over the border into the next county, it's like a different world. The air quality for someone with asthma is fantastic, you notice it immediately, I love breathing in huge lungfuls whenever I visit. It makes you realise how polluted our towns and cities really are these days.

I nipped into a supermarket on route and got myself a picnic lunch, I ate it surrounded by beautiful countryside, watching people enjoy themselves. It's lovely to see children out and about, and there wasn't a mobile phone, or other gadget in sight either.

It's my first visit this year, and everything is waking up, and I wanted to explore as much as possible in my three hours. The park is immense, plenty of wide open spaces, lots of interesting old trees, walking routes, deer, not to mention the main attractions, the house and gardens.

It's lambing time, and this weekend, we were allowed down into the penned area on the farm to see the new arrivals. There were also lots of new mummies in waiting, and outside on the parkland lots of infant lambs grazing under watchful eyes.

The gardens do look a little spartan, you can see the staff have been kept busy. The house looks magnificent as always. I didn't go in this time as I wanted to make the most of the outdoors. It gladdened my heart to see so many people of all ages enjoying the parkland. I walked up and down hill, and clocked up three miles according to my pedometer. I wished I'd stuck my walking poles in the car, as some of the hills were a challenge, and my calves are hurting today, but it's worth it.

On my way back to the car, I visited the tea room, and had a pot of tea, but managed to resist the cake! I've put on a few pounds, so need to resist. Although, there may be cake later today. It is, after all Mothering Sunday. Well that will be my excuse.
There will also be writing later, and throughout the week too.

How did you spend your weekend?

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Finding Your Purpose

Do you want to be more intentional? It's not easy trying to juggle everything, but if you can create good habits, you have a greater chance of being successful.

Define Priorities

Sit down and think about what you really enjoy doing,  Write a short list of the three things that are most important to you. In my experience people are only ever successful in things they really feel passionate about, so get your thinking cap on, and decide if that is writing, perhaps it's poetry, flash fiction, or writing a novel, in which case, stop putting all your energy into the other stuff.

Set a Schedule

Define what you are going to do with your time. Time is precious, so plan in advance how you will be spending it. A good habit to get into is to plan in the evening what you intend to do the next day. Make a simple, don't overload yourself with a long list, keep it short, put it into practice and work through it with enthusiasm. Striking a line through a task is very satisfying.

Don't give into your excuses about not having time to write. If you want to, you'll find the time. Be committed and follow through.


This week I intend to look at my novel synopsis and see if I'm on track with the rewrite.
Produce a piece of flash fiction and sub a piece of fiction. I'll also be listening to an audio book, and catching up on podcasts. What's on your list?

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Stolen Memories

Usually, I'm upbeat and positive about things but the last week has been horrendous! This weeks post reflects my mood, and I make no apologies for trying to write it out of my system here on my blog. Feel free to skip this week.

Last Thursday, my daughter was either pick-pocketed, or she 'lost' her purse in Berlin airport, consequently, I ended up fetching her home when she got back into the UK, she had no ID, and no money. She was very distressed, and it took all weekend to begin the process of getting her sorted and back to Leeds University.

On Monday morning, I went to work, and all but passed out from the pressure and pain in my ear and sinuses. I went home unwell, ready to collapse, only to discover we'd been burgled. It was a shock.

The thieves had broken in by smashing through the kitchen window. The damage they have done is unreal, the glass shattered and large shards gouged my oak table, the place I sit and write, where my family and I share meals. It is the heart of our home. The boulder they threw went through the glass hit the closed kitchen door with force, smashing through it landed on my ceramic tiled floor doing more damage.

They went into every room in the house, pulled out every drawer and cupboard, stole cash, jewellery and my cameras amongst other things. Then they let themselves out of the front door. I have had to deal with it all...the Police, the SOCCO officer who came to dust for prints, although there weren't any as they wore gloves. And the insurance company.

The full impact of what has happened didn't sink in for a few days, but it has now and I feel utterly depressed. And vulnerable. I feel that this person, or people have stolen my memories. They took my jewellery box which contained precious photographs of me and my dad. He died young, when I was thirteen. My mother gave them to me, they can never be replaced. They stole my babies identification bracelets from when they were born, and much more besides. My engagement ring, eternity ring, jewellery my mother had given me, and other items. It has made me sad, and angry all at the same time.

