New Life

 

It’s a wintery day here in Tasmania, and as I write this the rain is pouring down and it’s snowing at every so slightly higher altitudes. The people moving into the unit just above our house have picked a great day for it. They’re going to have to move furniture in between rain squalls and I’m guessing they don’t even have a kettle unpacked for coffees while they are waiting.

The rain is falling but the birds are singing their hearts out. I can hear them just outside my window, their little voices so loud that I can’t even hear the rain.

It’s a reminder that spring, and with it new life, is just around the corner. The cherry trees are blossoming, and the bulbs are up and flowering. The sun is rising earlier and earlier. We’ve made it through the dark winter and into the snow season and there are some lovely warm days happening too.

I have been moving into my new season of life for about two months now. I thought I’d give you an update as to how it’s all going.

I’m still finding my feet. Sometimes I feel like I may never find them. The ground changes every week, every day, and at times it even changes during the day. Editing jobs come in with urgency and must be completed immediately, or they don’t come at all and I need to figure out which of the other things on my list is of the greatest importance. I am still working out how much time to spend on marketing, and how best to do that; how much time to spend on investing in the future by writing novels and other books; how much time to spend investing in people by having coffee with them.

However, I am loving this life.

On the weekend I had a coffee and chat time I’m calling a Writer’s Salon. This is a time that I’m putting aside for people to get together over a cuppa at my place and just chat about writing. I’ve held two of these sessions now, and I will keep holding them at about six-week intervals. They are great fun and I’m learning from those who come, and I hope they are learning from me too, or at least, feeling encouraged to keep going with their writing.

The Writers Salon was Saturday afternoon, and Saturday evening there was a showcase of songwriters called Word in Song that was held just down the road at our church. This was the seventh such showcase, and each year I have been tempted to go, but too tired, or too busy. But this year I went. I sat and listened to these creative people share their talents and it was great.

Two months ago I would not have been able to cope with two such people-intensive activities on the same day. Two months ago I’m not sure that I could have done either of them. Saturdays were for recovery, for hiding away from the world and getting myself some energy back.

Now I can join the world again. I have enough energy from spending time alone through the week to allow me to spend time with people on the weekend. To be with people Saturday afternoon and evening, and then to go to church on Sunday and still enjoy it.

I probably will never go to every event that is on. I still need more alone time than most people (at least I think I do). But this weekend, as I sat in the pew and listened to the lovely music, I felt like I was rejoining the world and it was wonderful.

I really had wondered as I wrote ‘My Year of Saying No’ and as I planned this new venture, whether it would ‘work’. Whether I would get energy from working like this, whether I would be able to do more reaching out to people, more sharing with others. Or whether I was doomed to always be stretched beyond my emotional resources. I am pleased to say that two months in I am filled with hope that the dreams I have had are achievable. With the time I have alone, I am energised to reach out to others. The Writers Salon, and work I am doing on starting a podcast (more on this later), and the talk I gave at Calvin earlier this week, and the fact that I could go to the Word in Song showcase and support my friends there, these things have been desires of my heart that have been waiting for some energy to allow them to happen. Now they are happening. I am blessed.

Sometimes when I think about my businesses my stomach contracts as I wonder if I’ll be able to keep landing jobs and keep this lifestyle going. But for now, I’m enjoying what has been provided for me. I’m giving grateful thanks. And I’m putting the work in (by myself, in the comfort of my little home office) to keep this state of affairs going for as long as possible.

I was listening to a podcast called Simple by Tsh Oxenrider (yes, that’s Tsh without an I) and was really encouraged by something she said in conversation with Emily P Freeman. I thought I’d share it with you.

They said that if there is something within you that you really want to do, something that won’t go away, then name it. Define it. Don’t just let it sit inside you, worrying at you, making you sick. Figure out what it is, name it.

Then, when you name it, you can either let go of it and work through the grief, if it’s not going to happen. Or you can take steps towards making it happen, and towards blessing others with this thing that you’re heading towards.

