“Hello, I'm Katie. I work with words.”
Writer. Blogger. Consultant.
Earlier today, issue 61 of Mslexia dropped onto my doormat. I’ve been a subscriber of the magazine for years now, and though it’s always a nice treat when it arrives; today’s was a little different.
As you’ve probably guessed from the image above, this issue contains a feature article written by me! Most of the work I do is for publication online, so it’s a bit of a novelty to see a piece I’ve written in a physical publication.
The feature is about creative writing masters degrees and what really happens after you do one. (Spoiler: there are no agents waiting on the stage ready to sign you when you collect your degree certificate). I included some of my own writing experiences, as well as insights from other masters alumni. Thank you to Jordana Hill, Nicola West, Sarah Jasmon, Anneliese Mackintosh, Carys Bray, Sarah Schofield and Cat Holman for kindly letting me interview them for the piece!Read More
There are a lot of things I have to think about as a freelancer that I wouldn’t if I was more traditionally employed. When you work for yourself you have to take on a whole range of tasks and responsibilities over and above your ‘actual job’. For example, in addition to working on writing projects, I also spend my working hours doing things like managing my finances, chasing invoices, responding to emails, marketing my services and recording data.
A lot of freelancers and self-employed people don’t enjoy these admin tasks. Everyone’s different, but personally I’m rather fond of them. I find that administrative and marketing tasks can act as a great buffer between more challenging client project work. I also often use these tasks at the beginning of the day to ‘warm up’.
However… sometimes I take this a little too far. I must confess that I have a habit of using administrative tasks as a sort-of-productive form of procrastination.
Of course, there’s a very key difference between administrative/marketing tasks and client work; I only get paid for the latter. Though marketing and administration tasks are a vital part of being a freelancer, spending too much time on them rather than billable work will mean you have less money coming in.
Bearing this in mind, I’ve been concentrating a lot recently on distinguishing more clearly between non-billable and billable work. Doing this has helped me to be more intentional about how I’m spending my working time and become more productive overall. As part of this, I’ve started a new habit that’s helping me to better measure my time.
I’ve blogged before about using the Toggl timer app to stay on task. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve adjusted the way I use the software slightly to keep on top of the billable/non-billable distinction. The program allows you to name individual tasks and then assign those tasks to a project. In the past I’ve recorded work in the following format:
Task: Creating initial content plan for website | Project: Client X Website Copy Project
Recently, I’ve simplified things a bit and am no longer being quite as specific when naming tasks. Instead, I’m using this format:
Task: Client X Website Copy Project | Project: Billable Work
By assigning all the work I’m doing between just two ‘projects’ (Billable Work and Non-Billable Work), I’m able to see at a glance how I’m distributing my time and therefore how effective I’m being. One of the reasons I particularly like Toggl is because of the automatically generated charts and data it provides. So far this week, my project pie chart looks like this:
As you can see, I’ve got my administration-procrastination habit firmly under control! Changing the format of how I name things on Toggl has simplified things greatly and given me a really easy visual way to check in on how effective I’m being with my working hours. I was already a huge fan of the timer productivity method, but I think this new trick has pushed me over the edge to total convert.
Toggl, please never leave me!
A few highlights from my January;
A few highlights from around the web;
How was your January?Read More
In the few months before Christmas, I spent very little time actually in my office. That’s not to say I wasn’t working, just that I was making any excuse possible to work elsewhere. More often than not, ‘elsewhere’ was the living room sofa.
There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with working from the sofa when you’re a freelancer. After all; your clients can’t see you, it’s warm and comfortable, and the quality of the work you produce there is the same as at your desk. However, there was only so long I could keep avoiding my office before I had to address why I was doing it.
That moment came on the morning I started work again after the Christmas break. I headed into my office ready to jump right in, only to find that the room had become a kind of dumping ground over the previous few weeks. After a thirty minute tidy-up session… I had to accept that the room wasn’t any more inspiring once it was clear.
The real problem was that the room was too cluttered with furniture. After a bit of mental re-arranging, I decided that the main culprit was my desk. Technically, it wasn’t a desk at all but a dining table. I bought it when we lived in a tenement flat in Glasgow and I had a huge bay-windowed space to work with. Four years on, in our current Victorian terrace, it was taking up an unnecessary amount of space.
For me, a cluttered space is not a productive space, and I knew I needed to do something about it. I paid a visit to the Ikea website and browsed their desk options, tape measure in hand. Fifteen minutes later I’d found a desk that was a much better fit: both for the space in my office and for what I actually needed to use it for. Once I switched my desks over, I was able to move the rest of the furniture round in the office and make the room feel much bigger and much more usable.
I moved from this;
And I haven’t spent a single day working from the sofa since.
