The many benefits of creativity

Charlene's painting
This is Charlene’s beautiful work in progress. Isn’t it delightful?

My friend Charlene wrote something on Facebook on Friday that really made me think about creativity.

She wrote, ‘I love finding little bits of time to paint. I put my headphones on and listen to a book, while I add some more colour to my painting. I have found it is extremely beneficial to me when I am anxious’. 

I feel exactly the same way about my writing. It is easy to forget and to get hung up on doing other ‘more worthwhile things’ but maybe there is nothing more worthwhile than being creative.

Time is very precious to me right now. I have so many projects that I want to make happen, and I also have editing work that I need to do to get some money in my pocket. I have found that over the last few weeks the admin and the editing and the other little jobs have taken priority most of the time, and writing, my creative side, hasn’t had much of a look in.

But on Thursdays I take two hours to head to the café and write. And that time is set aside, it does not get taken up by anything except the writing of the novel, no matter how stressed I am about anything else. I have committed to others to be there and writing, and they are keeping me accountable. Those two hours are purely writing time.

It is amazing how great I feel after spending that time writing, it grounds me, it slows down my rushing anxiety, it helps me back into my own skin again. It reminds me of what I have made all these changes in my life for. And it reminds me that once this busy time is over (and it should be over by next week) I must set aside more time for writing once again.

The act of creating is so beneficial for us. Therapeutic, even.

I think we remember this when we are doing our own art, creating our own thing, writing our own book, practicing our own musical instrument. But when we see art in a gallery, or read a good book, or attend a concert, do we think about how many ways that art has benefitted society?

Originally, and I hope this is generally true, the creative work has benefitted the creator. We are meant to create and I think in most cases the act of creation has brought joy to the person creating.

Then by being in the world it brings joy and peace, or enthusiasm, or a cathartic experience to us who are viewing or listening or dancing to it.

And finally, by being sold or licensed or borrowed it brings good to our economy.

Creativity is a cornerstone of who we are as human beings. I encourage you to find your own creative outlet and make time for it. You may do it just for yourself, just to bring yourself that peace and joy. You might share what you create with friends and family and bring them joy too. Or you might find that what you create can be shared with an even wider audience. I think that whatever you do, the benefits are totally worth the time invested.

I’d love you to share with me what you do creatively. Tell me in the comments, or write to ruth@ruthamos.com.au and send me a picture or a soundbite or a paragraph. I’d love to see how creative we can get about creativity and have a long list of creative endeavours for next week’s blog.

And if you want to know what I’ve been so busy doing you can head to www.ruthamos.com.au/podcast and have a listen to the very first episode of my new podcast A Quiet Life. I’ll be launching on iTunes and Stitcher very soon, God willing, and you will be able to subscribe and hear an episode each week.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support my writing and the creation of my podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and support me for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

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Talking Books with Teenagers

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It was my great pleasure and privilege to be the visiting speaker at the book week assembly for our local Christian secondary school today. I enjoyed being part of an assembly that focused on books and reading. I was happy to see students getting prizes for being the year’s best borrowers from the library. I especially enjoyed the costume display. People had gone the extra mile for sure. It was great to see a Huckleberry Finn, an Olaf, a Where’s Wally (that’s Waldo if you’re an American), an Anne Boleyn … and that was just the teachers. Donations for the day went to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

I thought that, instead of my normal blog, you might like to have a read of what I had to say:

It’s great to be back here. I spent my primary school years here at Calvin. I remember playing kick square, and my great love of Oliebollen started here with the Oliebollen festival.

I wrote my first book in grade 3.

I have written and published two more books now. This one is a murder mystery, and this one is a memoir and self-help book.

I guess you could say that I am now a story teller.

We are all story tellers.

When you meet up with everyone at recess and say, ‘You’ll never guess what happened in science class!’ you are a story teller.

And we love to listen to stories. Whether you end up working as

an engineer,

a plumber,

a scientist,

a hairdresser,

a teacher,

a stay at home parent,

whatever you end up doing, I guarantee you’ll end up telling stories.

We tell stories around the dinner table, the board room, the class room, and some of us write them up into books

and those people are called authors.

I love to read stories. I love reading books. But even more than that I love to hear the stories of real people. Your stories.

You are far more interesting than the most interesting fictional character. Your life is more complex, your reasons for doing things more fascinating, your actions more noteworthy.

One of the reasons I write is to tell the stories of the people I know.

