Finding the Rhythm

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It’s been nearly a year now since I started working from home. Just a few weeks short of a year since I have been in charge of my own schedule.

When I started this process I was excited. I thought that if I just listened to myself, and worked out my circadian rhythm, that I could find a schedule that suited me perfectly and I would be able to work well each day, get the jobs done, and still be energetic and energised at the end of each day, and ready to go each new morning.

I thought that when I was no longer a permanently exhausted pigeon, I could figure out if I was an early bird or a night owl and run my day accordingly.

I thought that if I wasn’t squeezing myself into someone else’s schedule, that I could make it all work and be relaxed and happy about it. That I could find the perfect way to structure each day. That life would become easier to juggle.

And don’t get me wrong. I love my life. I really do. Even when I’m feeling totally challenged and busy I love my life right now. It’s great.

But I’m learning a few things about schedules.

I like schedules, I’ve written about them before. I like to have a plan, laid out, set out for me so that I know where I’m heading, what I’m doing. But if I’m not careful, that structure, that framework can become a cage. A prison with solid stone walls. And when things change – I get more work or I take up a new opportunity – then I can find myself squeezed against the bars of the schedule.

Life changes. There is a rhythm to the day, for sure. But there is also a rhythm to the week, to the month, and to the year. And I don’t know what all those are yet.

Right now it looks like winter is likely to be a busy time for my editing business. A time when I get a few extra jobs. Where there’s more to squeeze in.

In the summer I didn’t have much editing work at all. But I did a lot of writing work – producing books, marketing and rewriting, and even playing with book covers.

In the summer I worried that I would never get any editing work and that I wouldn’t make the business pay. In the winter I worry that I’ll never get my books to market, that they’ll be stuck in the editing, interior formatting, and cover design stage forever.

I think there’s a better way of living.

In the summer: to be grateful for all the writing I can do. To be busy creating. To enjoy the creative growth.

In the winter: to be grateful for the money coming in through editing, and to keep the writing just ticking slowly along, without feeling guilty for not reaching unrealistic goals.

I need to learn to live in these rhythms, not put burdens on myself that I can’t carry. I can’t keep up the amount of writing and book preparation and marketing that I did in the summer right now, because I have editing to do instead. I need to let it go a bit, allow myself to slow down. Not stop completely, but slow a bit.

I need to be more flexible, to keep the framework for sure, but to use it like a vine, weaving myself in and around it in order to grow.

I thought I could find the perfect schedule that fit everything into my life in perfect harmony, day by day, week by week. But I’m finding that is just not possible.

Instead I need to find the rhythm of my own life. Not just the daily rhythm, but weekly, monthly, and annual rhythm. Small adjustments each day depending on my energy levels, and larger adjustments as the seasons change and the workload changes with it.

The world is made with seasons – spring, summer, autumn, winter. Sowing and harvest, times to work hard and times to rest. As we have sheltered ourselves from these changes using electricity to give light and heat, and big-name supermarkets to give strawberries all year round, have we lost the rhythm we need to feel for ourselves?

Do you see these rhythms in your life? How does the change in season from summer to winter affect you? (Or from winter to summer if you’re in the north.)

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. 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 podcast, 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 this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

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Building community

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This is the Art Creative Space on Thursdays. Libby makes the room look better than I do.

Today’s blog is a bit late because I had a coffee with the amazing author, Katherine Scholes. She writes beautiful novels, many set in the African continent. I just read one called The Perfect Wife, and if you read it and you get as angry with the husband as I did, just hang in there (no spoilers).

While we were chatting, (and I tell you, I’m so grateful to her for giving me the time) we also said hello to the editor of a magazine, and had a chat to another author I know. I felt like I was so much a part of the writer community.

Being part of community is one of the things I love about living in Tasmania. Katherine and I were meeting for the first time today, but I know her parents and her sister, and she knows my parents too and can remember seeing Mum sing at St David’s Cathedral when she was a child.

Being married to a teacher in such a small community means that as we go to the shops, the beach, or the gym, we are constantly interrupted by calls of, ‘Hello Mr A’. And having worked at a university, I have friends in almost every restaurant and café in town working their way through uni in the hospitality industry.

Sometimes, I admit, I would like to be invisible. To be able to have a bad hair day without seeing someone I know. But most of the time I’m grateful for the people that know me. For those who know me well enough to give me a smile, for those I stop and have a quick chat to, and for those who are closer friends who I can meet with for coffee, dump on, and be a shoulder for them to cry on in return. I love being part of a community.

