Sunday, 9 September 2018

Making Time When You Have No Time, 0r Stop Being Lazy - Which is it?

Filling the 'Creative Well' in Oxford  - Maria A Smith 

The title of this post is long, I couldn't decide between 'Making Time When You Have No Time' which seemed apt until I got into it, then I thought, or is 'Or Stop Being Lazy' more the truth of the matter?

If you're feeling fed up and irritated because you aren't getting your writing done, reading through the points here may hold the answer to what's stopping you? 

Be Kind to Yourself - There's no point in beating yourself up about being lazy, it'll just make you feel worse, instead give yourself permission to draw a line under what's gone before and move forward. Do it now.

Take a Small Step Forward - Beat that inner resistance (you know what I'm talking about) by doing one small thing towards your writing project today. Getting started can seem the hardiest part so grab a pen and notebook, or your laptop and sit down for 10 minutes and write. Do it again tomorrow, and the day after, chances are you'll find you're writing for longer. 

Remove Distractions  - Whatever it is that's helping you to procrastinate, remove it. If it's the internet, switch it off. If it's your phone, turn it to silent and put it in a drawer. If it's because you're at home, go out, find a cafe or somewhere you're not going to start doing laundry or talk to passing family members.

Declutter Your Mind - If you've got too much going on you'll feel overwhelmed and it'll have the negative effect of making you want to do nothing. Step back, ask yourself, what can I cut from my work hours and what can I cut from my private time?
Question yourself, if you only had an hours free time today what would you do with it? Find your top priorities, see what you can eliminate, minimise or delegate. Examples are, teaching other members of your family to cook a meal, that's at least an hour saved, record your favourite TV programme for later, thus avoiding watching adverts and gaining extra minutes.  Stop ironing everything! Stop working through your dinner break for someone else.

Write a Short List - Prioritise three things you'll do today. Be it, write for 20 minutes, pay the electric bill and cut the lawn. Be sure to tick things off as you do them. Add three new things to the list tomorrow, and the next day, and if for some reason you can't get your three things done, just add them to tomorrows list. Before you know it you'll be playing a game with yourself to get all your tasks finished. Review your list at the end of the week. Feels good to see progress doesn't it? 

See Setbacks as Learning Curves - Going after what you want will inevitably lead to stumbling blocks now and again. Anything new or outside your comfort zone can fail from time to time. It's life, and proof you're living it well, so put it down as a learning experience and move on.

Hang Out With Positive People - Whoever you hang out with and spend time with will have an influence on your mood. Enthusiasm is infectious so surround yourself with positive people who make you feel good. Listen to uplifting podcasts and audio books, read articles and books that motivate you. Think about what you let into your mind every day and make changes if necessary. Get rid of anything toxic.

Appreciate Downtime  - Think about how you're going to spend time relaxing and recharging. It's good to take breaks and do something different but don't be aimless. Plan when you're going to watch that movie or take that walk, or catch up with old friends. Be conscious about what you're going to do, it'll make you feel more energised and motivated when you go back to your writing.  Downtime is truly beneficial and necessary.

Fill Up Your Creative Well - Never underestimate the power of your creative well. Make sure you're regularly pouring ideas into you well by getting out and about and seeing people and experiencing new things on a regular basis. Go visit the local museum, take a day trip to the seaside or walk about the local market. Book a theatre trip or go listen to the local talent playing live at the pub. You'll find a big payback in your creativity when you do new things - figure out what speaks to your heart and soul and do it often.

I hope you find the above helpful - now go create!

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Be Kind Every Day

Not Quite Singing in the Rain! - Maria A Smith
In recent weeks I've been out and about all over the place, at my own writing group, attended workshops at other groups and have also visited other writerly events. I started to think about how I'd been greeted, and how welcoming each of them had been, and how welcoming my own group is to others.

Something as simple as a smile, or making sure someone has a seat, or having a chat with them can transform their experience and possibly their life and yours too. You really don't know where kindness to others is going to lead. We're all wired to be kind, and witnessing kindness inspires kindness, making it infectious.

There's a blog devoted to acts of kindness, set up by Bernadette Russel, who is also the author of The Little Book of Kindness. In 2011, London was experiencing terrifying rioting and unrest, people were getting hurt and the news was full of bad things. Bernadette was deeply unhappy with things that were happening in the world around her, so in August 2011 she was in a Post Office queue and in front of her was a young man with his hood up, eyes down, someone a lot of people would not approach because right then they were scared. He looked like a rioter.

He thought his letter was free post only to discover it wasn't. He said he's come back later. Bernadette doesn't know why she did it but she paid his postage for him. He was so grateful, and happy. Bernadette went home feeling good about her actions, it was her way of coping, and she decided that she was going to be kind to a stranger every day for a year, and recorded everything on her blog.