None of this is helped by the fact that I'm ill again. I went to the GP next day, and have yet more antibiotics to swallow down, and now there is mention that I may have a nerve issue, which is why my jaw and teeth are so painful, and why the painkillers aren't working!

I'm totally and utterly fed up, and I know I should be relieved that I wasn't home when it happened, and that it could have been much worse. And I am grateful it isn't worse, but right now I'm out of sorts with the world. I need time to pick myself up and dust myself down.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Best Foot Forward

I can't believe it's March and we're into the third month of the year already. I always think of daffodils and spring lambs, lighter evenings and fresh air! It's time for an update.


I've blogged regularly during January and February, and enjoyed it. It's made me think about trying some non fiction writing now, rather than later on as I'd originally planned to do, when I set my goals back in January.

Flash fiction featured heavily over the past few months, and several 150 word pieces have been penned, which I'm looking to place in competitions. My novel hasn't seen much progress, I'm stalled, yet another mental block! It's hard to know what to do next and the only real solution is to keep going I suppose.

About ten days ago I swapped to a novel I started back in 2010, madness I know, as I should of carried on with the other.

#writngchat over on Twitter has been fun on Wednesday evenings over the last few months, and I've made some new friends. Feel free to join the conversation between 8pm - 9pm and don't forget to use the hashtag to keep up with the conversations.


Pilates, meditation and stretch classes have all been done, but nothing has been on a regular basis.

Other Stuff

I had a birthday last month! And went to London for the day. It was wet and cold and trying to snow, but I had a lovely day out, which included a train journey into the city, breakfast and watching a play at the Kings Head Theatre Pub, which is a fabulous venue, although they were always going to score high with me because when you ordered tea, it came out on a small china tray, in a china cup served with homemade cake! I didn't ask for any cake, it just arrived. It was delicious!

Mostly, I've been off colour the last few months, and I'm flipping fed up with it! So I'm really looking forward to good health in March.

For the month ahead I'm hopeful I'll get out and about a little more than I have over the last few months. It would be good to report on more walking and exercise, and more words of course.

Best foot forward then...

Let me know what you've done during the last few months, and what your plans are for this one?

Sunday, 26 February 2017

A Balanced Life

Finding a balanced life isn't easy, often these days many of us are running on empty no matter how hard we try to balance our lives. So much is expected of us, and we expect so much of ourselves too. Once upon a time you would go to work all day, come home afterwards do your chores, and even have time left over for writing.

Nowadays we wear 'busy' like a badge of honour, and it's no good for us. Lots of us are working too many hours. Checking emails  after hours, trying to fit box sets in before bedtime, and what ever happened to taking a rest? Finding balance in your life will make you happier, healthier, more focused, and more productive. How can we find the time to rest more?

Start Early

Do your most important work early in the day. Get your daily word count done. There'll be less distractions, and once you've done it you'll be guilt free for the rest of day, and able to get on with other things.

Walk More 

Not only does walking keep you fit, it relaxes the mind, allowing the subconscious to give you a fresh perspective on that chapter you've been struggling with, or that opening that isn't quite right. Make it a brisk one for maximum benefit.


Forget about stuff that requires four or five sessions a week at the gym, you haven't got time. However, a game of badminton once a week, or a pilates or yoga class is a good way of keeping body and soul fit. 

Express Yourself

Indulge in something you like doing, be that sketching, baking, or coarse fishing. Enjoy the pleasure of your hobbies, they provide detachment from the everyday mundane. Be nourished by them. Take time out and do something for you. 

Cat Nap

Never underestimate the power of a 20-minute nap, Allow your brain timeout to power down and recover focus. Impossible to do every day, but once or twice a week maybe? 

Reassess yourself on a weekly basis, set goals, but keep them simple,
and make sure you plan in time for yourself. Rest is underrated but very necessary for a balanced life. Making choices about what comes first may be tough, but you're worth it...

How do you find balance in your life? 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Sleep Zone

A lot of writers, myself included are terrible sleepers. We don't get our quota of slumber. Some set their alarms and get up early to put down words, whilst others are still up at midnight scribbling away for hours. Lack of sleep isn't a new phenomena, but it seems to have become a plague.

Why Do We Need Sleep?

Sleep helps you feel your best, and if you get the recommended seven or eight hours, it allows you to wake up feeling refreshed and able to meet the demands of your day. You'll be better able to concentrate on that story idea, that scene you're writing, or that deadline.