I got a little hooked on the Lego Masters TV show recently. I thought again that it was a wonderful example of a community. The different participants encouraged each other, and rejoiced in each other’s creativity and accomplishments at the end of each challenge. Yes, there had to be one winning team, but each person who left the show (that I saw) was just so happy to have been a part of that community. To have spent time with like-minded people.

Actually, I’m sitting and writing this as part of another creative community. I have started a little project called Creative Spaces in a local church near me. We provide the space, the tea and coffee, and the nibbles, and the people who come along bring their own writing or art pursuit and we all get creative together.

I am part of the writing space, and another friend, Libby, is taking the art space. We’re hoping that this place can become a hub where people are able to come, do their own project, but have conversation and make community with like-minded people.

Writing is a weird thing to share. At the moment we are all sitting quietly in the hall, typing or scribbling away. But in a few moments my timer will go off and we’ll make drinks and chat about what we’re doing. Then we’ll all sit quietly and write again.

Yes, it seems strange for an introvert like me to be harping on so much about getting together with people in real life and making community. But I’m starting to think that this is one of the most important things we can do to combat the loneliness and isolation that is all around us. I am trying to build community online using this blog and my podcast. But I am also prepared to get out of my own comfortable study and meet with people to make real life community happen.

I wonder if there is a community that you could start to build around you? It doesn’t need to be an official thing, but maybe you could find others that enjoy cooking and have a shared dinner party once a month. Or find others whose kids are totally into Lego like yours and start your own informal building parties. Or just say hello to your neighbours and maybe take the time to find out a little bit about them.

It will be a bit of a stretch, but I’m thinking it’s worth it. You might change the world for one other person, and isn’t that enough?

If you’re interested in hearing more about the Creative Space, feel free to drop me a line, I’d love to share it with you.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. 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 podcast, 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 this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

It Works!

Intro

If you’re like me, you see the amount of books and articles about how to change your life for the better and you wonder if the ‘three easy steps’ outlined therein actually work.

I mean, we all know that we are striving for a more peaceful, less busy, more organised lives. We all know that we should cut down on what we’re doing. We all know that we should rest more, simplify, find jobs that work with our personalities, remember to make time for ourselves, watch less TV, pay less attention to social media, read more, exercise more, etc.

But sometimes I wonder, does it actually work?

I mean, I wrote a whole book on saying, ‘no’. I wrote about setting priorities and about not letting the need define your response. I wrote about all sorts of good ways of getting more energy back in your life.

Some days I feel like I really need to go back and read my book again.

Others look at my life and tell me I need to go back and read my book again.

Yes, my life now is full. I have plenty to do. I have exciting projects coming out my ears. And from the outside it may look like I haven’t made any progress at all.

But I have.

And I’ll tell you how I know that.

Last weekend was one of those weekends where everything happens at the same time and you can’t spread the commitments out.

On Friday I had my parents 50th wedding anniversary. And the best way to celebrate that was to have a dinner party at our house. So we did. Eleven of us over for a candle-light dinner in my lounge room.

50th anniversary cake
The beautiful cake Elford’s Cakes made. It’s based on the original cake, of course.

On Saturday there was a book fair. Me, in a room full of people, selling my wares, giving a reading and a talk about my publishing journey, from 9 am until 5 pm.

TIA book fair
The view from my book-selling table

On Saturday evening our church had a women’s ministry evening and I offered a writing workshop as part of that. In my house.

Writers workshop
We had such a great time. The food-to-people ratio was pretty good too. 

Now, last year, any one of those events would have been enough to tire me out. And I admit that having all three of them in a row sent me into a bit of a spin. But this year it was different.

This year I could spend the time leading up to the weekend getting organised and ready. I could put some normal commitments on the back-burner and take them up again after the busy weekend was over. I arranged to have the party catered so that I didn’t have to cook, and I arranged my son and his girlfriend to clean up for me on Saturday so I came home to a clean house. I could think this all through. I had the time to think.

This year I had the time to rest afterwards.

On Sunday I chose not to go to church. I sat in bed and read a book (Katherine Scholes, The Perfect Wife, great, if you like literary fiction) and then in the afternoon Moz and I went for a drive.

This year I was fine. I could cope. I felt tired but I didn’t feel completely empty.

