Monday, 28 May 2018

Making Things Happen

Bluebells in the grounds of Chatsworth, Derbyshire - Maria A Smith

Nearly two months ago I made this list of goals - See how I've got on.
  • Continue to re-write my novel in first person - I've done some.  
  • Enter two competitions - Not yet.
  • Join in with #Writingchat (Twitter  - Wednesdays 8pm-9pm UK time) when I can  - I have done. 
  • Have a writerly day out  - Fabulous adventure to Soundhouse Studios in London and an Urban Writing Retreat in Nottingham, as well as a night out in Leicester. 
  • Start going for walks again  - I've started! I've stopped! And I've restarted. 
  • Get out and about with my camera - Sort of...yes, I've been snapping away. 
  • Change my look - Oh yes, I'm looking different, and I have plans. 

I've managed to pack a lot into the last few months, and I've made a good start on other stuff too.

Getting back into a regular routine on my novel has been more difficult than I imagined it would be. I've had some really early starts for work, which interferes with my daily words, I like to get them done as soon as I get up, otherwise I lose track of time due to other commitments during the day, and I'm too tired by early evening. It's tricky if you hit the road before 6am, so I've ended up writing  at all sorts of different times of the day or night, which is messy and not ideal.

Competitions - Nothing entered yet, I've read Writing Magazine and looked around on the blogosphere for details of what's running. I've made a list of where I can send things already written, and there are one or two competitions where I'm tempted to write something fresh although this will be another sap on my time, so I really need to put the brakes on that idea!

I've missed a few #writingchat sessions on Wednesday evenings again work commitments have made it difficult, and I've had to switch other obligations around.

I've had two writerly days out though  - I've been to London to Sound House Studios to see my friend's radio play recorded, which was interesting, and insightful. I now know how much work goes on behind the scenes. The actors and sound engineer did a fabulous job. Afterwards, a few of us went on to sample London on a Friday evening, which involved drinks and a fantastic meal out followed by an interesting train journey home, where I set about writing some six word stories in preparation for my writing group the next day.

I've learnt that the late train from St Pancras to Leicester is known as the 'party' train, and it was like something out of a comedy script! Or perhaps everything appears funnier after a few gin and tonics.  Seriously, it was so good to have a laugh and engage with people.

The other writerly jaunt was an Urban Writing Retreat at the Nottingham Writers Studio, again very different, I went along on a Sunday and from 10am until 4pm I dug in and worked on a script I'm jointly doing with another writer. There were sixteen of us and there was professional help on hand for anyone stuck with any aspect of their writing. We had a couple of word sprints throughout the day, and generally got a lot of writing done. It was fun!

I've been taking pictures, as you can see in this post. I'm getting used to my new camera, and I'm also using my phone too. It's surprising how creative you can be with your mobile.
Taking a Break - Maria A Smith

I had a sort of a writerly night out too. By chance I'd heard on the radio about a play being performed in Leicester called Chip Shop Chips, it's currently touring the UK, and quite unique. We went into the theatre, and it had been set up like a chip shop restaurant, and once we were all seated, we were all given fish and chips! Delicious they were too. Fabulous way to get people chatting to each other.

The background music was great, all sixties stuff, and the acting was done in amongst the audience which added to the atmosphere. The storyline was a nostalgic trip back in time, as well as being bang up to date too, it followed the stories of two couples. One from each era.

There was a quiz, and a crazy hat making competition, not to mention a sharing of our memories of chips shops and the stories that surround them. Definitely, an audience participation event. It was completely sold out, and they were turning people away on the door! A real 'take you away from it all' evening. And of course I now have lots of ideas if I ever want to put on a production.

New hairstyle and colour all done too. I decided a change was in order, I've gone from long blonde to short red! Although it has faded a little now. Why? It's time to re-invent myself. New beginnings and all that...Us girls all know that having our hair done makes us feel good, as does a new outfit, but I didn't get one of those. Although that is on my list.

New Me! - Maria A Smith

I'm refusing to let my ongoing back issue get me down. Instead I'm sticking two fingers up at it and saying, 'Yea, so you've been hanging around since October, but I'm carrying on with my life!' And that's why I decided to have a change really.

Some days are better than others, as anyone who's experienced pain will know. I'm awaiting my MRI scan results, so soon enough I'll know what the issue is, although I suspect it's a flare up of my 2014/2015 issue, the prolapsed disks. Back pain has a huge impact on doing daily tasks, and makes going to work everyday quite difficult. It's hard to find any mirth in it when you can't put your own socks on! Thank goodness the weather is warming up. 