The book I’ve written is fiction. It’s a murder mystery, and that part is totally made up. But in that book I put bits and pieces about people I have seen and known.

I was still working at the university when I was writing this book. I would go to conferences and instead of taking notes on the talks, I’d be taking notes of the people. I’d think

“Oh look at that guy, sitting there taking up three seats. I’ll write him into my book.”

Or

“I can’t believe my eyes, that girl is in the conference but she’s watching a movie with her earphones on, I’ll put her in my book.’

I also put in my book some aspects of the life story of one of my dear friends. In fact, the whole mystery is built on her story, her time studying at the university. She didn’t have a happy time and I was able to weave that into the book, to tell her story in a way. I mean, it’s very well disguised. But she saw it.

One of the biggest triumphs for me with this book is that when my friend read the story —- her story —- she cried. My story helped her to get over her own story and to receive healing. And that was pretty special.

Reading books can do that for us. Reading, whether it’s fiction or not, can help us see the story in our own lives.

Because we are in a story.

You are the main character of your own story.

And your story is part of a bigger story.

I’m a bit strange, when I’m reading a story I often love the bit at the beginning where everything is ok before the thing happens that makes it all go wrong. And I love the bit at the end where everything is sorted out and they all live happily ever after.

But of course, it’s the middle of the story that makes it worth reading.

  • It’s the bit where the hobbits have been captured by the orcs that leaves us on the edge of our seats, furiously turning pages, unable to go to sleep.
  • It’s the part where Aslan has been killed and all hope is lost that has us crying and wondering what the Pevensie children will do now and whether they’ll ever get home again.
  • It’s the bit where our masked hero is mostly dead and the princess bride has gone through the wedding ceremony and we can’t see any way that things could turn out well.

Those are the bits that make the stories worth reading.

Though sometimes I like to just turn to the end to make sure it really will work out alright before I go back and plough my way through the middle of the book.

Until the day we die, each of us will be living in the middle of a story. We’re never going to be living in the happily ever after part.

We’ll be living in the part of the story where the hero doesn’t know if he will survive, where he is battling the monster and just needs to keep going.

We’ve been given a sneak preview of the end of the book and it’s great to know that it will all turn out well in the end,

but in the meantime,

we’re stuck here fighting a battle against evil forces, trying to find where we fit in the plot, trying to figure out who we are.

And the great thing about our story is that it’s one of those complex ones. One of those amazing stories where there are many, many plot lines that all connect in different places and all weave together to make a beautiful end product.

What you do in your part of the story affects others in their parts. It’s a “choose your own adventure” where your adventure links in with everyone else’s.

Nothing we do in our lives is wasted, it all fits into the plot. And you have the choice of which side of the story you are on.

Joining with God’s side of the story means that you are part of something bigger than yourself. It means that you can trust God with the outcome of the story, that whether it looks good to you right now, or bad, He will work it out for good in the end.

One of the best things about writing my mystery was that I got to tell my friend’s story, just a bit of it. I think that every single one of us has a pretty amazing story to tell,

and whether you tell it in a book,

or just live it,

your story is important.

Your story is weaving into the bigger story that God is writing.

Make your life story worth telling, make it amazing.

Fight your battles knowing that you are a part of a bigger army.

And relax in knowing that the end will be worth the fight.

Reporting Back

I’m sure you’re all desperate to know how my time-management went last week.

But first, I want to tell you about an interview with Brené Brown that I read during the week. It’s a good article and I encourage you to read it.

Here’s the bit that stuck out to me. She was talking about words that wholehearted people were using when they were talking with her. The words that describe what we want life to be like.

These were the words: Vulnerability, authenticity, creativity, rest, compassion, boundaries, joy.

These words describe well what I want to get out of my writing life. These are the things I want in my life. I couldn’t have said it better myself, and so I’m not. I’m pointing you to Brené.

There was another list of words too. Words that we want to stay away from: Comparison, perfection, status, exhaustion.

These two lists sum up why I have changed my lifestyle to be what it is now. But these bad habits, these bad aims are not limited to university life, or to any kind of life. These are habits and attitudes that can creep in on anyone at anytime. And the good list are things that can be part of any life, no matter what you are doing or where you are working.

I just love these two lists. I want to write them out and stick them up where I can see them regularly and be reminded to stop comparing myself to others, beating myself up with perfectionism, or looking for status, and to start exercising my creativity, allowing myself to rest, setting good boundaries, living in joy, being authentic and vulnerable.

 

And now to the time management.

Having two hours for writing blocked out in my calendar worked really well from Monday through Thursday.