Two years ago I wrote a short story called Nutella as part of my Creative Writing MA course. I rarely write short fiction, and this particular piece languished on my hard drive for quite some time before I decided to do something with it.
Happily, the story is languishing no more. Last week, it was published on the online journal Long Story, Short.
You can read it here.
(Want a synopsis first? It’s about Bastille Day, loneliness, the French countryside, cultural confusion, being an au pair, making a big decision and eating Nutella by the spoonful).Read More
I’m going to say it, 2014 is looking like a pretty exciting year.
The biggest piece of news I have to share is this: I’ve signed up with the University of York as an Associate Trainer! I’m going to be running a course for businesses titled Writing for the Web.
All the details on the course are up on the University of York website. It’s a half day course that will be running on 1st April. The interactive session will cover;
The course costs £90, with various discounts available for eligible businesses.
Perhaps I’ll see some of you there!
It’s been about a month and a half since my last book round up, and since then I’ve added nine books to the total. I’m now at 52 and am approaching last year’s full total of 60. There’s nothing I like more than beating myself at a challenge, so I expect I’ll be taking reading pretty seriously over the next six weeks!
Here are my nine most recent reads:
The Newlyweds Nell Freudenberger
I picked this book up as part of a bumper Amazon-giftcard order and got started on it pretty much as soon as it arrived. It was one of those books I found myself reading at lunchtime (I’m sure you’re familiar with the “I’ll just read for fifteen minutes” justification/fib). I thoroughly enjoyed it right up until the end, where it seemed to finish rather abruptly – though it’s quite possible that I just wanted more!
Sharp Objects Gillian Flynn
A friend of mine leant this to me after we both enjoyed Gone Girl. Just like Flynn’s later, more famous offering, Sharp Objects is an unputdownable read with fascinating characters and lots of twists. It’s a fun read with very dark undertones.
Instructions for a Heatwave Maggie O’Farrell
I’m sorry to say it, but this wasn’t my favourite Maggie O’Farrell novels. It had all the ingredients of a great story, but I just didn’t think it was as satisfying as her other books. A few days after finishing this, I found myself wondering how it was all going to end… only to realise that it already had.
Novel About My Wife Emily Perkins
Related story: when I tried to buy this book, Amazon told me I’d bought it in 2008. I had no recollection of either ordering or reading it, so I looked into the order history. As it turns out, I did indeed order it five years ago, but cancelled a day later. Why? I have no idea. However, I’m very glad I put in a second order! If you’ve read it, you’ll probably know exactly what I mean when I say it was crazy but I loved it. If you haven’t, trust me when I say it’s well worth picking up.
Rivers of London Peter Grant
A friend and I met for coffee and ended up stopping by the library. She picked this out of a pile of books she was returning, and I took it out right away. I’m really glad I did. Rivers of London is the first part of a trilogy about a very niche department of the London police force: the department in charge of monitoring crimes of a supernatural nature. Sound like fun? It was.
The Testament of Mary Colm Toibin
I was taught by Colm Toibin on my Creative Writing MA course, so I was very interested to read his booker-nominated newest novel The Testament of Mary. It’s a short book, but it more than makes up for it’s brevity in intelligence. I was really impressed that Toibin managed to make a novel about key religious figures into a novel about, quite simply, a mother and a son.
Save Me The Waltz Zelda Fitzgerald
This book is what’s known as a literary curio. I found an old Penguin copy of it in a charity shop in Hebden Bridge and saved it to read on our anniversary trip to Dublin. This book was written by Zelda Fitzgerald (wife of F. Scott) in the span of six frantic weeks. Impressive! The novel is largely auto-biographical and deals with the life and marriage of the Fitzgeralds. Interestingly, Zelda drew on many of the same experiences for this novel as her husband did for Tender is the Night. I loved it, but then, I’m a sucker for flapper girls and Zelda is pretty much queen of them all.
At Bertram’s Hotel (Miss Marple) Agatha Christie
This was the first Agatha Christie book I’ve ever read. Besides being a little surprised that Miss Marple didn’t actually do any of the investigating herself, I rather liked it. The 1950s setting was fun, the detail was great and the prose flowed effortlessly. I probably won’t be collecting Christie’s entire back catalogue any time soon, but I’ll definitely be reading more.
The Registrar’s Manual for Detecting Forced Marriages Sophie Hardach
I put my hands up: I chose this book because of its (excellent) cover. It caught my eye as I was looking for a third book for a three for £5 offer, and I just couldn’t resist it. Luckily I’m able to report that this novel was just as good as its artwork! The interwoven story of a young Kurdish immigrant and a Parisian registrar was very nicely done, and the language was just gorgeous. Definitely recommended!
Over to you… have you read anything wonderful recently?Read More