The blog is testament that being kind is good for all of us, it can be fun and it can change the way you see the world and others.

Getting back to writing groups, here are my tips for spreading kindness.

# Give Kind Comments - I don't mean you should gush about  how good someones work is if it isn't, that's not it at all, what I'm saying is be constructive, but also find a few kind words, such as how their characters names fit the genre, or how well they've described something, or that what they've written is improved from when you last heard it. Tell them you're really glad they've bought their manuscript along today and you're looking forward to hearing more of it soon. Be encouraging.

# Be Kind to Unkind Folk - Always try to respond with kindness when someone is being unpleasant or rude, this will not only have a positive effect on you but it may also change their attitude and mood.

# Buy Someone a Coffee  - This never fails to make people feel welcome and it's an opportunity for you to have a chat with them and share what you're working on. Chances are you may have something to offer each other.

# Do Something for Nothing - Yes, that's right, offer to help someone set their work out for a competition, or offer additional critique on a piece of their work, or perhaps help them with a synopsis.

# Say You're Sorry - Occasionally all of us feel angry or frustrated, and we'll take it out on those around us. Be brave and apologise, it'll make the person you're apologising to and you much happier.

# Smile - It's contagious and simple, so go on, spread some happiness around.

# Volunteer - Offer to run a workshop, lead the group, buddy up with new writers or whatever else needs doing to help the group run smoothly. Volunteering is good for you, it boosts mood and beats depression.

When you're kind to someone you feel closer to them, and it also makes you feel happy. Don't believe me? I challenge you to go out today and commit an act of random kindness, and when you have, do share it here in the comments.

Oh and if you're wondering about the image above, like how is it relevant? It isn't, it's me over the Bank Holiday weekend returning from a walk. The weather was a washout, but I managed to stay dry in my new waterproof trousers and mac.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

How to Stop Feeling Guilty About Not Writing Enough

Hardwick Hall Garden, Derbyshire - Maria A Smith

Do you sometimes feel a bit of a fraud? Think to yourself, 'Who am I kidding? I'm not a writer, I'm not writing any words. I'm a failure, I should pack it in and forget about writing a novel.' This is a mindset amongst writers that is much more common than you think. Many feel they're failing, but it is possible to turn these thoughts and fears around.

Here are three hacks that will help you to overcome self doubt and allow you to celebrate your successes.


  • Shut Your Inner-Critic Up  - When the voice in your head tells you you're no good and you can't do this, you must tell it the very opposite. Say to yourself, out-loud if it's possible 'I can do this, I'm in control and I'm learning and growing everyday.' When the voice says you've messed that up, respond with, 'Okay, that hasn't worked, but I can do this!' Use self-talk to flip negatives into positives. It really works. 

  • Write Yourself a Reverse 'To Do List' - An Achievement List - Instead of a huge list of all the writing tasks you've got to do this week - write a list of all your past achievements, and put it on view somewhere where you're going to see it regularly. Stick it on the fridge, or on the wall near to where you write. You'll still need your 'to do list' for the week ahead but having your achievement list nearby will remind you that you're a writer and you can do it! 

  • Shift Your Perspective - If you're disappointed because you haven't done any writing this week, then you need to shift your perspective. It's a state of mind that can be shifted. Being disappointed or doubting yourself is a sign that you really care about something in the first place, and that's a positive thing. Start telling yourself about the brilliant things you've already done this week. It might not be three thousand new words on your novel, but you may have listened to a helpful podcast on outlining or helped a writing buddy out with their writing, or ran a writing group session. Sometimes, we have to make allowances, but there is usually something writing related that we have done. 
Break through those blocks that are making you feel inadequate, turn 'can't into 'can' and celebrate your successes, no matter how small. 


Sunday, 29 July 2018

And Relax...

Pixabay Image 
I got to thinking, what do writerly folk  do to chill out?
If it's your full-time thing - What do you do in your spare time? What makes your heart sing?

Perhaps you write in your spare time, and it may be all you do at any available opportunity, or perhaps there are other things you do too? I'm curious, personally writing keeps me sane in an insane world. I can't imagine me not doing it, but I've got a full-time job, so I do write in my spare time. Some would call it my hobby, but I don't like that word applied to my writing.

When I'm not writing, I'm reading or listening to audio books and watching movies on the big screen. I like to switch off and lose myself in the story, and try hard not to dissect how it's structured. Often I manage it but it's hard not to pick things apart.

I enjoy walking for health, and listening to music at the same time which makes me happy. I love getting away in my caravan to explore the beautiful English countryside, and I especially love a city break where I soak up the culture, check out art galleries, exhibitions and museums. My camera's never far away. Photography, like writing has mostly always featured in my life.