Healthy Breakfast!  - Maria A Smith 
Getting out for a walk has been problematic - the weather was wet around these parts for the whole of April, but I got out and embraced the challenge. I have to grit my teeth through the pain, but it's worth it, along with my other regular pool wading exercise, I feel I'm trying, and the pain has lessoned. I did need a new rain mac though as mine is worn out and has disintegrated at the seams!

May has been for the most fabulous, so like many I've made the most of it and been here, there and everywhere.

I'm battling on with healthy eating and trying to lose weight. Yes, I know, it's easy isn't it? - Just put less in your mouth! And exercise more.

Well not so easy for me, I struggle on my own so I've rejoined Slimming World. Some folks will scowl and talk down the worth of slimming groups, saying 'what do you need a group for? It's a waste of money!' And in fact that happened to me very recently recently whilst in the company of a 'friend', but for me, I need the support of a group.

Lunch on the go!  - Maria A Smith
Being honest, it isn't easy, but then is anything worth having easy? I have a substantial amount of weight to shift, it's crept on slowly since 1997 when I was last at a healthy weight for my height.
I'm doing it for the sake of my health, and I'm hoping it will help with my back issues. I'm doing it for me, and I'm hoping to have lost a stone by the end of July.

Okay, I'm waffling now, it really isn't that interesting to you good folks out there, and this has turned into a very long post I probably should of split in two.

What have I learnt from the last few months?

# Sometimes, you have to push yourself through physical pain - Life is an hourglass, the sands of time are slipping away. This day, this here and now, isn't coming round again, and you can't get days back. Get out there and make the most of them.

# Sometimes, I have to step back from my writing, to be there for my family, take care of my mum, see friends and attend to 'real' peoples's needs. Sure, I want to write and I'm crawling at a snail's pace but maybe that's how it's supposed to be for me right now.

# Spontaneous decisions can be fun, going to the Chip Shop Chips play suspended my belief for a few hours and took me to another place. As did a random day out in the Cotswolds.

# Be Kind. Be Kind. Be Kind. And that includes being kind to yourself too.

Lastly, I must mention my visit to Liverpool in April  - A friend and I went to see the Terracotta Warriors, it's well worth a visit, it's a really interesting exhibition I'd recommend if you love history.  The sun shone brightly in the afternoon which allowed us to have a leisurely walk down to the Albert Docks area too. I hadn't been before, and again it's worthwhile if you are in the area.

Solid Gold Horse  - Maria A Smith
The Terracotta Warriors in Liverpool April 2018 - Maria A Smith 
Warrior - Maria A Smith

Here's my TO DO list for the next two months - by writing it down, there's half a chance it'll get done!
  • Make the most of getting outside
  • Enjoy downtime - own it! 
  • Have fun!
  • Have a writerly day out, or two, or three.
  • Continue with the novel
  • Have fun!
  • Lose some more weight
  • Get a new outfit
  • Have fun!
  • Eat healthier and drink more water
  • Have fun! 
Yea, that is it folks, so what have you all been doing? And please DO share your goals for the month ahead.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Around Here We Don't Look Backwards For Very Long - We Keep Moving Forwards

Make Things Happen 

Poof! The first quarter of 2018 has vanished and I don't feel like I've achieved much. This is the bit where I let out a HUGE sigh and say, 'I tried. I really did.' Feel frustrated and fed up and well you know, if you've ever experienced similar feelings, I don't need to tell you. You just want to put it all behind you.

I can list lots of reasons why January, February and March have been awful months for me, and not just on the writing front. But there's little point, instead it's time to move on, make a new plan and start moving forward.

What do I want to achieve in April? Well, I'd like to see some sunshine, and feel it's warmth on my skin for one, and here's a short list of writerly things I'd like to do over the next month.

  • Continue to re-write my novel in first person
  • Enter two competitions
  • Join in with #Writingchat (Twitter  - Wednesdays 8pm-9pm UK time) when I can 
  • Have a writerly day out
There's some other stuff I'm itching to do too, which has nothing to do with writing.

  • Start going for walks again 
  • Get out and about with my camera
  • Change my look
Now I'm off to write out a plan for the week ahead, and I'm keeping it simple.  

Do let me know how the first quarter of 2018 went for you, and what your plans are for the month of April? 

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Yes, I'm Rolling My Eyes!

March 17th 2018 

More snow - Really? I'm sick of this wintery weather. I really am. I dream of sunshine and primroses daffodils, tulips and blossom on the trees. Of warmer, happier days. I yearn for tea and cake on the lawn.