On Monday in my writing time I wrote an ode to the blank page, then I remembered my dream journal (I write my dreams in it and it sits next to my bed) and I leafed through it for inspiration and came up with a story idea. On Tuesday I started writing the story, taking my time (I had two hours to fill), and concentrating on things like describing all the senses – how did the room look? Smell? Was it cold or hot? And so on. On Wednesday the story took hold of me and changed dramatically from where it started. After Thursday’s writing I had a very exciting idea about a plot twist. It was really wonderful to see the story take shape, to see that I can have ideas, to enjoy the process.

On Friday I was so tired I went back to bed in my writing time and just slept.

The same with the editing business time in the afternoon. That worked really well. The work I’m doing at the moment doesn’t require all that much brain power so I listened to an audio book while I worked. It meant that I got a lot done because the plot of the story pulled me along. Again, Friday didn’t work so well, but I still got some done.

The thing I’m having difficulty with is the in-between time. The big jobs are getting big time allocations but the smaller jobs are still fiddly and annoying. And while I love writing, I get tired after churning out 2000 words first thing in the morning, and then it’s hard to give the attention to, say, the emails that I really should read, or to paying the bills. Still, I mark last week down as a success and I’m working towards a similar plan for this week. I’ll keep working on how to fit the little fiddly things in. It has to happen.

I guess the two parts of this blog are not unrelated. It has been wonderful to put boundaries in place, to turn off the wifi to my computer and dedicate two hours in the morning to unlocking my creativity. And to give up on perfection in the story I’m writing and to not compare myself to others but just to enjoy what was coming out as I allowed myself to be authentic, vulnerable, and creative. And also, to rest on Friday when rest was what I needed most.

May you also have a creative and restful week, with good boundaries, and much joy.

Getting Started

the writing den
This is my writing space. I have been working on finding space for all my chemistry textbooks. The shelves are looking nice and neat now. Time to get words on the page.

So far in this new life of mine, I haven’t been very productive on the writing side of things. I have many excuses – time in LA, family time, Moz and Caleb being on holidays, and so on. And I have been productive in other areas – lots of work on the editing business, sorting out the bookshelves in my den, getting the housework done – all of these things are worthwhile but when they are taking the place of writing then they start to look suspiciously like procrastination.

There are many different ways of getting yourself to write. There is the method of word count – writing 1000 words a day, or 500, or even writing 50 to get you started. Or choosing to sit at your desk until you have accomplished your 1000 words, or 2000 or whatever. There is the method of time blocking (see below), there is the method of heading to a café to write, or using the library, both of which are especially good for productivity if there is no wifi access, I’m told. There is getting up at 4.30 am to write, or staying up after every one else has gone to sleep, neither of which appeal to me very much.

Many (if not most) writers don’t have any choice as to when in the day they write. When I was working full-time I wrote for fifteen minutes at the beginning of each day and that’s all I had time for. Others write in their lunch hours, or in little snatches of time around looking after children.

I now have much more time to write. I don’t have unlimited time, I need to make sure I spend time on my editing business as well. But I have much more freedom as to when I write. I can choose (to a degree) how I will organise my day.

I’ve been thinking that it would be a good idea to block out time to dedicate to writing. This is the time blocking method I was talking about earlier. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. My problem has been one of perfectionism. I haven’t blocked out any time to write because I want to block out the perfect time.

Up until now I have written mainly in the mornings. First thing, before work. But now that I don’t have set times for work, I can decide exactly which hours of the day to dedicate to writing time. But I haven’t been sure which time to choose.

What if the best time for writing is in the afternoon when I have finished off some of the annoying but urgent business and home tasks? What if I need to be writing in the morning when my creative thoughts are freshest? What if straight after lunch is best, the dreamy time when I can get my self-editing mind out of the way? Or what if I put the writing time in my calendar in a place where I would be better off exercising, or editing, or answering email? I don’t want to block out hours and get it wrong. I don’t want to have an imperfect day when I get less writing done than I could if I got the timing just right.

And of course, this type of thinking leads to no writing being done at all.

So for the week ahead I have bitten the bullet and blocked out some hours for writing each morning. I have also blocked out hours for the editing business in the afternoons. In between I will do housework, have coffees with people, exercise, and make meals etc. If this week doesn’t work well, then I will try a different schedule next week.

