Monday, 27 November 2017

Things Keep Happening! But I'm Getting There...

Checking the Time 
Honestly, I feel like I'm stuck in a cycle of stop-start, stop-start with the blog this year. Anyone else feeling that way? It certainly wasn't my intention, I set out to post every week, but it hasn't worked out that way. Lots or stuff has got in the way, therefore, I need to think seriously about how I'm going to do things going forward.

Time seems to be getting away from me, and I have lots of writing plans I want to develop, not least my novel, and a new non fiction project with my writing buddy, Wayne Kelly which I'll share with you soon.   

Can you believe this is the last week of November? As I get older, it seems I have less available time, BUT, how can that be? Or is it that I'm packing far too much into the time I have available? And my expectations are far too high? Mmm, probably, and something to mull over this week. And another thing I've been thinking about is moving the blog. Yes, I'm seriously considering defecting to Wordpress, and I'd appreciate any comments on the subject, good or bad. Perhaps you've done it? If so please share your experience, good or bad. Or if you're a Wordpress blogger please share any incites. 

Anyway, this week I'm busy working on my novel, and writing a non fiction piece, creating some flash fiction, and sorting out a schedule for December with some definite goals. 

The writing is flowing. The re-write in first person is going really well, and I've found my voice. It's taken me all month to get back in the routine of early mornings, but it's working.  It's also good to know the writing is 'done' and means I won't beat myself up. I'm hoping I can keep it going now.

This time of year is also when I think about what I want to do next year. Yes, it's time to think about goals, and make plans for 2018.

More details soon - have a good week. 

Sunday, 5 November 2017

You're Not Supposed to Sabotage Yourself!

Calke Abbey in November - Maria A Smith

Making plans means you get stuff done - which means you can relax and not worry about things. That's the theory, but it's easier said than done. Why? Because we don't stick to the plans we make, or the plan is flawed for any number of reasons, or perhaps the plan gets sabotaged. I'm holding my hand up. I didn't stick to my plan, and I did my very best to sabotage it! Read on and you'll see how I did it.

What I said I'd do and what I actually did...


# Blog - 2 posts, one to go live, and one to have in reserve - 2 hours - I managed 1 post in an hour.  The novel took priority. 

# Novel - Continue rearranging the novel in Scrivener  - 2 hours - Done in 6 hours 15 minutes, and it was very stressful! 

# Phoenix Writers Workshop Prep Work - Create two characters and a reason for why they are going away together - 1 hour  - Done in 20 minutes

# Phoenix Writers Group  - Saturday The workshop session  -  2 hours  - Done

On top of the above I also spent 2 hours putting together a writers workshop with a fellow writer, which we'll be rolling out at the end of the month. 

What I learnt last week...

I can push myself to get stuff done. I'm really pleased I've managed to rearrange my novel in Scrivener, it means I can start the rewrite, which is exciting, but also scary, and already that little devil on my shoulder is saying things like, 'are you really sure you want to change this novel to first person?' It's fear, I know it is, and I'm trying my best to ignore it. 

I committed myself to seven hours, but ended up doing 11 hours and thirty-five minutes in total. Which is fabulous. Great. Hurrah! Well no not really. 

I'm super pleased I achieved the target and got the novel preparation done, but, I worked into the early hours on several occasions, and worse, when I could of got on with my novel I procrastinated, made excuses and dodged doing it. Some of you will identify with it, the getting up and starting to clean things. Or tidy things, or eat things. Then I felt bad, and guilty, and stressed and ended up tired because I stayed up very late and made good my bad - I got it done. I don't want a repeat of the last week. 

Below is a list of the things I'd like to get done, and I'll be tackling things differently. I'm going to prioritise, do, stuff I need to do, and then fit the other stuff in if I can.  I must get to bed at a reasonable hour, and give time to other things that require my attention outside of writing.

You'll notice the things with times allocated are where things are taking place. I've purposely not put times against the writing. Let's see how I do with this revised plan of action for the week ahead.  


# Blog - Write 1 new post.

# Novel - Begin the rewrite, aim to complete a chapter. 

# Flash Fiction Challenge  - 50 Word Story

Writingchat  - 1 hour 

# Phoenix Writers Group - 2 hours

# 1-2-1 Mentoring Session - 1 hour

# Monthly Mentoring Group - 1 hour

Other random stuff I did last week...

# 2 x 1 hour pilates classes, and a lovely walk in the fresh air with my camera. 

# Lost 3lb at Slimming World! Feeling chuffed I got off to a good start. 

# Cooked a new recipe, Chicken Parmigiana & Spaghetti Bake which was delicious, and went down well with all the family. 

Best Foot Forward - Maria A Smith
Right, I'm off to start this weeks plan. Let me know how things are going for you?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Sunday is Prep Day!


Sunday is all about starting over for me, it's the day I put my plans into motion for the week ahead. 
Before I do that though, I should explain how the last week has worked out. 

You may recall I started a new regime, a new plan went into action - the last seven days have been all about paving the way for the total rewrite of my novel. I've wobbled, it's tricky trying to keep all the balls in the air and I'm sure many writers can relate to juggling lots of different things at once.

What exactly did I get done in between work, family, and life in general. Firstly, I enlisted the help of a good writing buddy. Wayne Kelly, who also wants to get his novel finished, and like me needs some extra motivation and encouragement. We've partnered up and agreed we're both going to have our novels finished by 30th June 2018 one way or another. It took quite a lot just to write that date down. 

What I pledged to do and what I managed to do...


# Blog - Brainstorm 12 ideas , and write two posts this week. One to go live and one to bank in reserve - 2 hours  - Completed, however it took me 3 hours.