So far this year so many of my friends and family have been struck down by one nasty virus or other, myself included and its knocked us off our feet. Usually, it's not an issue, we might go down, but this year it's been so hard to come up on the side of good health - the germs are lingering and are being passed back and forward in communities everywhere.

I could be positive and look at it another way, snowy weekends mean I can stay home and get things done around the house. Ugh! I don't like that idea at all! Housework makes me feel ill.

Or I could get some writing done. Spend a few hours on my novel, or polish a story for a competition. I could make a detailed writing plan for the next month or two, or I could snuggle down on the sofa and read a good book. That sounds like a great plan.

It's never that easy though is it? I need to go out, to look in on my mum, and my neighbour and to buy vegetables for dinner. If it runs over into Monday, I need to go to work, and lets face it, we can't deal with snow can we? Seriously, it's a joke, other countries must have a right laugh at us messing about on the roads.

Ah, the good old English weather eh, it ruins the best laid plans. Seriously, I'm hoping it disappears as quickly as it arrived. Fingers crossed.

Of course you may love it! Let me know your thoughts, and what you're up to?

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Finding the Write Time

Lazy Sunday Afternoon - Maria A Smith 

We're more than half way through February, I don't know why I'm always so amazed at how fast time speeds along, but I am! Always. Not that I want to be wishing my life away but...I chose the above picture, which was taken in August last year, because it reminds me of long summer days, which I'm very much aiming my compass towards.

Anyway, a quick update.

Hubby is making good progress after his accident with the circular saw, he has good movement in his fingers now that the stitches are out, although the thumb is currently an issue, and only time will tell if he's going to get full use back again. He's killing time at home, and I think he's probably now seen enough House Under the Hammer, and Down Under to last him a lifetime.

We're still in the wars here though. I broke another tooth last week, so that was another costly dental bill and its left me wondering why it's happening, it definitely can't be put down to teeth clenching this time as I was eating a bread roll at the time.

The other issue I have is my back. It's been horrid since last October, and has got steadily worse as we moved into 2018. I'm waiting for an MRI scan, as the consultant believes the disk is pinching a nerve again. I'm currently managing without pain relief, as I was  really ill on the tablets. I just read that sentence back and wanted to laugh! Anyone who has suffered with lower back pain knows you  don't manage back pain, you bloody well grit your teeth and push your way through life, albeit at a much slower pace. Hopefully, I can manage without tearing my hair out.

Now about my writing.

Over the last month I've fell back into time wasting habits - it was easy if I'm honest with everything that's been going on around me. However, I need to change things around so I can start working productively again. I'm not beating myself up, far from it, I'm figuring out what I can do differently to get better results. It's back to basics to recognise and understand why I'm not making best use of my time anymore. Perhaps I'm doing the same thing over and over and it's just not working, and I haven't realised it. If that's the case I'll keep getting the same outcome unless I change something.

By writing things down for a week, or two, a time audit will show you where you stand now. It needn't be anything fancy, but if you write down where your time is going, you'll get an idea of where the time sucks are, and where the missed opportunities might be found. I've done it before, with surprising results. Afterwards, you can make a new plan.

I'll be keeping things simple by using a paper diary and filling out slots of time, which will probably be in increments of an hour. I'll write down beforehand what I want to achieve, and then I'll set the timer on my phone and get stuck in. 

It's important to realise we all have other stuff going on in life, be it family time, work or going out with friends, or perhaps learning to play an instrument or going on long walks. Whatever floats your boat, everyone needs downtime, so don't forget to factor some 'me' time in if you decide to try this exercise yourself.

I'll let you know how it goes in my next post.

What have you been up to? Is life treating you well? Is your writing flowing? Or could you do with a bit of a time audit too? 

Monday, 29 January 2018

Be Your Own Cheer Leader

Rainbows - Maria A Smith 
I'm having a wobble. January hasn't gone to plan. My mum's unwell, she's got problems with her sight, and hasn't recovered well from this nasty virus that's been doing the rounds. Hubby had an accident at work last week involving a circular saw! I know, everyone winces at the thought of it. Thankfully, he hasn't lost any fingers, and has limited nerve damage. He's been very lucky, and we're so grateful things weren't a lot worse. He's getting used to being at home, and he's coping well with the pain as I write this post.

The week before my daughter was fretting over an essay she needed to hand in, it's her final year at University and she'd worked so hard on it. We had a scary half hour when she thought she'd accidentally deleted it! I managed to find it on her laptop and all was well again. It was a relief when she handed it in I can tell you as the stress was coming off her in waves. And work, well let's just say the day job's been a tad challenging of late, due to a new system that's been introduced.