Sometimes when I’m being a perfectionist I just have to make a choice and see what happens. The other option is to spin around and around trying to find the perfect option and to never start at all. If you are facing a choice where there is no obvious right answer, and you’ve got yourself stuck in the perfectionistic spin like me, I encourage you to make a choice and give it a go for a while. Let me know in the comments how it went.

Incidentally, while I’ve chosen the morning hours for writing next week, I’m writing this at 5pm on a Saturday and it’s flowing really well. So there might be a bit of adjustment necessary, or I might just have to try different styles on different weeks until I find a method that works very well.

And there’s always the possibility that my writing process will change and that different things will work on different weeks. I need to make sure I give myself permission to change the routine when it’s appropriate. But in any event I need some routine to get me started.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Book Launches (plural)

It’s been a big week. But so much fun.

A week ago today I launched Deadly Misconduct to a horde of fans, well, a horde of friends and family who are so super supportive. It was a humbling and exciting and joyous night and I thank everyone who came and everyone who has bought the book.

I know that I have one reader in Tennessee, one in (the dark night of) Vanuatu, and one who was reading somewhere in the ocean near Fiji. It was so cool to have people post photos on Facebook of my book ‘in the wild’.

But that’s not the big news.

I’ve been keeping a secret.

A secret project.

Well, what I’ve really been doing is attempting not to confuse people by launching two books at once.

Yes, the big news for you, my wonderful blog readers, is that yesterday I launched a second book. A book written for you.

My year of saying no

My Year of Saying No, the book based on the blog series from the second half of last year, has now hit the stores.

To put this book together I combined the blogs that I wrote last year, and then I wrote a bit more about saying no and put it all into the book. Caleb, my illustrator, digitised his comics to make them pop and then drew four more for your viewing pleasure. And I also added some memoir, and some excerpts from my own journal to show people what the journey of saying no really was like for me over 2017.

Book 2 Launch
This is the awesome Jenny introducing me as I launched The Year of Saying No last night.

So there you go, my career as an author has truly begun.

Everything is available on Amazon, iBooks, and Kobo.

And I also have a new website for my non-fiction: www.ruthamos.com.au as well as the website I already had for my fiction www.rjamos.com. And if you’re a Twitter person, then I’m on Twitter now as well @aquietlifeblog.

Are you confused yet? I tell you, it’s getting a bit confusing for me as I try to launch two different author brands plus an editing business. I’m hoping that at some stage I will have the chance to sit down and just sort through everything I’ve done and make sure it works. In the meantime I hope that all my links work for you and that you can purchase and read the books if you would like to.

If you wish you can also send me a message at Ruth@ruthamos.com.au and I can get a signed copy to you for $10 plus postage. This offer will only be open for a short time.

So that’s my news for the last week. I want to say thank you so much for all your support and love. And I’m looking forward to sharing more blog posts and books with you in the future.

Much excitement!

Deadly Misconduct - Preview

I’m really excited. Truly. I don’t think I’ve been this excited before. Well, maybe, but only once or twice.

The thing I’m really excited about (and you may have noticed this if you’re my Facebook friend) is that I’m about to launch my first novel. It’s called Deadly Misconduct, it’s a cozy mystery, it’s available on Amazon for pre-order and on iBooks too, and it will be up on Kobo by the end of the week. There will be a print-on-demand paperback version too. It launches on the first of May.

Yes, I’m very excited.

Friends ask me, ‘Did you always want to write books?’ and the answer is, I don’t know. I really don’t.

I have always loved reading books, but writing? When I thought it through, I realised that I believed that writing a book was everyone’s dream. Isn’t it? Doesn’t everybody want to write a book?

I’ve asked people about this and while a few have said yes, (and then we’ve gone on to have fabulous conversations about writing practices and books we love and so on,) other people have looked at me like I’m mad and said that no, they don’t want to write a book.

There was a time, way back when, that I was looking for a hobby. I tried a whole lot of things – painting, drawing, cooking, long-stitch, cross-stitch, sewing, knitting, crochet, all sorts of things, but nothing really filled the bill. Nothing gave me the satisfaction I wanted.

But when I write, that fills the bill perfectly. It gives me energy, it stops the words from going around and around in my head, it satisfies me and at the same time gives me hunger for more. It’s something I enjoy, something I can do, something that also allows me to do all the reading that I love doing as well. Reading is research, writing is creating; I am happy.

Since I’ve started writing this blog and writing my novel, I have more life in my life.

So who knows if it has always been my dream? But finding out what you love to do, what you’re meant to do is, in my experience, amazing.