Insufficient sleep has an affect on health over time, our immune and cardiovascular systems will feel the impact, and type 2 Diabetes has also been linked to not getting enough sleep. It's vital we get enough rest so we're able to perform well in our busy lives. Or perhaps that is the issue? Are we simply doing too much? Perhaps we need to give more priority to sleeping. I'm re-educating myself on the matter, and have put all my findings here.

  • Set a schedule for going to bed and getting up -  This regulates you body clock. 
  • Slow right down - The last hour before you go to bed should be your power down hour. Warm bath, listening to music, meditation etc
  • Temperature matters - Don't have your bedroom too hot - Open a window.
  • Stay warm - Hang on, that's a little contradictory, but the thing is you won't sleep if you're cold. So wear warm nightwear and socks too! 
  • Read before retiring - It's been proved that reading relaxes the mind, and helps you to drop off to sleep quicker. 
  • Exercise - Experts say the best time is between 4pm-7pm to aid sleep. 
  • Ban all screens an hour before bed - That's the TV, your mobile, your Ipad, and your laptop. I really struggle with this one. 
  • Caffeine - As we age we don't break caffeine down as well, it's much slower to metabolise, so it's more likely to stop us from sleeping.
  • Eat well during the day - Don't skip breakfast which regulates us, and eggs, chicken and fish give us essential amino acid. 
  • Spend a few minutes each night thinking about all the things you are grateful for, that happened in your day.  
We need sleep to feel healthy and be able to continue with our daily lives, it's something all of us should address as 'important' and should be moved up to the top of our 'to do' list. Getting your quota of sleep will help you to perform better.

Do you sleep well? Do you have any tips to share, if so, please share them in the comments.

Sunday, 12 February 2017


Do you keep a journal, or do you feel guilty about not keeping one? I recently read that writers fall into one of those two camps. Really? I had to stop and think about it for a moment. I'm not sure keeping a journal means the same thing to all of us, and I'm not sure about feeling guilty about not keeping one either.

Personally, I do keep a journal, but I don't write in it daily. When I started it four years ago, I wrote regularly every day, as a warm up session to 'proper' writing. I'd pen news about what had been happening in my life, about my family and and about the way I felt about things. I'd occasionally write about my writing too. How long I wrote for varied, but was anything between ten minutes and half an hour. Location was almost always from my bed upon waking.

Rarely have I read anything back, perhaps one or two pages. In my mind, I'm saving reading it for another day, sometime in the future. And do I feel guilty because I'm no longer adding entries to it? Not really, because I know I'll pick it up again. I've missed around eight months, and I don't really know why - but it doesn't bother me.

Journalling has many forms, there are writers who log and record everything they do on their novels. Recording their own feelings and anxieties at every step of the way.  Apparently, there is a journal you can buy that asks you a question on each page, and therefore sparks ideas for continuing the entry. I imagine this one would be quite fun to look back on in ten years time. With questions like, who has irritated you today?

There is also the poem style journal. Each day you write one sentence about your day. At the end of the week you rearrange all the sentences to sum up your week and create a poem. At the end of the year you will have a collection of poems about your life.

I'm sure there are many more quirky ones out there. Journalling is definitely a good way to express yourself, and it will help you to find your voice. How and when you do it, is entirely up to you.

Do you keep a journal?

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Queen of Clean or Queen of Clutter?

Keeping things clean and tidy isn't fun but it's vital to our well being. What does your writing space look like right now? Mine is a mess, and it's why I'm not in there writing this blog post. My space has become a dumping ground for everything and everyone. It's crept up on me, and we're in the middle of a massive decluttering exercise here too, which isn't helping matters, BUT, nor should it be an excuse. It's time to take control.

The Plan 

De-clutter - Take a bin bag and a box to your writing space. Fill the bag with rubbish, and the box with things for the charity shop, or stuff you want to pass on to other writers, such as old copies of magazines. If in doubt, throw it out. Once you've got rid of everything you don't need, tidy everything that is left. File it, shelve it, put everything in a suitable place.

Clean - Once de-cluttered, you'll be able to see the space you've got. It's time to get the rubber gloves on and start cleaning. Start at the top and work down to the bottom, dust over lampshades and any pictures, and run round with the vacuum.

Repair - If any DIY is required, write a list and get it organised.

Organise - Put up a board for pinning notes, receipts or motivational quotes. Buy a tray for paperwork, use a mug for pens, and put all those notebooks away in a drawer or buy some nice stackable boxes.