You’re not having a tantrum, telling the universe that you ‘have to have’ this thing. You are simply being honest about what you want.

So I guess that’s what I’m doing now. Working through, and towards, what I really want. And hopefully blessing people on the way.

I thank you all for your support and for the prayers of the praying people who receive this blog.

To never miss a blog post from me you can either sign up to follow the blog on WordPress, or you can sign up on www.ruthamos.com.au to my newsletter and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You can also find my book ‘My Year of Saying No’ on that website, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

 

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What are you saying “yes” to?

Rocks in a jar

Life is full of possibilities.

If you read any self-help book, any blog on entrepreneurship, any cornflakes packet, you will see that you have to trim down those possibilities. You cannot do everything. You cannot have it all. At least, not all at once.

And it’s hard work to figure out what to say yes to. At least it was for me.

I tend to think that other people’s ideas are better than mine, that they’ve thought it through more, that they know what’s going on more than I do.

So when someone asks me to do something, I tend to say yes.

But doing what everyone else tells you to do is exhausting. You just cannot fit it all in. At some point, some decisions have to be made. And as you are the only one living your specific life with your specific burdens and challenges and your specific energy levels, you are the one that needs to make the decisions about what your life holds.

You know the analogy with the jar and the rocks, pebbles, sand, and water? I have always had trouble with that analogy. Putting sharp, angry rocks in a glass jar? What happens if you push too hard and the jar breaks? It took me a while to get past that but I saw a video the other day with some ping-pong balls instead of the rocks, beads instead of the pebbles, and then sand, and then beer. And that helped.

So, just in case you are one of the three people in the western world who have not heard this analogy, this is how it works:

The jar is your life. The ping-pong balls are the big things in your life. You need to put the ping-pong balls in first: family, friends, health care, time with God. The beads are the slightly smaller but still important things: your job, house, car, looking after those. The sand is everything else. The small stuff: surfing Facebook, watching TV, that sort of stuff. The beer is just to remind you that even if your life is full, you can still have a beer with friends (I’m not so sure about that last part, I’ve definitely had times where life was so full that a beer with friends would have pushed me over the edge, but maybe that’s just me).

It took me a while to understand something about this whole example (and I may be the only one who has trouble with this) but the thing is not to just state that the important things are ping-pong balls, but to schedule time to allow these ping-pong ball things to happen. Not to just say to yourself, “family is one of my top priorities” but to actually map out in your calendar that four nights a week you are not doing anything other than spending time with your family, that Saturday afternoon is for a family car trip, and that Sunday all the family will be going to church and eating lunch together afterwards. Schedule time for the important things first, then put in time for the less important things, and let the sand take care of itself.

Ok, so this is a helpful place to start, but for me I still had difficulty with it – what are my ping-pong balls? What exactly are the important things?

I started on this saying no journey because of two things: I was sick and tired of always feeling sick and tired, and I had decided I wanted to make time to write. I needed to clear my schedule so that I could exercise, and make and eat healthy food, and rest, and I needed to clear my schedule so that I could follow my dream and write a book.

Now, cutting down my TV viewing, and my social media time was a good start. (Notice I didn’t say cutting out, just cutting down – some relaxation is important). But it wasn’t enough.

If I kept saying yes to party-plan parties, all the church activities, dinner with everyone, social events, work opportunities and so on, I would have neither the time nor the energy to write anything. I needed some way to divine what belonged in the ‘important’ category.

I made a mind-map. You can tell how serious this is by the fact that I made a mind-map. I hate them. Lists are my thing. But I tried a few lists and they didn’t quite work, so the mind-map seemed the way to go this time.

The segments of my mind-map were: Family, church, work, health, and writing. In each one of those segments I included the things I thought were important. My feeling was that if something didn’t fit into one of those segments then it was sand.

Here’s a new thing that I learned. In the Family section along with the cooking, washing, budgeting and shopping, I also included ‘emotional energy for my family’s needs’ and ‘Saturday adventures’. I realised that I needed to put down-time in the ping-pong ball section if I was to live the life I wanted.