I think that others get the same experience from art and crafts, from running, gymnastics, dance, from singing, and playing musical instruments. There are so many creative endeavours, so many things that give life. I think people can also find their special thing in doing maths or science, in solving problems, in programming, or accountancy. Just because it doesn’t look creative to more artistic types doesn’t mean anything.  In fact, if you can make a living from your special thing, all the better, in my opinion.

If you haven’t found the special thing that you love to do I encourage you to keep searching. I didn’t make it to this writing thing until my children had grown up and could look after themselves. I’m really not sure if I could have done it before then.

What I’m really trying to say here is:

You do you.

Don’t try to be anyone else. Keep curious, keep experimenting, keep looking for what you can give to the world. Enjoy the process and find your special thing. It’s worth it!

And of course, I’d love to have you buy my novel if you enjoy a cosy mystery. But no pressure 🙂

Deadly Misconduct by R.J. Amos

Research to die for?

Alicia is determined to return to academia after time off to care for her sick mother.  An unlikely conference in sleepy Hobart town throws her into the path of Professor Conneally, who offers her a dream job in Cambridge.

It seems the universe is on her side – until the professor drops dead at the conference dinner. Alicia’s convinced it’s no accident, but no one will believe her. Can she find the culprit before the conference is over? Or will she lose all her friends, and the opportunity of a lifetime?

Pull on your slippers, get cosy in your favourite chair, and spend an hour or two solving the mystery in beautiful Tasmania.

Reasons to Journal

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(This is not a Moleskine journal, it’s an old picture, but it is a Bic pen)

One of my very favourite books is Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster. One of the reasons I think I enjoy it so much is that most of the book is written in the form of letters that Judy Abbott writes to her mysterious benefactor. Now yes, I want a mysterious benefactor myself, but it’s the slightly naughty delight of reading someone else’s mail, of seeing right into Judy’s mind, that’s the thing I love.

Another such book is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, and Welcome to the Working Week by Paul Vitos (written in email rather than letters, with a fair bit more cynicism and swearing). And then there’s always The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.

All of them have this fun feeling of reading over someone’s shoulder, of seeing a new insight through their eyes.

I’ve been getting the same feeling lately through reading back my journal from last year.

I’m not being totally self-indulgent – I’m writing a book about 2017 using my blogs and I thought it would add some interest if you all (dear readers) had some insight into how I was feeling as the year went on. Ok, maybe I am being self-indulgent but I’m getting a lot out of it anyway.

Journalling is important to me. I don’t remember why, but I do remember that in grade 10 I decided to write a journal entry every day. I remember very clearly sitting in bed in the dark at 1am (I shared a room with my sister and couldn’t turn the light on) writing a few lines on a new page knowing that I would not be following the lines, I couldn’t see the lines, but I had to complete my journal entry for that day before I went to sleep.

I tend to follow rules like that. If I’m journalling every day, then I’m journalling every single day. No excuses.

I’m easier on myself now, I don’t make myself write every day, but I write most days because it’s so helpful.

Sheridan Voysey has some tips for journalling. He says that you don’t have to write every day. That you must not let anyone else see what you’re writing – it is just for you (write in code if necessary). That you date each entry (he records the time as well and I’ve started doing that too). That you write freely and honestly. That you keep it simple and that you write anywhere. His podcast on reasons to journal is worth listening to.

Why do I journal?

I mistrust my memory and love to have a record of my life. I think that part of me feels like I’d lose my life if I didn’t write it down.

I find that journalling slows me down enough to know how I’m feeling. I can be running around (either literally, or inside my own head) and stop to journal and write: ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know what I’m feeling. Oh boy do I feel tired.’ And then I go nap. Journalling gets me in touch with myself. It helps me to see if the problem I’m experiencing is physical tiredness, or just my own narkiness, or whether I have an issue I need to sort out with someone else. In other words, it stops me snapping at Moz when the issue I need to deal with is my own tiredness.

Journalling stops the hamster wheel of thoughts inside my head. Once it’s written down, it’s written and I can move on. If I leave the thought in my head then it can swirl around and never get dealt with.

And finally, I can look back on my journal and see where I’ve been.

I tell many newlyweds, especially those I know who marry young like Moz and I did, about how comforting it was to read my journal from our first year of marriage. You see, no matter how bad things were in the next few years, it never got as bad as the first year. (Our first year was hard work, but worth it).

