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The Thirty Day Idea Challenge; How it Went

I write this on what is technically day 31 of my Thirty Day Idea Challenge. In other words, it’s finished! For those of you who want the quick evaluation; it was a great success. Those of you who want to hear a bit more; read on.

To recap, I was inspired to do a thirty day challenge to get back into the habit of thinking creatively, both in terms of fiction and non-fiction. As it was my first foray into a challenge after a summer off from writing, I didn’t want anything that would be too complicated or time-consuming. Instead, I decided to start slowly by challenging myself simply to come up with an idea for a piece of fiction, a blog post or an article  every day for thirty days. I planned to record them the old fashioned way with a pen and a notebook.

Thirty days later and I have six ideas for blog posts, fourteen articles, five short stories, four novels and a sitcom. Many will stay just that: ideas. Others will turn into bigger projects.

I think this challenge worked so well because I didn’t set out to do the impossible. Long time blog readers may know that this is something I have struggled with in the past. This time, I took on an achievable challenge and as such I have come out of it feeling good and with a really solid base of ideas to work on. I’ve also got my brain back into the habit of thinking of new ideas, which is pretty handy for someone who writes words for a living!

As planned, I recorded all thirty ideas in a notebook that I kept beside my bed. This worked really well, and I’m planning to keep adding ideas to the notebook as and when they come to me. Hopefully the notebook will become an inspiring resource to use when I’m on the lookout for an article to pitch, a blog post to write or a novel to plan.

I’m definitely hoping to start a new writing challenge ASAP. I’d like to do something to help me finish the current draft of my novel-in-progress. The first challenge will be to come up with boundaries that are realistic! I’ll let you know how I get on.

If you’ve done a thirty day challenge recently, I’d love to hear about how you got on.

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20 Things I’ve Learnt About Writing Fiction

1. The first draft doesn’t need to be good, it just needs to be written.

2. Momentum is a very valuable thing.

3. If in doubt, the details can be added in later: just keep writing.

4. A fascinating situation is not the same thing as a viable plot.

5. You can’t afford to wait for inspiration.

6. Writing on paper can bring out different words than writing on a screen.

7. Give yourself time before you start to edit. Space is important.

8. Spending twenty minutes writing is better than nothing.

9. The meaning needs to be on the page, not in your head.

10. It’s easier to edit on paper than on a screen.

11. If it’s too hard to explain a concept to your reader, the concept is probably too complicated.

12. Good critique partners are valuable things.

13. If something feels meaningful to you as the writer, the reader will pick up on it.

14. Quality writing requires your full attention.

15. It’s much easier to find excuses not to write than to write.

16. If finishing a draft is anti-climatic, it’s usually because you know how much work there is still to do.

17. New ideas will always seem much more exciting than your work-in-progress. That doesn’t mean they are.

18. Research is valuable, but it’s easy to get too caught up in it.

19. Finishing will always take much longer than you think.

20. There are no real tricks: you just have to sit down and write, over and over again.

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October Round Up 2014

A lot of things have got a bit out of sync this year (having a baby will do that to you!) and my monthly round up posts became a casualty. I really enjoyed writing these posts in the past – both as an opportunity to reflect back on what I’ve done the previous month and to share some excellent online finds – so hopefully you’ll let me off for picking them up again (almost) without comment.

A few highlights from my month:

  • My new website launched! This is the fourth website design that I’ve had since I started freelancing, but the first that has been professionally created. I’m really pleased with it. Thanks Lazenby Brown!
  • I taught my second Writing for the Web course at the University of York. There are no further dates scheduled for that course as yet, but I will be teaching an Advanced Writing for the Web class in January.
  • Mr M and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary. My, that came round fast!
  • I travelled to the Lake District and Scotland to visit family.
  • My to read pile started to grow again! I’ve just finished The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, I’m currently making my way through Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel and next on my list is We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler.

A few highlights from around the web:

How’s your October been?

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The Thirty Day Idea Challenge

Over the summer I took a break from creative writing projects. Though I think the time off probably did me a lot of good, I’ve found it hard to get back into the right mindset. I believe that creativity breeds creativity, and this concept has definitely been true for me in the past. I really wanted to find a way to jump-start my brain back into full-on creative mode.

I’ve been reading a lot about thirty day challenges recently, and I was particularly inspired by this post by James Greig and decided to try a challenge myself. However, I wasn’t sure that  a daily word count would work for me at the moment. This was for two reasons:

  1. Because I’m a little bit busy at the moment and a daily word count would probably be too ambitious.
  2. Because I wanted a challenge that would get me back into the habit of being creative across a number of different projects, including my novel, short fiction, my blog and creative non-fiction pieces.