I've definitely got too many things going on that I love to do! And I haven't mentioned cooking yet, I usually cook at least a couple of new recipes every week.

Then I've a shortish list of things I'd like to do in the future. Crazy I know. I'm one of these annoyingly ever curious types. On my 'future things to do' list I have knitting, joining a proper walking group, growing things in pots, joining a book club and taking some sort of relaxation class. I'm quite mad! Oh, but that's another writerly thing altogether isn't it?

Do tell me how you relax - lets see if there are any similarities between writers, I suspect there will be a lot of common interests because we're all creatives darling.
Do tell what's on your future list?


Sunday, 15 July 2018

Planning Your Time - How Hard Can it Be?

Blue Skies Over Tenby - Maria A Smith 

Planning your time is often much harder than you ever dreamt or expected it to be, and if you don't get it right it can make you feel frustrated.  Here are some tips to help you get started and make the most of your available time.

# Know Your Goals - Decide what you want to do and make sure it's relevant. Each day identify two or three tasks that support both your short and long term goals and write them down somewhere. As you complete each task, strike it through with a coloured marker pen

# Separate the irrelevant stuff from what's important - Easier said than done and you'll need to learn to say 'no' to those around you - getting your priorities right will help you to move forward in the long term.

# Plan - Plan as much as you can, using online tools and calendars, or pen and paper and an old fashioned diary or 'To Do' list. Whichever way suits you better, do it!

# Delegate more often - This can be anything from teaching the children to tidy their toys away to getting your partner to cook a meal. Or simply declaring a 'Kitchen Closed' night. Any extra time you can grab is a bonus.

# Sleep - Don't underestimate the power of sleep. Most people need 7-8 hours a night to function. It's important to get enough sleep.

# Make it habitual - Turn your writing into a habit. If you can't write at the same time each day or each week, try saying to yourself that you'll complete a chapter a week, or a page a day. Get your mind into a habit of doing the same thing regularly.

# Cut it!  - Cut down on the time you're spending on social media or watching TV because both are time sucks, only you don't realise it until it's too late.

# Allow yourself downtime  - This is very important, our brains need to rest and recover. Make sure you take regular breaks to go off and do nothing, or go for a walk or a swim, or something else that feeds your creativity.

# Waiting Time - Don't get frustrated when you have to sit and wait at the dentist or the solicitors, instead whip out a pen and note book and get to work, even if it's only next weeks 'to do' list. Alternatively, read a book.

The above is by no means a comprehensive list, it's a start to help you work smarter, not harder.

Let me know what I can add to the above list - I'd love to know what works for you?

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Your New Fresh Start

Let's Make a Plan 


Hello and welcome to the First Draft Cafe.  I haven't said that for a while, but it feels good to reconnect. So this post is meant to get you thinking about what you've been up to in the last six months, yes, I know, non of us can believe we're half way through 2018, but the truth is, we are, so let's take stock.

How's that list coming along? You know, the one you made on January 1st? Along with lots of other good intentions. Are you still on track? Or has your focus shifted? Or have things gone totally out of focus?

Let's begin with plans that have changed. I imagine there are quite a few people who have altered their writing plans. Six months is a long time, and much can happen.

It might be that you don't want to write a novel anymore, perhaps you've discovered you want to write poetry instead, or your personal commitments have altered, or you've decided to go backpacking and can't fit your laptop in your rucksack. Whatever's happened, have you been able to push the re-set button and replan your writing life?

Or have things gone completely out of focus for you as a writer? It can easily happen. Or are you a little lost and just need to take some time out to re-focus on what matters to you now?

Whichever camp you fall into - have a look back at what you've achieved already in 2018. If it's a lot and you're on-track that's great! If not, all is not lost, we have six months to create. And to have something to show for our efforts at the end of December. So come on, make a start, take time out during this week to start making your new revamped plans. The sooner you do it, the sooner you can knuckle down and decide how your going to get there.

Find somewhere quiet where you can make yourself comfortable, and have a look back at those January notes. Ask yourself, 'Are they still relevant?' If they aren't then spend time thinking about what it is you really want to do. It's a tough question and one you might not have answers for right now, but you'll get a feel for something that may have possibilities, or maybe you'll decide there is something you don't want to do anymore.

Remember, you're the boss of you.

If you want to get things moving you will. Make a plan, and let this be your new fresh start. Like I said right at the beginning of this post, it's good to reconnect.

More about making plans in my next post. Have a great week folks and do share your thoughts with me in the comments, I look forward to hearing from you soon. .


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.


Making Time When You Have No Time, 0r Stop Being Lazy - Which is it?

Filling the 'Creative Well' in Oxford  - Maria A Smith  The title of this post is long, I couldn't decide between 'Maki...