And looking back at last year I can see objective evidence that the days were hard and busy but I can also see the record of cosy nights in front of the fire, peaceful walks along the beach, little pockets of peace and joy through the hard times. It gives me strength and encouragement for what I’m walking through now. Which, by the way, is nowhere near as bad as last August.

It doesn’t take much to journal, you don’t need a fancy book or a fancy pen. I have a very fancy Moleskine journal at the moment – a Christmas present from my parents – but I have a motley arrangement of journals on the bookshelf to my left, all colours and sizes that I’ve used through the years.

The pen I use is a Bic biro. Nothing fancy there! But I like the way it writes. But you know, you can use anything. Some people like to use a really fancy pen, a fancy journal, do drawings and so on and make it a special part of their ‘me time’ and others like me just like to get the words down on the page. Whenever and wherever I find myself.

Some people like me keep all their journals. I hope to go through my boxes soon and find the one I wrote in in grade 10. I think it will be interesting to read. Others like my mother-in-law destroy them. That can be really cathartic. A nice journal fire when you’re saying goodbye to some particularly dreadful part of your life could be an excellent symbolic gesture.

Words are my thing, obviously. But I think a lot of us can find joy in journalling.

Do you keep a journal? What have you found best or worst about it? Or have I tempted you to try? Let me know in the comments.

What makes you a Success?

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I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago but didn’t put it up because it’s January and EVERYONE is writing about goals and resolutions and so on right now. But I’m going to post it anyway, because it’s what I’m thinking about as I start this year. My birthday is in January, so as well as the big New Years Day thing, I also have the next year of my life to think about. January for me is all about goals, dreams, plans for the year ahead.

And what it means to have those plans succeed.

Success. What does it mean? More importantly, what does it mean to you?

How would you define a successful year? What makes you successful in your career? What does success mean in your family?

I’m a bit of a list addict. When the weekend comes I like to write a list of everything I want to accomplish in the two days. My list will have bigger tasks like ‘change the bed linen’ and smaller tasks like ‘clean up the kitchen’ (alright that can also be a big task – it depends on the day), and even hobby tasks like ‘read book’ or ‘bake cookies’.

If I cross all the tasks off the list by the end of the weekend I judge it to be a wildly successful weekend. But what if I don’t manage to get to all the tasks? Is the weekend a failure? Am I a failure?

I listened to a podcast interview by Steve Laube a literary agent, about success. He was talking about how writers define success and how it can be a dangerous thing. He said that some define success by sales numbers, ‘I’ll be successful once I sell 50,000 books,’ or by income, ‘I’ll be successful when I make $100,000.’ But, he says, what if you only sell 45,000 books? What if you only make $98,000? Are you a failure? If you haven’t ticked over that success milestone does that mean you have failed?

His point was that it is better to define success as the impact that you have on people – that even if you impact one person’s life for the better by your writing, you have therefore been a success.

We can apply that to our general lives too. We might never be millionaires, we might not ever be able to be Prime Minister, or a movie star, or the CEO of our corporation, or any of these high-impact people, but if we can impact the lives around us in a positive way on a day to day basis then we can also say that we are successful.

I agree. Money or fame or power are not good measures of success. They are more like gaping bottomless pits that suck you in and suck those around you into the abyss as well. At least, that’s what it looks like from the outside. I’ve never really been close enough to find out.

So yes, doing good to others, spreading the light however we can, reaching out and making anyone’s life better, that is a good measure of success but there’s a risk with this kind of thinking.

The risk is that we stop trying. We can be tempted to not push ourselves, not try hard, not grow, because all we’re doing is just trying to help the people around us, trying to shed light, and isn’t that enough? Just being a nice person? If that’s the definition of success then why bother training? Why bother learning? Why bother developing our artistic skills? Why bother with academic excellence?

But I believe excellence is something worth reaching for. Learning and growing and improving is a life-long journey and if we stop doing any of that then we stop living. Or at least we stop living a life filled with any richness.

My dream for my writing career is that I can make a living by what I write. That is what I think would constitute a wildly successful writing career. It is what I’m aiming for. My big shining city on a hill that I’m toiling towards. This is not something that I expect to tick off my list any time soon, but it’s the thing that will keep me striving for excellence, will keep me training and working.

And failure in my writing career is defined solely by this:

  • I fail if I stop writing.

So in between the failure and the big shining city there is a wide plain of moderate success:

  • I am successful if I put aside the time to write.
  • I am successful if I hone my skills, train in character development or descriptive writing.
  • I am successful if I bring a book to publication.
  • I am not a failure unless I fail to do that which I am called to do.