The other thing for me was defining the writing as a section on its own. As its own collection of ping-pong balls.

Writing is my dream, and it is my ‘thing’. It took me a long time to figure that out. Just so as you know, I’m in my mid-forties now, and I think I may have finally found the thing I love to do. I have tried many different hobbies – art, craft, exercise, maths, science, music, dance – none of them filled the gap in my life the way that writing has done. I’m hopeful now that I have found the passion of my life.

I read this amazing book called The Art of Slow Writing Louise De Salvo that described the lives and loves of many different authors throughout history. As I read it I found that I related to oh, just about every category. I remember telling my friend that I wanted to write a book, but doesn’t everyone? She said no, not everyone wants to write a book, and that maybe I should give it a try.

So I did give it a try, and I enjoyed it immensely. I enjoy the process and I enjoy the outcome.

However, in my mind my writing can be less important that any other important thing that anyone else would want me to do. You see I don’t know that I am ever going to be a successful author. In order to become a writer, I need time to practice. Time to write books that will never be seen by another human being. Time to fail. Time to learn the craft. And I have had difficulty allowing myself that time because my (maybe never seen or used by another human being) stuff just didn’t seem as important as anyone else’s (already out there and doing good) stuff.

I needed to change that. To change my mindset.

I’ve found some books really helpful to me in letting me know that it was ok to follow my dream. One is The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeuerst. She does a wonderful job of explaining that there is a job that only you can do, and that you should spend your time doing it. That it is right to say no to some opportunities if it stops you from doing the one thing that you should be doing.

Jon Acuff in his book Quitter says that if you figure out what your dream is, then you will spend less time doing the things you like, and more doing the things you love. I really like the idea of filling my life with things I love, things that I am meant to do. The idea of me giving to the world a gift that only I can give, living a life with meaning and purpose.

When you have that shining orb in front of you, that reason for living, then it is easier to throw off those things that ‘hinder and so easily entangle’ and to ‘run with perseverance the race set before you’. To run my own race. To reach my own goal. To give the thing I give the best. To live my best life. For all of that, I needed to learn to say no. Otherwise I am like a ‘wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind’ insecure, unsure, exhausted, and going nowhere.

The good book says, “each of you should carry your own load”. God has given you a load to carry. He has made you “to do good works which He planned beforehand for you to do”. It’s worth asking Him what he made you to do, thinking it through, finding out what your special shiny ping-pong ball is.

So, step one towards saying no: figure out what you’re saying yes to. Know your dream. Write your vision statement.

I have learned that dreams and goals are different. Where a goal is a short term, achievable stepping stone towards your dream,  your dream, according to Kristine Kathryn Rusch, is a big, unachievable, shining city on a hill that you are moving towards. A dream gives you purpose. Jenny Baxter agrees. She says in her blog Treasuring Mothers that your dream needs to be big enough that you can’t achieve it on your own. You need a dream that is big enough that you are dependent on God to come through for you to make it happen. Your dream is your hope and purpose – the thing God put you on the earth to accomplish.

That’s the thing that will allow you to say no, and help you figure out when to say yes. Cherish your dream, value it, invest in it, give it your all. And make sure that you don’t let all the sand eat away the time that belongs to the ping-pong ball of your dream.

Have you found out what your shiny ping-pong ball is? Do you agree that knowing what to say yes to is the first step to saying no? Have any of you lovely readers ever tried applying the ping-pong ball method to your lives?  How did it go?

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42

If you 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. The newsletters are more writing focussed – what I’m doing with my writing, and what I’m reading myself. I look forward to hearing from you.

Personality Types and Saying NO

Introvert Bubble

Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I am ‘the defender’ personality type by the Myers-Briggs type indicator. An ISFJ. The I stands for Introvert. The rest of the letters I’m unsure about but I really know how the introvert part affects my life.

I need alone time. A lot.

In the evenings, after work, I come home and sit on the couch, my husband and son (Moz and Caleb) hide in the study and play computer games and work, and I sit and read and watch TV and write in my journal and process the day.