After a bit of thinking, I decided on a thirty day idea challenge. Basically, for thirty days I’m challenging myself to come up with a creative writing idea and a short outline. This could be a hundred word plan for a blog post, a brief outline for a short story or a quick idea for an article to pitch for publication elsewhere. It’s not supposed to be something that takes more than five or ten minutes daily; it’s designed to get my brain into the habit of producing ideas again. As an added bonus, at the end of the thirty days I’ll hopefully have a bank of usable ideas to get started on.

As for how I’m going to record these ideas, I’ve decided to go analogue. Physically filling in a notebook page a day seemed like it would be more motivating than doing the same thing digitally. I’ve dug out a notebook from my stash and have titled thirty pages for thirty days.

So, here goes day one. I will let you know how I get on!

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Five Apps I Use Everyday

I love apps. More specifically, I love apps that revolve around productivity or creativity. I always think that the next app I download will be the one that will make me the most productive and creative person it’s possible to be. Mainly, they don’t. After all, apps are just software, not digital miracles.

That said, there are a lot of apps that do make me more productive and more creative. Some I use obsessively for a couple of weeks, others stick around much longer. I wanted to blog about five apps that I use every day, and have been doing for a long while.

Nozbe

I’ve spent years looking for the perfect to do list app. I tried a lot of different ones, but none of them quite did what I wanted them to. Enter Nozbe. I’ve stuck with this app for around ten months now, which is a long time in app-years. I probably only use a fraction of the available options, but it does what I want it to do brilliantly. It has also totally cured me of my to do list app compulsion, which is definitely a good thing!

Psst; I’ve blogged about Nozbe and how I use it here.

CalenMob

I use an iPhone, my husband prefers Android. In smartphone terms, this makes us pretty incompatible. Luckily, there are ways to make the two systems work together, particularly when it comes to our schedules. We share calendars in Google Calendar, and CalenMob is the best app I’ve found for using G-Cal on apple devices (in my experience, iCal doesn’t work as well). I use the pro version to avoid the adverts.

Instagram

I mainly use social media for work. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy it, because I do, but I have made a conscious decision over the last year to live more of my life offline than on. Saying that, I do have as much of a desire as the next person to occasionally take photos of my family and my food and share it with friends. I’ve kept my Instagram account private with just a handful of followers so I can share to my heart’s content without worrying about what potential clients might think of my fourth cake photo in a row.

Toggl

Ah, Toggl. I don’t remember how I decided that timing myself working might make me more productive, but I’m very glad I did. Because, well, it does. Timing my work with Toggl helps me to focus on one task, waste less time, prioritise billable work, and get better at estimating and quoting.

Psst; you can read more about how I use toggl to work smarter here.

Feedly

When Google Reader shut down, I was pretty gutted about it. Luckily, it only took me a week or two to discover Feedly, which emerged in its place. I’ve been using it ever since. I love how easy it is to use, I love the clean design, and I love being able to curate content and create a reading experience that inspires me.

I may regret asking this question… but go on, fuel my addiction: what apps do you use every day?

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New Baby, New Website, New Normal

Life is looking a little bit different since I finished work for the summer in mid July. Mr M and I welcomed a tiny baby girl at the end of that month, and then spent the following weeks learning how to be parents, surviving on very little sleep, and gazing lovingly at our new little bundle of joy. Slowly, we started to realise that the world was indeed still turning, and we began to settle into a new kind of normal. At the end of the summer Mr M went back to work, and I started to explore what my professional life would look like post-baby.

Though a lot of things have changed, a lot of things haven’t. I still love words, I still thoroughly enjoy my job and I still (sort of) have the freedom to set my own schedule. I also adore hanging out with my new daughter. Luckily, the aforementioned freedom means that I don’t have to choose between my job and my family. Over the past few weeks I’ve been dipping my toes into being a work-from-home-mum.

It seems that I’ve been blessed with a well-behaved baby as she is (currently!) reacting well to my attempts to organise us into a routine that works for us both. It’s very early days, but we’re doing what works for us which, right now, is this. In case you’re wondering, my top productivity tip for parents of small babies is to use a baby wrap/sling (we have a Kari-Me) as it means you can carry them close and have your hands free. Side note: it’s amazing how quickly having free hands starts to seem like something to be marvelled at.

You may have noticed that my return to work has coincided with the launch of my brand new website! In almost five years of working for myself, this is the first website I’ve had that I didn’t build myself. I’m sure you’ll agree that this new one is much better, and a great example of why these things are best left to the professionals!

All this is to say: I’m back! I’m available for projects! My baby daughter is wonderful! I’ve got a new website and I hope you like it!

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On Training;

I taught my first training course in Glasgow aged 22.

It was for Inspiring Scotland, an umbrella organisation that works to support a wide range of charities. I’d done a lot of one-to-one training before and a lot of presenting (thanks to years of drama classes and Student TV) but it was the first time I’d put those two skills together. I had valuable expertise to share and had put a lot of work into my training resources, but it was still a little daunting to be one of the youngest people in the room and the trainer. Luckily, it went brilliantly and over the following weeks I taught two more courses for the organisation, one in Edinburgh and one in Inverness. After that, I was hooked.