I think you can see from this list though that the goals that are on the success pathway are goals that are within my control. Goals that depend on me, not on external forces. Goals like exercising every day, rather than a goal of losing 10 kg which has a lot of factors you may not be able to control. Goals like mastering that piano piece or practicing five hours a week, not goals like winning Australian Idol. It is easy to fail if your definition of success depends on something that you cannot have a hope of controlling. Some people call these systems, not goals. I’ll probably write another post on this in the future because I think it needs some unpacking but just bear it in mind right now. When I talk about never failing, I’m talking about reaching for goals that depend on your own input, not externally defined goals.

Success and failure are not binary concepts. Success is not an on-off switch.

Rather there is a continuum from failure (which I think is only final once you’re dead) to wild and absolute success. And every step you take towards your shining city is a successful step. Every setback is just that, a setback. If you pick up and keep going, you have not failed.

 

I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments. What do you see as success? What do you think about goals? What are your goals for the new year?

Changing Dreams

We interrupt our regularly scheduled transmission to bring you an important announcement.

TL:DR I am finishing up my contracts at the University of Tasmania over the next eight months and going on to new and exciting things.

I thought it was about time that I make this Facebook official. It’s beginning to feel very official. Very real.

I have said already on this blog that this is the Year of Saying No to everything. Well, it turns out that one of the things I am saying no to is my job.

At the beginning of this year I wrote in my journal, “I’m not going to keep going as I am. I’m done…Ready to move on.” I have taught the foundation chemistry unit at the University of Tasmania for ten years, for three semesters a year. And I have taught into a couple of other third-year units as well. I have also worked in research at the University of Sydney and at the University of Tasmania for seven years combined. I have supervised  one honours student and co-supervised three PhD students. And no, I don’t have tenure, I don’t have a permanent position. My work has ranged from casual by-the-hour work to as much as a two-year contract. If you want to know how I feel about that, you can read this post.

This year, I was ready for a change, and there were a couple of different options available for me to apply for at the university. But as the year went on, I felt more and more that it was time for me to try something new. You see, I want to write. I want to produce novels and write non-fiction books, and generally put my creativity out into the world. But I also want to live, I want to be healthy, to spend time with family and friends, and to exercise. And while others may be able to hold down a university position, and write, and have a life, I know I can’t. I’ve tried.

I have read a few books this year about how to get the writing business going and most of them advocate waking at 4am to write before work, going to work and doing a good day’s labour, and then coming home to work on the business more after work hours. They say that it’s stupid to give up your day job until you are able to support yourself with your dream job. I can see their point, but I have two problems with that scheme for myself.

One is that I’m already struggling to have enough energy to do what I already do. Even with all the changes I’ve made to diet and exercise, and with figuring out and fixing my thyroid issue, I’m still exhausted. This may be due to certain aspects of the university job. I don’t know. But the bottom line here is that I would be taking my time away from my family and letting them down if I put writing first and added that workload to the work I’m already doing. I’m not willing to sacrifice my family’s well-being or my physical and mental health for a writing career that may or may not happen.

Another issue with the aforementioned plan is that the university system already wants me to work from 4am until 10pm for my academic work. To truly ‘make it’ in academia it needs to be your whole life, your passion. You need to be willing to work when you’re on holidays, to work over the weekends, to stay until 4am getting an experiment right. Now, there are several articles I’ve read that show that you don’t have to sell your soul to the university to ‘make it’ as a professor but I feel like the pressure to work long hours is there and that I would be fighting against the trend if I were to treat an academic career like a ‘9-5 job’ and even taking on that fight is exhausting. But to try to run an academic career and build a writing business at the same time? Hats off to anyone who can do that.

I was talking to a creative writing lecturer earlier this year about my book and she asked, “How are you able to write and work in academia?” and I had to say that I couldn’t. I couldn’t keep it up. That I was leaving the uni behind. She looked relieved, to be honest. For her, writing is her academic career and good on her. She couldn’t imagine being able to write as well as do the uni thing. And neither can I. Not on a long-term basis.

So, what is my plan?

I have nixed the idea of becoming a stand up comedian. Just thought I’d let you know that.

The teaching contract I presently have will finish at the end of December and after that I will have two days of research a week until somewhere around the middle of next year. That gives me about eight months to figure out if I can make a living working for myself. If I can’t then I will be looking for another job around the middle of next year. We shall see.

I would like to write about 2000 words a day. Working towards both fiction and non-fiction books. Writing generally takes 5-10 years to pay off if you’re going the Indie Author route (which I am). Yes, 5-10 years. Not a short-term investment.