Now open a window and let in some fresh air, or light a scented candle if you prefer. Doesn't that look better, and doesn't it feel good.

What makes a good writing space for you  - Good light? A clear desk? Having all your reference books to hand? A comfortable chair?  Let me know what makes you happy.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Looking Ahead

I've been hibernating this week. Its been a cold, so I've stayed close to home, looking ahead at writerly things that are happening around the UK in the coming months.

Getting out and about meeting other writers is good for the soul, it's a way of making friends with like minded individuals and hearing about what's going on in the writing world. Courses and workshops are a great ways to learn something new, but care must be taken when choosing.

Definitely do your research, find out as much as you can before making a booking. Look the tutor up, and send them a few questions. Ask what the focus is on? What materials will they be using? Powerpoint or white board? Will there be handouts to take away? Are there any one to one opportunities? How many will be in the workshop? Good tutors don't mind you asking questions, and they'll be ready with answers. Seek others opinions of the course or workshop, ask around in your circle of writing buddies.

Here's a few I found...

Malaga Workshops  UK weekend residential courses are all run by published award winning authors, there's a diverse list of topics and locations. A quick check reveals tutors such as Simon Whaley, check his website out here, who is doing a 'Write a Short Story' workshop this in Cirencester.

Kate Walker, author of over 65 Romance books will be teaching a 'Romantic Fiction Repair' weekend, check out her website here, or maybe you fancy 'Turn Your Local & Family History Into Stories' with Stephen Wade.

Writers Holiday  offers a whole week away in Wales in July 2017 with lots lined up for writers.

Alison May runs workshops and courses in novel and short story writing, starting in February 2017  - I did her Developing Your Novel workshop last year and found it very informative.

And for something different there is Mindfulness & the Art of Writing a weekend course in Brighton.

There are lots of workshops and courses for writers out there  - Do share any events or workshops in your area. Or any that you've been on and can recommend.

In other news...

January's been an odd month, I've had an ear infection since late December, and it's only in the last week I'm beginning to hear properly, and feel more like myself. Staying motivated and on track with my writing goals has been very difficult.

It's been a good month for reading and listening to podcasts. I'm hopeful February will energise me, and I'll begin to power up with many more of my 15 minute writing sessions again.

Things I've enjoyed in January in no particular order

#Listening to the album Love in Portofino by Andrea Bocelli

#Watching Andre Rieu's concerts on TV, and Blindspot. And YouTube videos of David Bowie performing many of his songs.

#Reading Your Complete Mindfulness Handbook, Woman & Home Magazine, A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, and The Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn.

#Nordic Pole Walking


# Tea and cake (you didn't doubt that would be on my list did you?)

# Podcasts from The Worried Writer & The Joined Up Writing Podcast & The Creative Penn Podcast

# Chicken & Chorizo Risotto

What I've given up this month...

# Buying Take A Break Fiction Feast

# Watching and listening to the news every day.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Shedding Words

Frosty Morning 

How do you shed the fat? Those unnecessary words that add nothing to your story. I thought I'd share my top 5 tips with you.
  1. Passive Voice - Should be avoided, try making sentences stronger by going through your work and removing it was, there was, was, is, it and ing words wherever you can.  
  2. Big Words - Don't use two or three when one word will do. And don't use complicated words. It only annoys the reader. Wasn't it Oscar Wilde that said - Don't use big words. They mean so little. 
  3. Speech Tags  - Said and asked are really all you need once the reader knows who the characters speaking are, no need to add names every time. Get rid of verbs like explained, answered and quizzed. You don't need them. 
  4. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat - Don't do it! Unless of course you're adding new material, and not rehashing what you've already said. I'm terrible for this one. Reading your work aloud helps identify repetitive words. Or better still, record yourself reading a scene, then play it back. You might cringe a few times, but you'll pick up where you've repeated. 
  5. Back Story - Do you really need it? If you can avoid chunks of lengthy narrative, your story will be all the better for it. Perhaps a character can convey what's happened in a few lines of dialogue? If you really need the information, boil it down. Only keep in what you really need to get the information across. 
Please do share your own methods of tightening your writing here in the comments.      

A very quick update this week, haven't got lots done as I've been taking it easy, relaxing and recovering. Reading and listening to podcasts has been high on my agenda, although I still managed just over three hours of writing this week too. 

Have a good week my friends.