Sunday, 31 December 2017

Time Out

The last few days of 2017 have been restful and I've had time to reflect on all that has happened over the last year. It's been a roller coaster ride and I'm now looking forward to 2018 with much enthusiasm. I've spent time doing a life audit, taking stock of what I've done and what I want to achieve going forward, and I'll be sharing it with you tomorrow.

Thank you for sticking with me in 2017 and I'll see you on the other side.

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.

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?

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 

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...