# Novel - Rearrange Broken Child in Scrivener, in readiness to rewrite it from start to finish  - 2.5 hours. Although I spent the allotted time, it isn't ready to begin rewriting. 

# Writingchat  -Wednesday evening chat with other writers - 1 hour  - Done 

# Flash Challenge - 150 word flash fiction challenge for Saturday - 30 minutes. Done, but again it took me longer - 1 hour, 10 minutes.

# Phoenix Manuscript - Edit the work I'm taking to read out at my critique group on Saturday - 30 minutes. Done, but it took 1 hour.

# Phoenix Writers Group - Saturday morning - 2 hours.  Done

# 1-2-1 Mentoring Session - Motivation and help with Scrivener - 1 hour. Done

What I learnt this week...

I committed myself to too much, said I was going to do 9 hours, which was too ambitious and I knew it was at the time, it's a lot, but then it took me longer at just over 12 hours, and I felt overwhelmed, I'm not Super Women and I put too much on my writing 'to do' list, and alongside work, family life, running a home, social time and exercise it's not doable. So I ended up being short on sleep as I was staying up way too late to complete everything. 

I need to rearrange and commit myself to less, so that I can get more done. I realise I need to focus, and over the next few weeks I will have to make some hard decisions on what I'm going to give up. You're probably looking at this and thinking it's obvious what needs to go to give priority to getting the novel finished. 

Hopefully, I'm going to learn the lesson quickly of what needs to be done over the coming weeks, I will have to quit other writing projects and some of the other writing related stuff I do, and with that in mind, here's my plan for this week.


#Blog - 2 posts, one to go live, and one to have in reserve - 2 hours

#Novel - Continue rearranging the novel in Scrivener  - 2 hours

#Phoenix Writers Workshop Prep Work - Create two characters and a reason for why they are going away together - 1 hour

# Phoenix Writers Group  - Saturday The workshop session  -  2 hours

Apart from my writing progress I'm pleased to announce that I upped my exercise regime, I spent a tough hour in the gym with an instructor, did two Aqua classes, a stretch class and managed to go for a few twenty minute walks. Yes, I know, I could of spent this time writing, but actually I believe exercise is good for writers. It gives you more energy, combats health diseases and controls weight. It also improves mood and gives you an emotional lift. 

In other random news...  

# I went to the cinema to see The Snowman a crime thriller horror based on the novel by Jo Nesbo, it's very dark, and gory, but definitely worth a watch if you like that sort of thing.

# I started a new Audible book, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, which I listen to on car journeys. 

# I listened to an episode of the Joined Up Writing Podcast whilst exercising, and by the way, you can get a FREE Audible trial over there at the moment. If you've ever wondered about audiobooks, and want to try it out on your phone, iPod, or laptop etc - it's all very handy when you're peeling potatoes or running a mile or two, or if you're relaxing in the bath. As you do...

Also, just to add, the Joined Up Podcasts are FREE and are really useful as they feature a different writer each episode who talks about their own journey to publication, or they offer great advice on other writing related topics. Pop over and take a look  - give it a go, you've nothing to lose. 

# Had time to myself on Saturday afternoon to do some essential shopping, and now have a lovely comfy pair of Skechers boots in readiness for cooler days. 

# I had a lovely meal on my own in Carluccio's in Leicester after the shopping, all very healthy, and it was lovely to sit and people watch, as you do...

# I've rejoined Slimming World. Yes, I took a deep breath and walked back through the door Wednesday teatime. I need to lose weight, I'm carrying too much, and it's not good for my back. I was quite horrified how much I'd managed to put back on in the 5 months I've been absent. It's all down to my passion for cake! I can't cut it out, but I can limit it to one slice a week.

Right well, I've rambled on, and now I have to go off and start this plan. Do let me know what you're up to, and do share your tips with me on how I can balance things better. I really look forward to hearing from you.

I love pasta!  - Maria A Smith

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Operation 'Get Me Back on Track'

Back on Track 

This is operation Get Me Back on Track!

I've been missing from the blog for a couple of months - being honest, I desperately needed a break, I was worn out and couldn't keep topside of everything being thrown at me. Overwhelm mixed with something I couldn't put my finger on sapped all my energy. Not to mention a change in my working arrangements.

Feeling weary had become the norm, and oddly I realised I'd been getting bored with everything around me. I couldn't face blogging, or any other writing project, other than doing my morning pages, so I decided it was time to  take time out to rest, and think about what I really want to do.

Two months have passed and I'm feeling a lot better, and I'm back with a new enthusiasm. The rest gave me time to sort out what was pulling me down, and it wasn't what I thought it was...would you believe it, I was short on iron, which took me some working out, but was easily remedied with tablets. I've also drastically upped my water consumption too. It seems it's easier than what you think to slide into a situation where you're running on empty.

This post is my new beginning, I'm feeling re-energised, and I'm here with my new plan.

I've cleared the decks as much as I  can, and lists have been made for this and for that, such as when am I going to do any chores? What's for dinner for the next two weeks? When am I exercising? What about family and friend time? And what time is bedtime? Yes, all these things really do have to be considered, if you are making time for your writing.


That novel that was getting the better of me is going to be rewritten, and I'm going to share my progress here every week. So lets get on with it.

I've had Scrivener a while - it's a great piece of software aimed specifically at writers, once you get to grips with how it works it makes writing a novel so much easier. Luckily, there are several resources around to help you set up and get to grips with how to do things.  One of the best I've found is ScrivenerVirgin which is run by Anne Rainbow, who offers step-by-step advice on how to use this powerful software.

My first task is to get my novel draft into a new Scrivener project. Something I'm not feeling terribly confident over. I'll let you know how that goes next week.

In the meantime, I wish you all a productive week.

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.