My dentist thinks I'm clenching my jaw AGAIN as I broke another tooth last week too, which involved a costly repair. It might be work related, or life in general that's making me clench my jaw, who knows? I'm trying hard to be aware of it when life is challenging.

Is it just me that's having a 'challenging' month? No, of course not, this is normal, this is the rollercoaster of LIFE, and all of us from time to time have unexpected ups and downs, and obstacles thrown into our path.

What's happened in the last two weeks, has reinforced what I'd come round to thinking a long time ago - there's nothing as important as your health, it really is your wealth, and without it, you won't have as good a quality of life  as someone who is well. Money is secondary, yes, of course it helps, you need it to put a roof over your head, pay bills and eat, but good health comes above all of that.

I'm taking everything in my stride. I'm NOT getting upset and wound up when things happen because it's better to keep a calm head and deal with it. When my weekly writing plan, doesn't go to plan, of course I'm dismayed, and I wonder how I'm going to catch up, so I say to myself, 'I'm doing my best and that's okay.' I make it my mantra. 'I'm doing my best and that's okay' The key is to do whatever you can, and not feel like you've failed.

When it gets to Friday and the only exercise I've done is fifteen minutes of walking up and down the pool, and all those promised thirty minute walks never materialised, it's disheartening. Of course it is, like when I've done really well on the scales and lost more than a few pounds, but then when disater strikes in another area of life I falter, and fall off my plan, and raid the biscuit tin! What do I say to myself? 'What can I learn from this?' Okay so I'm a slow slow learner on that one, but I'll keep reinforcing the message. 'What can I learn from this?'

January's progress wasn't the plan I had in mind. However, it's not the end of my best laid plans, it just means I need to regroup, take some deep breaths and get back out there again. 'I can do this!' And that is another of my cheer-leading mantras. 'I can do this.' Of course I can, even if it's going to take me a little longer, or if I have a tight deadline, I'll find another way.

The way you think about yourself could be the key to success, and the first steps towards change are accepting yourself for the way you are. At last I think I'm doing that, and I'm learning to work with what I've got, as lets face it, we all do things differently. As long as we get over the finish line, does it matter how we did it?

In the midst of all the chaos good things happened too, but I had to look out for them. I mean really look out for them, because often we overlook the good stuff  by not paying attention. Don't believe me? Okay, this week, look for the good things that happen in your day. Try and find two things every day, and write them down before you go to bed. At the end of the week you'll have a list of stuff, you'd ordinarily not think about too much. Hey, they were good things, so celebrate them. Here's my list.

I saw a double rainbow, just after a heavy shower. Isn't nature amazing? I watched the movie Darkest Hour, and thought how lucky are we to live in a country without war. I spent time with friends and enjoyed a meal in their company. I heard the joy in my daughter's voice when she told me her tutor had said she'd done good on her essay. I held my first Subs Club ( for writers who want to submit their work)  meeting of 2018, I've wrote flash fiction, an article and done some edits on my novel and I saw a robin on my way to work.

So yes, I had a wobble, and I dare say they'll be more as 2018 unfolds, but I'm getting back on track, and I'm looking forward, not back.

How's life treating you?

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Be Kind to Yourself

Can you believe the first two weeks of January are already behind us?

In my post two weeks ago, I said I'd share my goals outside of writing with you, so here goes. It's all about self-care, because there's more to life than ticking through a to-do list, and centering around others, and constantly firefighting your way through each and every day.

Saying 'Yes' when you mean 'No'

I thought I'd got pretty good at saying no to people but towards the end of last year, I found myself  slipping back into old habits. Agreeing to do things for people and instantly regretting it. Then spending a few days or weeks wishing I could get out of it, when saying no in the first place doesn't mean I'm being rude, selfish or unkind, it means I'm valuing me, and my time, and it's time to stand firm and not be apologetic.

Here's my list of things I've set my sights on this year.

# Walking - I used to walk lots, but for different reasons, I've lapsed over the last few years, so it's definitely back on the agenda this year. I've started already, earlier I went for a very muddy walk in the countryside.

# Relaxation - I'd like more time to myself, quality time I can use to read, listen to music, take a stretch class, or simply get more sleep!

# Photography - I've missed going out and about with my camera, something I'm going to rectify very soon.

# Out and About - I'd like to explore new places, although I'm not sure where I want to go yet.

What would you like to do this year? Something new or more of the same?

Monday, 1 January 2018

Hello 2018 - Come In And Shut The Door

Hello friends, I wish you all a very Happy and Healthy New Year.