In the meantime, I hope to make money by doing some English language editing of scientific journal articles and theses. That is, taking work written by people with English as a second (or fifth – these people are incredibly skilled) language and correcting their English. I am in the middle of writing a business plan for this idea and I’ll be setting up a website in due time and trying to get that off the ground. It’s something I really enjoyed when working with my PhD students, and something I have also done voluntarily for an open access journal. But now I’d like to make it pay.

That is the plan. And my teaching for the semester has all but finished so in a couple of weeks (after exam marking) I’m going to be able to put decent hours into the new stuff and get it underway. I’m pretty excited about it.

I also started crying in the car as I was heading home after my last lab class. My last ever lab class.

So you could say feelings are mixed. I’m laying down one dream, and picking up another.

Anyway, that’s the news. I wanted to let you know.

Quitting

Today I quit one of my jobs. It’s been a long process – the process of quitting this job has lasted over a year.

The job involved working after-hours as a tutor in a small business that tutors primary and high school students in literacy and maths. It’s an excellent business, the tutors do excellent work, and it’s something I totally, whole-heartedly believe in. There is also a huge need for tutors – there is always a waiting list for the business. And tutoring is something I can do. I know enough maths and science to tutor people through high school and beyond, and I could probably do english at a pinch.

All of the above is what made quitting this job so very hard to do. But I’m pretty sure that quitting this job was right.

And before you ask, it’s not about the money.

It’s about the tired.

You read a lot on the internet about how being busy is a sickness of our age. How when you ask people how they are, they answer, “busy” and they wear it as a badge of pride.

I am done with being busy. I don’t want to spend my days stressed because I can’t fit everything in. Or at least, I want to be busy with things I love, rather than things I ‘should do’ or ‘would be good at’ or things that are an answer to a great need but not a good fit for me.

I want to be free enough to be there for people when they need me. I want to have enough energy to give to my children when they need to talk, and to have that important coffee with a friend, or a new friend that I’ve just met, and to hear their problems and to help out.

I also want time to read, to think, to write, to follow my dreams.

I am a writer, I want to be an author. In my head that means publishing books, yes books plural, though I’ll use the term author after one book is published, don’t worry. I am finding that the writing process is hard work. It requires a functioning brain. It requires energy. It is not something I can squeeze in to my life in the free evenings, or for half an hour on the weekends.

For me, writing a novel requires (at the very least) working a little on it every day in the morning, and then giving it more time over the weekends. It also requires me to make sure I am healthy, that I eat well, sleep well, and exercise, so that I don’t wake up feeling foggy and unable to think. And that requires me to evaluate every single activity I undertake because I can’t do all the worthy things that come my way and still write a book.

And, you know, that’s hard. Because right now, I have no evidence beyond this blog that writing is something I can do. I am investing hours, days, in something that may not pay off. I am also spending time learning the business of writing, and it is common knowledge that the vast majority of writers in Australia earn about $10,000 from their writing each year so I may never make a living from my dream. I am very unlikely to make big dollars.

The process of investing in my writing is making me re-think all my ideas about success. I have never been one to judge success by the size of someone’s income, but I have definitely judged success by the number of people reached and helped. If you use that analysis to weigh up my writing against the tutoring job I just quit then I am moving in the wrong direction.

Or I am taking a huge leap of faith.

I also feel incredibly selfish. If someone suggested that they would pay me to sit in my little den and write all day, every day, I would jump at the chance. Writing is my happy place. It’s what I love to do. So turning down a worthy job like tutoring, stopping helping children so that I can sit in my happy place more, that’s selfish, isn’t it?

But maybe it isn’t. Maybe God made me with this inclination to shut the world out and think deeply and write about my thoughts. Maybe sitting alone in my lounge room and tapping on a keyboard is how he wants me to spend my time. Maybe it’s not my job to solve everyone’s problems but just to do the best job I can at what I love.

Or maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Only God knows what will come of my writing. At the moment I’m going to keep going and trust him with the outcome. And keep working my other day job.

If anyone wants to pay me to write though – you know where to contact me!

If you enjoyed this post and would like to hear more about my writing journey as it comes to the pointy end with my first novel (a cosy mystery), please drop me a line on rijamos@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my newsletter list. I’ll still be writing posts on this blog but the newsletters will be more writing focussed – what I’m doing with my writing, and what I’m reading myself. I look forward to hearing from you.