If this does not occur, due to some evening activity, then it’s not awful, but I get tired. Especially if we are out more than two or evenings a week.

I get my energy from being alone.

I understand that it is not only introverts who need to learn how to say no, but for me, the introversion is a big part of the situation. If I try to be out there with people for too long I soon fall into a fog of exhaustion. And so many good opportunities involve being with people.

I went to the funeral of a friend of mine from church. Her name was Rhonnie, she was an amazing woman who had lived a long and very full life. I listened to the many eulogies from people whose lives she had touched and I was stunned by what I heard. She had amazing extrovert super powers!

Rhonnie could invite near-complete strangers to come and stay at her place – to live with her for months at a time. While out walking her dog she could strike up conversations with people that led to life-long friendships. She could invite people to come to her place and hang out, not for any reason, just to be company. She had meant so much to so many people and I would love to be like her.

But I’m not like her.

I invite people to dinner and the evening goes something like this:

  • Would you like a drink? Good.
  • Had the drink? Right, now it’s time to eat main course.
  • Excellent, we’ve eaten, I’ll clear away and serve dessert.
  • Do you want a coffee?
  • Great. That was successful.
  • Now go home.

I don’t want people hanging around enjoying themselves until 2am. After about 930pm, however loved the guests are, they can go home. I need time alone to process the evening and I need to get it processed in time to get a few hours sleep.

At some point Moz and I decided that it was important for me to work part-time so that I could have hours at home by myself in order to pull myself together. I started working Monday to Thursday and then taking Fridays off

If my Friday off works well, if I get a few hours in the middle of the day to myself, then on Saturdays I’m happy to go out for lunch, or to visit friends or family, or to do any other activity that requires being in the presence of another human being.

If my Friday off does not work, due to a doctors appointment, or a hair appointment, or extra work, or whatever thing I stupidly say yes to, then my Saturdays involve much sitting on the couch or sitting in bed downstairs by myself or general get-out-of-my-hair-ness.

I know that the need for hours alone has consequences for what I say yes to and what I say no to. I know that what I write in this blog series will therefore be more easily accessible for people who lean towards introversion on that spectrum. But I hope it helps you extroverts as well.

I mean, we’re all feeling super-busy right? Everyone has too much on. Everyone wants to say no more.

One of the things I found really helpful in deciding what to say no to in life was working out what gives me life and what exhausts me. Realising that I have to say no in order to get those hours of alone time that I need. Maybe for Rhonnie saying yes to people was what gave her life. Maybe she had to say no to other things instead.

If you (like me) feel pushed around or tugged in every direction by all the wonderful and good options that you have for your life and your time then this series is for you. I hope what I write can help you to say no (without any guilt or condemnation) to those things that should not be on your plate, and to fill up your plate with the things that belong to you. With the good works you are created to do.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, to do the good works which he purposed beforehand for us to do. Eph 2:10

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42

Temptations (part 1)

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My biggest temptation when beginning this blog series was to list all the things I was doing at the beginning of the saying no process so that you would recognise just how busy I was. I wanted to list my job, my home duties, the care that I was taking for various people. I want you to see that I was Super Woman, that I had it all, that I was trying to do it all, that there was good reason for my near mental breakdown, for my near burnout. I wanted to justify to you my need to say no. Like it is some sort of competition: I’m so much busier than you are, when I go to work I have to walk sixteen miles through the snow, barefoot, uphill both ways, and so on.

Of course, the risk was that listing all my jobs would make you  say, “is that all? I have twice as much to get through as her. What is she whinging about? Talk about first world problems.”

One of the things I have learned this year is that I don’t need to justify to anyone why I have to say no. I really did need to start saying no though.

Here’s a quote from my journal at the end of 2016:

I am still deeply emotionally fatigued. I am having trouble making decisions or forcing myself to do things that I don’t really want to do. I am feeling ready to have whole days alone right now. And yet I’ve booked coffees fro the next three days and I need more bookings to have coffee with Ruth and Jane. I think it’s possible that one coffee a day with someone won’t wreck me. But it’s hard to tell, when you are bone weary. All I want to do is sit in bed and read and write and look out at the rain.

