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.

Advertisements

Six To-Do list methods to get you organised

to-do-list_o_915180

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?

to-do-list_o_915180

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.

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.

Purpose

I have been doing a lot of reading in my holidays and there’s a certain idea that keeps popping up over and over again.

It may be confirmation bias, but I’ve been seeing it in the non-fiction I am reading, in the fiction, in the blog posts and articles, in the different podcasts (yes I have been enjoying my holidays, how could you tell?). It just keeps coming back to this:

What is your purpose? What is your vision?

Why do you do what you do? What do you want out of life? What do you want from your money? What is the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning?

There are very broad answers to this question (e.g. I want to do God’s will for my life) but I’ve been challenged to narrow it down and down and down. I’m still narrowing. I think my vision probably comes down to something like ‘working against imposter syndrome’, or ‘helping people feel like they belong’.

I’ve found the question particularly difficult to answer. I have had answers before, but I think that at this level, your purpose is something that changes in the different seasons of life. I personally think that it’s a rare few that are working towards one thing for the whole of their lives. I have had the season of raising my children, the season of completing my university studies, the season of researching towards a PhD and working hard on teaching well.

And for the past few years I have been going through the motions. I have made sure that I have worthwhile activities in my life and that I’ve worked hard at them and I’ve just kept going but without any clear plan. Part of the reason for that I guess is that I have struggled with illness so that just keeping going has been all that I’ve been able to do. That may be the season you are in right now.

But lately I’ve felt a real sense of discontent and a desire to have more of a structured goal.

I remember when DH was working for a communications contractor. It wasn’t fun. He was frustrated and angry much of the time. The work wasn’t fulfilling, but it was constant. He rarely had a day off. He was exhausted most of the time. There came a time where he needed to go into hospital and have a major operation and in the four days that his boss allowed him for recovery before he was called back in to work (yes, I know) he stopped bashing his head against a wall for long enough to realise that it hurt. That was the beginning of a season of change for us. DH ended up leaving his job, going to university, and retraining as a teacher.

I feel like I am in the midst of a similar season now. I want to know what I am living for so that I can arrange my life to work towards that goal. I would like clear five year and ten year goals. And a clear reason to pursue them.

The writing is good, the blog post and the novel and all, but the writing is a way that my purpose gets lived. Just writing isn’t enough. There needs to be a reason for the writing.

I want to live my life for a reason. As Hitch says, I want to begin each day as if it’s on purpose. I want to serve God in a way that suits how he made me. I’m enjoying spending the time figuring out what that is.

Do you know your purpose? In a tweet-sized statement could you tell me what you’re living for? Feel free to do it in the comments, I would be fascinated to find out.

(Lack of) Food for thought

(Title thanks to my cousin Martin!)

Today, for the first time in my holidays, I went to a cafe to do some writing. I think I haven’t done this before today because I’ve enjoyed being at home. So maybe going to a cafe is a sign that I am starting to feel rested.

I was met by the waitress at the door, took my normal place at the table looking out the window to my favourite place – Kingston Beach. And told the lovely server that I would start with a coffee and then order some lunch later.

The cafe looks over the water, which is especially lovely if there are no cars parked in the way, and therefore it doesn’t receive any direct sunlight. Which normally isn’t a problem but it became one this morning.

My coffee was beautiful, the first full-strength coffee I’ve had in about a week (I’ve been trying to decaffeinate myself this holidays) and my addicted self relaxed at the first sip.

I sat and wrote about 1000 words plus a few more by hand in my journal and then I decided it was time for lunch. I put in my order and went back to the writing.

My brain was probably 75% occupied by what I was writing. The rest of my brain was noticing how beautiful the water looked and enjoying the flight of the birds, it was enjoying the friendly conversation of two girls sitting in front of me in the outside section, it was noticing the conversation of the two elderly ladies next to me who were trying to decipher the menu, and very gradually a few other things impinged on my consciousness.

One was how cold I was getting. I started to rub my hands together and promise myself that I would be warmer when the food came and wonder if the problem was that I was sitting too close to the door. Another was that the lights in the cafe were flickering a bit – which resolved itself when they went out completely. Much less irritating.

I completed another 1000 words and started to run out of brain and look for more distraction. The ladies next to me tried to order their lunch and that’s when I became aware of the problem.

The waiter explained to them that we’d lost power. That he couldn’t take their order because the computer system wouldn’t work, and they wouldn’t be able to cook the meal anyway. He didn’t know why the power had gone out or when it would be back on.

That’s when the beeping of some electronic device that wanted power started to make sense. And the darkness of the room. And the cold.

It’s a brisk six degrees in Kingston right now, at 130 in the afternoon. A beautiful sunny day but a very chilly day, especially if you’re out of the sun. The restaurant was cold. I was wearing five layers and a nice big scarf and I was freezing.

I tried to hold on, honestly I did. I didn’t want them to miss out on my custom and I really felt bad for them to have had such bad luck, but in the end I froze up and I gave up. I paid in exact change (after looking through all the purses in my bag to find it) and I’ve come home to a much healthier lunch of home-made salad.

I expected to be cold today when I dropped the car off to the mechanic and walked home, and later when I walk down to pick it up. But not when I was having lunch in a cosy cafe. I have no idea why the power went out – the corner shop had lights so it might have just been that one restaurant. I’m sure the not knowing is going to bug me – that was another reason why I wanted to stay. If anyone who lives down my way knows, I’d be grateful to find out.

I am so grateful that our house has power and sunlight. My feet have nearly lost their ice block status. I might try for cafe lunch another day this week. I have one more week of holidays left. I’m going to make the most of it.

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

Holidays

Tomorrow is the official start of my three weeks of annual leave but even now I’m already feeling relaxed and ready to tackle the home-type projects that, for me, holidays are all about. People at work would ask me, ‘where are you going on your holiday?’ and I would say ‘nowhere!’ Staying home is what it’s all about. Home and able to relax and potter, and most importantly, write.

But today everyone is on holiday (Happy Birthday Dear Queen!) and that means that I am eating my lunch to the background music of one-sided conversation as DS plays computer games with his friends over the interwebs. ‘Neither did you!’ he shouts, ‘So did I!’ ‘Double it!’ ‘Nooooo!’ His exams are over, he is relaxed.

DH, on the other hand, is stuck down in the den, in my office, marking exams. He is slightly less relaxed, but grateful for an extra 24 hours to get some catching up done.

And me? I have done all the weekend jobs. I’ve ironed the shirts. I’ve hand-washed the jumpers. I’ve paid some bills and I’ve even cleaned out some of my email! This afternoon I’m giving an extra tutorial to one of my students but apart from that, I’m free! It’s the nicest feeling. Hmmm what shall I do now? How about some reading? Writing? A walk? A visit with a friend?

My biggest goal for these three weeks is to do some writing every day, to walk every day, and to stretch every day. Hopefully, by the end of the three weeks I’ll be able to touch my toes!

I have a big list of other projects that I hope to at least get some way through over the next weeks. My car needs a new muffler, for one. I want to sort my clothes and get rid of some to charity. That sort of thing. I’m looking forward to it! But I also hope to relax. Really chill out and rejuvenate so I’m ready to face semester two.

There’s really no point to this post except to rejoice rapturously in the three weeks of leave I have. You can expect another post in about three weeks time where I wonder where the time went!