The Blog

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Big Things Happen One Day at a Time

This year I am throwing myself headlong into the idea that everything (including the big things) happens one day at a time. My daily life has changed a lot since this time last year, and my time is no longer all my own. Instead, it’s become more important than ever for me to use the working time I have productively.

At any one time I’m usually juggling a whole host of projects. Some are for long-time clients, some are one-off paid projects, and some are more creative personal projects. It’s a fact of life that the projects I take on for clients will always come first. In the face of this, it would be easy to let my more creative projects fall dormant for a while. But, of course, I don’t want that to happen.

Instead, I’m focusing on keeping things moving forward one day at a time. Twenty minutes might not be very much time to work on a big creative project in itself, but twenty minutes every day will get things done.

I’m keeping myself motivated with the help of this poster by Elise Joy (pictured above). The little reminder to keep making progress is great, as is the satisfaction of crossing off each day. By the end of 2015, I’m hoping that more days on my poster will be crossed out than are not.

2015 for me isn’t about big, lofty goals. It’s about doing something every day to keep moving forward.

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20 Ideas to Turn into Blog Posts

1. Something you’ve learnt recently.

2. A productivity trick you use every day.

3. A list of resources.

4. Your progress on a big project.

5. A frequently asked question.

6, An unusual working technique.

7. A review of a favourite book.

8. A success story.

9. Something you tell people at networking events.

10. A review of a helpful website.

11. Your career history.

12. An industry secret.

13. The definition of a piece of jargon.

14. The reason you do what you do.

15. A review of an event you attended.

16. The blogs you read daily.

17. A key piece of advice.

18. The latest news from your industry.

19. Something you’re proud of.

20. A mistake you learnt from.

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Half a Lifetime of Blogging

This year I’ve thought a lot about blogging and what it means to me. I started my first blog in my early teens and I’m now twenty six, which means I’ve been typing away into these white boxes for literally half my life.

When I first started blogging the whole thing was anonymous. I didn’t blog under my real name and I would never have considered posting an actual photo of myself. The anonymity was very freeing, and, excepting any identifying details, I shared a great deal about my life, my ambitions and (of course) my teenage angst.

As I got older, the nature of blogging changed. It became more and more usual for bloggers to write under their real name and to share regular photos. I got in on this once I graduated from university and began blogging about life after my move to Glasgow. I shared real details about my life for the first time, as well as lots of photos. I also told people ‘in real life’ about my blog and encouraged them to read it, which I’d never done before. For the most part, I got really positive responses. My grandparents became my blog’s biggest fans.

Around that time, blogging also became a key part of my day job. I started blogging professionally, both on my own business blog and for clients. I wrote blog posts about everything from what I did at the weekend, to social media, to professional services, to catering. I also spent a lot of time talking about blogging offline. I convinced many of my business contacts that blogging was the way forward and taught them how to get started.

Nowadays, my perception of blogging has changed again. I still love blogging, but I see it more as something I want to do professionally. I love writing posts and articles for clients, and I also love sharing my professional experiences and literary adventures here on my own website. Perhaps I’m getting old (!) but in the past few years I’ve grown far less interested in blogging about details from my personal life.

All of us are living more and more of our lives online and I feel strongly that I want to keep many of the details of my personal life just that; personal. Though I use social media for work and love it, I’ve definitely cut back on how much I use it in my leisure time. This became particularly clear to me when Mr M and I found out that we were expecting our first child. We’ve tried to be mindful of how much we share about her online before she’s old enough to make her own decisions. (Though I will admit I do share occasional photos with a carefully curated group of Instagram followers. She’s very cute and I can’t resist completely!)

Over the years blogging has been a lot of different things for me. It’s been a creative outlet, a way to meet people, a source of income, a way to promote my work and a way to showcase the things that are important to me. Earlier this year I took a break from my blog while I dealt with the end of pregnancy and the first few months of motherhood. It was really nice to step back and for a while I wondered if the lure of blogging had finally come to an end for me. Turns out, it hadn’t. I soon found myself back typing into this little white box. After all, it’s hard to break the habit of (half) a lifetime.

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The 43 Day Editing Challenge

There’s an episode of Friends I’m sure you’ve all seen. It’s the one where Phoebe tricks Monica into hosting Thanksgiving when she doesn’t want to by trying to get her to ‘beat’ the previous year’s attempt. Phoebe says You’d be in competition… with yourself. Monica replies That’s my favourite kind!

In this scenario, I am Monica. I can be extremely competitive, but generally only with myself. It’s because of this that things like daily challenges really appeal to me. After the success of my recent Thirty Day Ideas Challenge I decided to take things one step forward. And just like that, the 43 Day Editing Challenge was born.

My aim was to create a challenge that would:

  1. Get me back into the habit of daily writing
  2. End my hiatus on my novel-in-progress
  3. Possibly enable me to finish the current draft by New Year
  4. Not be over ambitious

I started thinking about this on the 19th November, which gave me 43 days until the end of the year. Twenty to thirty minutes a day seemed manageable, so I decided to spend that time working on my novel-in-progress on each one of those 43 days. This should be enough time to finish the draft, but if it isn’t, that’s fine. (This is the point where I have to tell my inner Monica to quieten down).

One aspect of my previous challenge that worked well was having a physical way to track it. I’d read Austin Kleon’s advice on not breaking the chain months before and tried something similar in digital form, but I’d never tried it out with an actual pen-and-paper calendar. Turns out, having a calendar taped to the wall above your desk and putting an ‘X’ on each day you complete your challenge is a great way to stay motivated. As you can see from the image at the top of this post, I haven’t missed a day yet.

Twenty eight days to go…

Psst; I’m teaching an Advanced Writing for the Web course at the University of York on the 19th January. You can read all about it here

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November Round Up 2014

A few highlights from my month:

  • Finally finishing Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies. It’s a long one… but it was worth it.
  • Starting a new ongoing blogging project with a client.
  • Celebrating a Naming Day with family (helped along by The Flax and Twine‘s excellent cake).
  • Visiting the Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate.
  • Completing my Thirty Day Idea Challenge and jumping straight into a new writing challenge (more on that next week).
  • Spending autumn afternoons in the park with my daughter.
  • Resuming work on my novel-in-progress after a five month hiatus.

A few highlights from around the web:

How’s your November been?

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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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