I’d love to write a blog post but I don’t have the energy. I really want to write my novel, but no energy. I want to clean the kitchen and get groceries and do office paperwork and so on but all I really want to do is sit here in bed and write and read and sleep.

That was a journal entry in the middle of my holidays. You can hear that I needed more of a break but I wasn’t allowing myself to have it. Whatever it was that I was filling my time with, it was too much for me. Things were out of whack and I knew it. I needed to learn how to say no.

Tiredness was something I knew very well. Bone-weariness was my old friend. I am now in my forties and I had decided at the end of 2015 that I needed to improve my heath to get rid of this overwhelming tiredness. I guess that was the 2016 project.

I worked on my diet – trying to find intolerances that would mean I wasn’t getting the correct nutritional value from my food. That helped a bit, I found some things that were doing me damage and I eliminated them from my diet.

I also cut down on sugar dramatically, changing my tastes so that I didn’t crave the sugar in the coffee, the sugary treats, the constant sweets to get me through the day. That changed things too – the ups and downs of blood sugar were evened out and I wasn’t getting the mid-afternoon crashes that I had before.

I dealt with some women’s issues and sorted them and got rid of the monthly energy crisis that was being caused by them. That was great. I cannot say how much better I feel from that.

Then I went to the doctor to investigate a constantly ticking eye and severe fatigue and found that I had Graves disease – an overactive thyroid. Treatment for that meant that my legs no longer felt like they were made of concrete. That it was actually possible to get the energy to do things again. It was incredible the change it made. If you’re feeling bone weary, get your thyroid checked. It could really help.

But after all that I still felt tired.

It became embarrassing to go and see my thyroid specialist. She would say each time, “How are you feeling?” and I would say, “Tired. So tired.” And she would say, “Well, your hormone levels are great so it’s not the thyroid.”

And I would think, “Damn.”

It’s not that I wanted to be sick. But it was great to be able to blame the thyroid for the tiredness, to blame something out of my control, outside of myself. To be able to take a pill and feel better. But now I was taking the pill and still feeling bad, I knew that the change in my life had to come from me.

I had to simplify my life. I had to build in margin. I had to figure out what it was I wanted to spend my limited energy on. I had to make some difficult decisions.

I had to learn how to say no.

How about you? Are you feeling the same way? Feeling the constant overwhelm, the constant pull and tug to do the things you know you should do? Feeling that all the things on your list are completely overwhelming? Or is there some health problem that you needed to get fixed in order to get your energy levels up?

I would love to hear about it in the comments.

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some new art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42

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.

The writing

Someone asked me the other day, ‘are you still writing?’

Yes. Yes I am still writing.

I thought I’d tell you all the story (so far) of my story.

I started writing a novel in 2014. I knew at that point that I wanted to write, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write but I knew I wanted to write something. The first attempt was incredibly schmaltzy, really hopelessly dreadful. And I didn’t finish it.

I had a chat to my super talented writer friend (STWF), what was I to do? She recommended a process called ‘The Snowflake Method’ which was a plotting method where you start with one sentence that encapsulates the plot. You take the sentence and expand it to a paragraph, then a page. Then you write the plot from the point of view of each of the characters, and then you expand again to four pages and so on.

So I worked that method and in the end I had a number of headings for scenes, a timeline, a whole heap of characters, and a story. A murder mystery. And I worked to fill in the blanks.

I was writing at night at that point. I would work, come home and do dinner, go for a walk (sometimes), and around 9-ish I would sit down to write 500 words. I found this stage fairly easy (at least when compared to what came after). It was a bit like reading a story, but it was a story coming from me. I wrote the first draft of my first novel, and nearly finished the first draft of my second.