And today I’m ready to get back into it. To write this blog. To do my editing job. To potter around and do the banking and make dinner and do all the things I didn’t get done on the weekend, as well as the things that my work-from-home life entails.

I think that last year, or the year before, a weekend like the one just gone would have wiped me out for a week. I would have got sick. I would have used up every last bit of my resources and I wouldn’t have had time to recover.

But now, now that I’ve changed my life, I’ve made choices that work well with who I am and how I do things, now I can cope with the occasional full-on weekend. And I can cope with the rest of life as well.

I’m not perfect. My life is full. Maybe I’m still saying ‘yes’ too much and need to keep saying ‘no’ more. I know I need to keep an eye on it. I’ll need to keep an eye on it for the rest of my life. But I am improving. And my life is improving as a result.

It does work.

I’m so grateful.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. 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 podcast, 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 this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

The Story of Your Life

Corrections

I’ve been doing a lot of editing lately, of my own work, not of others’. I am preparing a book of short stories for publication, I’m preparing a book of transcripts of my podcast, and I am also working through the first draft of my new novel and making it stronger and better.

I don’t really like editing, going back over my work, figuring out what to cut out and what to leave in, changing this, adding new things here, removing whole paragraphs there. I would like everything I write to be perfect the first time. To make a decision and for that to be absolutely the best one. To not have to change anything.

Ridiculous, right? Writing doesn’t work that way (oh the irony, I had to rewrite this very sentence). Everyone’s first draft is messy.

My devotion today asked, ‘If your life was a book, what would you need to edit?’

When I think about the themes I want my life to convey, the story I want to tell, are there things I need to cut out, or things I need to add to communicate that story better? Are there decisions I made that were right at the time but that need to change now? Are there hangovers I’m holding on to because I really loved them five or ten years ago but they don’t apply to my life now?

One of the big editing tips in writing is, ‘kill your darlings.’ In writing our novels we often love certain scenes, conversations, or even characters. They are our darlings. But the truth of the matter may be that those things are weaknesses in the overall tale, they need to go, they need to be cut out.

I’m wondering if there are ‘darlings’ in my life that I’m hanging on to that are making me weaker. Attitudes or decisions, or even material goods or activities that need to go now to bring the story of my life to a stronger place.

Is it the same for you?

Often authors can’t see for ourselves what these things are. That’s why it is so important to employ an editor to look over our work. The editor is not emotionally involved in the situation and can be a bit more ruthless when it comes to cutting out deadwood. Sometimes it can be difficult to hear the editor’s advice. But you know that they are working with you towards the same goal – a stronger piece of work, better able to convey the story, the theme.

And the same applies to our lives. Sometimes it is helpful to have a mentor or a coach, or a good friend, who can help you look over your life and see where things could change to make you stronger.

If you think of your life as a book, what is the story you are telling? And is there editing that needs to happen to make your life tell its important tale in a stronger way? Do you have an ‘editor’ that can help you make the hard decisions?

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. 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 podcast, 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 this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

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!

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.

Six To-Do list methods to get you organised

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I have a lot on my plate at the moment. I was the one who put it all on my plate so you don’t have to feel sorry for me. I’m happy to have all the things to do, but the long list can get overwhelming. That’s why it was so good to wake up yesterday* with the thought,

There’s a difference between the things I have to do, and the things I have to do today.

To-do lists are fascinating things. I think we all approach them differently and that’s why there are so many different methods out there. And because a part of my brain thinks that if I write the to-do list perfectly then I will get a whole lot more energy and miraculously get a whole lot more done, I have tried many different methods.

Mind Map

Is this even a to-do list? I mean, really? It’s not even list shaped.

I find mind-maps great for when I’m trying to get a handle on the overall shape of my life. Like the time when I was trying to figure out what options belonged to the various parts of my life and what I could just say no to because it didn’t fit in what my life was supposed to be. I don’t use it so much for everyday use. I much prefer list shaped lists like…

The Autofocus System

This system from Mark Forster had me tempted in a big way. You can watch the video here. Look at him – he seems so calm and there’s this huge list that gets crossed off as you go so there are pages and pages of finished items. And I loved the idea of looking at all you have to do and picking the things that jump out at you as the things I could do now.