There's something exciting about welcoming in the new year don't you think? A chance to start over with new hopes and dreams, and a fresh start.

 I love setting goals - Don't you?

This year my goals are sort of similar to last year, but also very different. Let me explain.

The Novel

Early last year I discovered what I'd suspected for a while, but had struggled to admit. I was drowning and needed major help, my novel wasn't working, BUT, I wouldn't give up on it! I couldn't, even though it was making me miserable. I'd get up early every weekday morning, and rewrite chapter after chapter, before I went to work, knowing full well it wasn't right.

I needed help, but honestly didn't know what sort of help I needed. I'd tried the usual things writers do when they know something isn't right. I'd taken it to my writing group, re-wrote it here and there, changed this and that, but nothing helped. In fact things got worse.

I'd looked at personal mentoring years ago and dismissed it, but now I was desperate to get back to feeling good about my writing again. I wanted to finish the darn novel! And anyway, I'd tried personal fitness training in 2016 to help me get fit after a back injury, and that had worked wonders, so maybe a professional writing mentor's take on matters was what I needed.  I signed up for RedPen Mentoring  and after a lengthy talk with my mentor, Anne Rainbow, I realised I needed her help and I needed time to think.

What happened next? I took my mentor's advice and put the novel aside, although I gasped when she first suggested it, I'll be honest, it felt like I'd been punched in the gut!  What was she thinking? I'd come to her for help to get it finished, and she was telling me to put it aside. I needed to sit down in a darkened room with a gin and tonic. Twenty four hours later I did it. Just like that - I was paying for my mentor's advice. I needed to take it.

I made a new plan under Anne's guidance. I did this and that, and you could say I went on a journey of sorts. I did not look at, or work on my novel for almost six months. Instead I did lots of other writerly stuff including The Artists Way challenge - a 12 week course on discovering and recovering your creative self. I can recommend it, and you can read all about it here and you can buy the book here and no I'm not on commission. It was a healing experience. If you're starting 2018 a little lost, take a look. It's not just for writers either.

Slowly, things began to happen. I started to think about my novel again, but this time, it was in the background, slowly coming forward to the front of my mind. I started to think about structure, and about the story, and the characters. And I started asking myself lots of questions. I told Anne I was ready to re-write my story.

Looking back now, I'd known for a long time third person wasn't working. A voice in my head kept telling me, 'try it in first person', but the thought of a rewrite made me feel positively ill. I wasn't ready for a BIG scary journey like that! Not then. But I am now.

I explored the idea by writing a chapter to get a feel for it, back in November, and when I read it afterwards, I knew it was what I had to do this year. Yes, it's a mammoth task, as you can imagine, lots will have to change. There will be implications throughout the story. It's got to be done though, so that's my aim and I've set myself a target - I want it rewritten by June 30th 2018 so that I can move onto the next stage and get it out into the world by the end of November.

Non Fiction Project 

It's good to collaborate, I'm doing it this year. Last year I wanted to try my hand at articles, it didn't happen exactly as I planned. Instead it morphed into something else, and in the last quarter of 2017, a casual throw away conversation with fellow writing buddy Wayne Kelly  ending with, 'we should write a book about that' has led us to collaborate together. Details soon to be revealed. We'd like to publish in September this year.

Writers Workshop

Sometimes it's good to stick your neck out and do something different, and that's exactly what happened in November last year when another writing buddy - Keith Large  and I facilitated our first Script Aloud Workshop.  We both enjoyed it, as did the participants and it's something I definitely want to do again this year. It's early days but it would feel good to have another two workshops under my belt before the end of the year.


Ah yes, it's a fact I've badly neglected this blog. You can see why now though can't you? It'll be rectified this year, and I may change the frequency of when I blog too, I might go to a fortnightly blog, but hey every two weeks is better than not to blog for weeks or months isn't it?

I enjoy blogging and interacting with you guys, and maybe I got side tracked or perhaps I got lazy, or confused in what I thought was the right content. Things are going to change, I'll be experimenting, and I'm not afraid to change things back if they don't work, or try something else instead. There's no shame in trying, and if it works out it'll make the blog more interesting and if it doesn't then a mistake is only a mistake if you don't learn from it, isn't it?

Okay, so this has been a long post about my writing goals and my plans for the year ahead. And although I love to write, I've made other plans outside of writing too, which I'll share with you next time.

Please do share your writing goals with me in the comments, or any other goals you've set yourself this year.

Making Things Happen

Bluebells in the grounds of Chatsworth, Derbyshire - Maria A Smith Nearly two months ago I made this list of goals - See how I've g...