I had trouble finishing the first draft of my second novel. I realised that the guy I had thought would be my perpetrator just wouldn’t have done it. He didn’t have the nerve to do the job. At least not the way it was planned. The character had come alive and told me that it just wasn’t going to work. That was an exciting moment. I had heard that characters come alive like that, and to have it happen to me – I felt like a real writer.

But I had to put that all on ice. November 2015 I decided to do NaNoWriMo. For the month of November I wrote 2000 words every day. I wrote a background book. The idea was firstly to see if I could put that much effort into writing, and secondly, to get to know my characters better. The most memorable moment of that month was when the mother of my main character died. I cried, no, I bawled. It was really sad. So incredibly sad. Which is hilarious because I created her to die. The whole point of this woman was that she would die and give my main character some motivation to change her life. But still, it was heartbreaking when she actually died. I’m tearing up just thinking about it. *Sniff, sniff*

I found that I could, definitely, write 50,000 words in a month. But that it was exhausting. But everything was exhausting towards the end of 2015.

After NaNoWriMo I went back to my first novel. It was time to take the first draft out, read it again, and do some serious editing. Ah, editing was harder than just writing the stuff. I had to be able to think, not just vomit words onto the page. I wasn’t able to edit at 9 in the evening. Everyone who knows me, knows that I’m pretty useless after 930pm (see the Pumpkin Time blog). The problem was, when would I be able to edit? I cut my working hours down so that I could take a whole day (Fridays) to work on my writing. I hoped to see great things. What I saw was exhaustion.

Turns out, I was sick. I had Graves disease, an overactive thyroid. There was a reason for my exhaustion. It wasn’t great, but it was treatable.

Throughout 2016 I kept slowly working at the novel but I didn’t feel like I got very far at all. It was slow going. And while I was dealing with my Graves disease and getting better, I picked up another day’s work in my day job and the novel felt like it was slipping away. But I finished my fourth draft and gave it to my STWF to read.

The whole month of July I didn’t write at all. I gave myself a month off and spent it reading craft books.

My STWF gave me feedback. She was encouraging, super encouraging, but she also said ‘this is draft 4 of a 7-draft book’. Oh how right she was.

After my big break from writing I picked up my book again and looked at it with fresh eyes. I confess, it was a pretty low moment. My book was boring. At least the beginning was. I think if you picked it up to read it, you’d put it down fairly quickly. By the middle the pace picked up. By the end it was good (with a few plot holes) but you don’t get readers by writing a book that’s great by the time you get to the middle. The beginning has to hook people, draw them in. My beginning put you to sleep.

More editing. Actually, editing is a really misleading term. I needed to rewrite. Throw out thousands of words and start again.

For the whole of August and September 2016 I worked on the first scene. I know the dates because I keep a special journal all about my writing.  When I write, I start by writing in the journal, writing about my life, what’s going on, and what I’m going to write about. Then I write the novel, then I write about what I wrote in the novel (though I don’t always do that last step). It’s great to keep the record, I can write down plot points or ideas, and I also clear my head before writing. The journal idea wasn’t my own, I found it is a book called The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo – a book I’d recommend to any beginning writer.

The beginning of December I read another book called ‘Get It Done’ by Sam Bennett. The main message I took from that book is to work fifteen minutes a day, first thing, on my project. She calls it your fifteen minutes of fame. And since December that has been my aim – to work fifteen minutes a day before anything else, on my novel. I have made sure I’m in at work early, I put a timer on my phone and I write, or rewrite, or edit for fifteen minutes. The timer goes off, I close Scrivener, and I get on with my day. Occasionally I manage another fifteen minute block or a bit more, but mostly it’s just fifteen minutes a day.

The book is being transformed, slowly, in fifteen minute increments.

So yes, I am still writing. And I hope that soon (you know, in the next year or so) I’ll be putting a finished novel out there for my beta readers to read. And getting it edited by a professional editor, and finding a book cover designer, and once all that’s come together, then it will be time for the really scary step – putting it out there for the world to read. I truly believe it’s becoming a great s

tory, an encouraging and fun cozy read that many people will enjoy. So I’ll keep working on it.

Stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath, turns out writing a novel (even a short one) takes a long, long time.

Table and plan
A special writing weekend – working on draft 4

My dream life

I’ve been reading a new organisational book. I think they’re a bit of an addiction for me. I just love them. Especially if there’s a picture of a coffee cup or a journal and pen on the cover. I’m very sensitive to suggestion.

They usually have excellent advice and this latest book is no exception. It had really good advice on how to write lists and prioritise. How to make your special project a priority. How to encourage yourself and keep track of the progress you’re making.

I really enjoy the books and I’m always disappointed when I get to the end.

While I’m reading them I’m so full of hope. They just sound so confident, so sure that if you just follow their advice (to the letter) then your life will suddenly be amazing. All you have to do is follow their particular method of organising your day, their method of keeping track, their method of making lists, and suddenly you’ll be making millions by working just 3 hours a day and all your dreams will come true.

It reminds me of when my lovely in-laws bought a George Foreman grill. You know ‘knocks out the fat’ – it was essentially a toasted sandwich maker with a disability. Shorter front legs made it slope forward and all the fat ran out when you were cooking stuff. The parents-in-law bought one, then the brother-in-law bought one. The family loved their Georges – every week we met for dinner and they would rave about how great the food was. And, truth be told, it was pretty good food – my mother-in-law is a pretty good cook! We didn’t buy one. We didn’t have a whole lot of money to spare. So the lovely in-laws bought us one for Christmas.

After a couple of weeks we met up for dinner again and they asked us ‘How’s the George?’ We had to tell them – it made everything better! The food was better, we were exercising more, our sex lives were better, our jobs, the kid’s behaviour, everything was better! Oh dear.

This is how I think when I’m reading these books. It’s all going to work. It’s all going to be better.

It’s not that my life is bad to start off with. In fact, it’s pretty excellent already. I don’t know what I’m expecting!

I’m sure that some of the things I have put into my life from reading these books have helped my life be more organised and less stressed. The strategies are pretty much the same in every one and they are good strategies. But I always feel let down by the end of the book because I get to the end and I still have the same life, the same time pressures, the same job. And that’s not going to change by me putting in some new organisation program.

I know that the fault lies with me. With my inability to say no to anyone who asks me for help (should I write this here? Don’t ask). And, also, with my health at the moment. Maybe I only read them when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed, maybe I don’t need them when I’m getting things done and feeling like I’ve got it together.

There are things I can change, there are things I can’t, and there are things that I think I wouldn’t change, even if I could. And all these things add up to my life.

Maybe the trick is to find a book that perfectly describes your life and tells you that it’s great just as it is. Or maybe to write your own self-help book that tells you that you’re pretty good, really. That you can make it just as you are. Because each of us is different. We have our own dreams and hopes and pressures and needs and stressors. We don’t fit into anyone else’s ‘get it done’ mould.

I guess one of the things that makes me, me is the enjoyment of reading organisational books. So I’m going to enjoy that enjoyment but I’m going to choose to not beat myself up at the end. And I’m going to be grateful for the life I have. Like all the organisational books tell me to. Here’s to life!

The same 24 hours, but…

Have you ever been told by someone, probably someone on the great interweb, that we all have the same 24 hours in the day and that if you just woke up an hour earlier, or went to bed an hour later, or somehow jigged your life so that you weren’t wasting precious minutes, you could actually achieve your dreams?

I remember watching a video to that effect, it pictured a guy practicing piano in his basement at night when he could otherwise have been watching TV or sleeping or something, and in the end he had all his friends over for a little concert and it was a delightful scene.

I watch these things and I get all excited and I want to change my life to fit more of my dream in. I become determined to just squeeze a little more into life, to sleep a little less or to somehow rearrange things so I can fit more in. But I have decided lately that the whole premise  is not true. We don’t all have the same 24 hours. It’s a lie. Or maybe a half-truth.

