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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?