But when I tried to use this method I found that the list was overwhelming. I felt like all the things on the list were on my plate. They were all tasks I had to do. And if I didn’t differentiate them somehow by writing them differently, then in my head they were all tasks I needed to do today.

I use a long list like this as a master list. I need to put every task down somewhere so I put them all in one long line in a list book (a small notebook) and use it as my depository of all the things I need to do at some stage. I’ll tell you what I do with this master list later. It’s good for my poor brain to know that all the things are written somewhere and that I know where that place is. That brings peace.

When I told Moz about this method he found another problem too. He said that if he worked that way he would only do the tasks that he found easy. The harder tasks he would leave until some magic time when he would be able to get his brain around them instantly. So when he is working on a long to-do list he uses…

The Four Quadrant Method

For Stephen Covey’s method you take a piece of paper and and divide it into four. Across the top you write Important and Not Important, and down one side you also write Urgent and Not Urgent. So you have four quadrants: Important and Urgent, Important and Not Urgent, Not Important and Urgent, and Not Important and Not Urgent. You divide your tasks into each of these.

It’s pretty self explanatory but you need to remember to do the ‘Not Urgent but Important’ tasks as well as the ‘Urgent and Important’ because the not urgent tasks are usually the things that will move you forward to your dreams and such. For more info look here.

Bullet Journal

Here is my guilty secret: I love watching bullet journal videos. Like this from Little Coffee Fox. Bullet journals are awesome. Beautifully created pages from scratch. Beautiful lettering, lovely little charts of different colours taking note of the amount of water drunk each day and the amount of exercise performed, monthly pages and daily pages and goals and targets. All gorgeously laid out and coloured.

Who has time to do that?

So while I have time to watch the videos, and I use Washi tape as bookmarks to draw attention to my list pages in my everything note book, and I now write a form of an index in the front of my notebook, I couldn’t say I use a bullet journal.

Sticky Note Method

This comes from Mark McGuinness who wrote a great book called Productivity for Creative People. I think everyone is creative in some way so it should probably have been called Productivity for People. Anyway, the idea is that you write your tasks for the day on a sticky note, a Post-it note. A reasonably large one – he uses three inch by three inch size. But the day’s tasks can only be tasks you can fit onto that sticky note. Once it’s full, your day is full. The next tasks go on the next sticky note for the next day.

My Method

So what do I do? I do a bit of a combination of the lot. I keep a notebook where I list all the jobs I can think of as a running list, a bit like the autofocus method. That’s the bucket where I put all my thoughts so I don’t forget them. I also put everything else in the notebook – notes from seminars and meetings, things I need to remember about a paper I’m writing, all the stuff. So I use the bullet journal index idea in the front of my everything note book so that I can find the pages easily afterwards. I also mark the list pages with Washi tape so I can turn from one list page to one five pages earlier with ease.

I have a Collins Debden diary, a diary that my hairdresser recommended, it’s a week to a page. That gives me a place to write a list for each day, and each thing I write gets given a time segment too which sometimes I pay attention to and sometimes I don’t. But like the sticky note method, the amount of stuff I try to do each day is limited. I like being able to look at the day and see that at 2pm I should be writing a blog post and at 4pm it is time to go shopping for groceries. This could be done in a bullet journal but I like the fact that the layout is done for me.

Some very small tasks get completed easily within the time allotted. I will either put more than one thing on the line for that hour or I will just write ‘household tasks’ and use the longer list to inform what I should be doing.

I sometimes cross things off the list, and sometimes put a tick next to them, and sometimes I give myself a gold star if I’ve done extra exercise or written more than 2000 words or met some other arbitrary goal that I’ve set myself.

So I still occasionally get overwhelmed but I know I have the tools I need to divide that never ending list of tasks into smaller, more achievable chunks. And I need to trust that when I don’t get it all done today, that won’t be a problem. We are all given enough time, we just need to use it wisely and trust God with the outcome.

While I’d love to have affiliate links there are none in this post, I just have appreciated the info and pretty videos and thought you might too.

*If you’re wondering why I didn’t write this yesterday when I had the thought, it turns out that yesterday was a ‘to-don’t’ day. I needed to stop and do basically nothing yesterday. I finished reading one book and started reading another, and had lunch and dinner with friends. That was enough. No tasks crossed off. No productivity. Not even as much as one hour of exercise. But that was really necessary and important and today I’m ready to write a nice short to-do list in my diary and get on with it.

Reasons to Journal

journaling

(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.