I’ve been in a strange place lately, one that I’ve never been in before. I’ve had days when I’m energetic and days when I’m totally beat. Maybe because one day the thyroid medications are working at the correct level and the next they are not. I’ve had days when dragging myself up the stairs to my office feels like climbing Mt Everest and other days when I can run up the stairs with barely a second thought.

One day I’ll be feeling amazing, and the next, I’m lying on the couch unable to think.

Now I’m no stranger to having low energy levels. And I think I can remember some other times in my life when I’ve had great energy – like when I was doing weight training twice a week and walking for an hour every other day. Or the time when I decided to take up baking as a hobby, deliberately messing up the kitchen and then cleaning it again. But I’ve never had the energy available to me change this quickly before and it’s given me new insight.

Let’s go back.

When I was diagnosed with my thyroid disorder I was living a normal life. I was teaching and researching at uni three days a week, tutoring on a fourth, writing (or trying to write) on the fifth. I wasn’t doing anything extreme but I was tired. So tired. And I wasn’t sure why. I was trying to exercise but failing. I was trying to eat well but failing. I was trying to follow my writing dream and I was managing that some of the time. But I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t fit much into my days. Why cooking a nourishing meal just was too difficult to fit in. Why it was so hard for me to get even half an hour’s writing in.

But none of these problems were my fault. It wasn’t that I was eating badly or not looking after myself, my energy levels were low because I was sick. Not because I was unfit, or not trying hard enough, or not believing in myself enough. No. I was struggling because there was something wrong and I needed to find out what it was.

Once I started taking the blessed and wonderful tablets my world changed. Suddenly I could fit a whole heap more into my day. It was not that I stayed up later or got up earlier, though occasionally I did, but that I could do more with the hours I was awake. I would think,‘Maybe I’ll make muffins’ and then I’d make muffins. I would think ‘If I just whipped around the bathroom it would look so much cleaner and I’ll be less frustrated’ and then I’d pull out the cleaning equipment and ten minutes later the bathroom would be clean. It was amazing!

Then I had to have some surgery. Nothing big, but it required a general anaesthetic. And suddenly I was back at square one again. I still went to work, cooked, tidied, washed, did everything that I had to do. But there was no margin in my energy. I would be more likely to sit on the couch for just that little bit longer, to surf Facebook just that little bit more. I couldn’t think enough to write, I had to let myself recover.

I’m starting to feel better now, it’s been over three weeks since the surgery and I’m healing, I think. I hesitate to suggest that I’m better, even to myself, maybe I’ll relapse again tomorrow, or do too much, and it will be ‘tired, so tired’ again. I’m definitely not at those high levels of energy yet.

And these fluctuating energy levels have taught me something. We might all have the same 24 hours in the day, but we don’t all have the same amount of energy, and therefore we don’t have the same amount of useful time. When I am energetic, the amount I can get done in a day increases dramatically. My dreams are within my reach. I can put in ‘just a little bit more’ and I can accomplish so much. But when I am tired and my body is unwell I can’t perform in the same way. Everything I do takes just that little bit longer and I take longer to recover from any exertion.

Therefore, I contend that we don’t all have the same 24 hours. We cannot judge ourselves by what someone else accomplishes each day. That person might be one blessed with huge amounts of energy and they will be able to achieve heaps. But we must not call ourselves lazy or undisciplined just because we achieve less in the same amount of time. There may be a reason (like thyroid disorders, depression, glandular fever, or the horrible CFS) for your tiredness, but I also think that everyone is just made differently and each of us has different energy reserves. A bit like spoon theory I guess, spoon theory even for people not struggling with a chronic illness. (Can I say that?)

Many of us want to achieve our goals and are working towards them as best we can. We’re not going to get further faster by beating ourselves up because we’re not as far along as Betty-Sue or Gregory. Maybe we all need to accept ourselves and each other just a little bit more. Stop calling ourselves lazy and start giving ourselves a break.

Remember you’re a human being, not a human doing. You are valuable just because of who you are. Rest in that and enjoy doing what you can. And I’ll try to do that too and be patient with myself as I heal.