In the couple of years that followed I was involved in teaching numerous other workshops and seminars. I thoroughly enjoyed this kind of work for two reasons:

1. because I love sharing knowledge and ideas

2. because it provided the perfect alternative to what I spend the rest of my working life doing: sitting in a room on my own staring at a laptop.

Of course situations change, and when Mr M and I moved down to England and I started working on a masters degree alongside my freelance work, I took a break from training. I really missed it though, and when the opportunity arose last year for me to work with the University of York professional development and training department to develop a course on Writing for the Web, I was thrilled.

We planned the first course in April, and it sold out a few weeks in advance. The attendees were from a wide range of different professional backgrounds, and it was great to share ideas and discuss possibilities as a group for taking their online content further. Thanks to the enthusiasm of the attendees, I have two more upcoming courses with the university: a second Writing for the Web half day course on 15th October and an Advanced Writing for the Web half day course next January (date TBC).

I’m also now working with another great training organisation: The Training Gateway. I’m running a similar Writing for the Web course with them next week in London, which I’m really looking forward to.

When I started freelancing, the possibility of working as a trainer wasn’t something I even considered. However, I’ve always been open to new opportunities, and that first course in Glasgow turned out to be one of the best things that could’ve happened to my career. I’m always going to love sitting at my laptop experimenting with ideas and writing but, as it turns out, I also love sharing my ideas and expertise with other people.

 

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Coming Up; Maternity Leave

If you’ve seen me out and about in York over the past few months, you’ll probably have noticed that I’ve been sporting a fairly sizeable bump. The plan is for that bump to turn into a baby sometime around the end of July.  I’ll be taking a two-month break from work and (most probably) the internet to work on teaching the new arrival about productivity and the proper use of the apostrophe.

I’ll be on maternity leave from 14th July until 15th September.

I do have some availability before then, so if you’ve been thinking about getting a wordy project off the ground, now might be a good time to get in touch. Alternatively, I’m more than happy to chat about future projects and pencil in time for September and beyond.

Obviously babies require a lot of time and attention, and when I return to work in mid-September I’m not going to be working as many hours as I am now.

I feel hugely lucky to have a career that allows me to continue doing the job I love on a non-traditional flexible schedule. As it happens, I have some exciting work-plans on the horizon, including a second Writing for the Web course with the University of York in October, so it looks like it’s going to be a big year ahead!

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20 Inspiring Quotes from Children’s Books

 

It’s been a long while since I shared an infographic on my blog (the last one was this one on untranslatable words), but I spotted one earlier in the week that I fell totally in love with.

 

I’m at a point in my life when I’m pretty much exclusively caught up in ‘grown up’ books. I stopped reading children’s books a decade or more ago, and I haven’t yet reached the point of getting back into them with children of my own. When I found the below infographic, however, it reminded me just how much magic I’ve been missing out on.

 

Perhaps it’ll remind you, too.

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Thanks to quotery.com for creating this!

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2014; 16 Books In

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Back in March, I confessed that I’ve had a rather lacklustre reading year so far.  A month and a half later… I’m not sure I’m doing much better! On the bright side, I have managed to make my way through six books since my last reading round up,  and I wanted to share my progress.

Hood Emma Donoghue

This was probably my favourite book of the year so far. I read Donoghue’s best-selling novel Room for a book club a few years ago, but had no idea she was such a long-standing novelist (her first novel was published in 1994). When I spotted a copy of Hood in a second hand book shop a few months ago, I was intrigued. It’s very different to Room, but excellent. It’s about bereavement, sexuality and secrets, and is probably best described as a very thoughtful read. 

The Carrier  Sophie Hannah

I’m a fan of well-written crime novels, and Sophie Hannah always fits the bill. This was a quick read and a lot of fun.

Noughts & Crosses Malorie Blackman

This was the April pick for my book club. I’m not quite sure how I managed to reach 26 without ever having read this: especially considering I spent about 50% of my teens with a book in my hand. It was a really interesting read and definitely sparked off a great discussion at our book club meeting. As with all YA fiction, I probably would’ve enjoyed it more if I’d read it ten years ago, but I’m glad not to have missed out altogether.

French Children Don’t Throw Food Pamela Druckerman and How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm Mei-Ling Hopgood

Yep, that’s right, in the last six weeks I’ve read not one but two non-fiction books. I also really enjoyed them! I’ve definitely been inspired not to avoid non-fiction quite so actively in the future.

The Little Friend Donna Tartt

It seems almost sacrilegious to say this… but I’m not sure how much I enjoyed this one. The prose was gorgeous and the level of detail was stunning, but for me there was something missing plot-wise. I can be very picky about endings, and this one wasn’t as satisfying as I’d have liked. I’ll definitely be picking up one or two of Tartt’s other novels in the future though (I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard fantastic things about The Goldfinch).

What have you been reading recently?

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