NaNoWriMo – The Recap

Okay, so November is over and I should be proudly showing off my digital NaNoWriMo winner’s certificate, but I’m not – because I didn’t win this year. By win, I mean I didn’t get to my 50,000-word target.

I was on track – right up until the beginning of the last week – and then life, or rather the opposite, got in the way with the passing of a close friend.

In any case, I finished November with over 40,000 more words than what I started the month with – and that to me is a win. (As an aside, if you attempted NaNoWriMo and have more words at the end of November than you did at the beginning of the month, you’re a winner in my book.)

On the whole, this November was theoretically much easier than previous NaNo months – there were no holidays, no work projects and no time away or off the grid as there had been in previous years. The day job hasn’t even been as manic as it usually is.

Despite this I did, however, have more trouble with the whole bum-on-seat-fingers-on-keyboard thing than I do when I’m actively juggling. It’s probably why my likelihood of getting it done increases the more that I have on my plate.

I did more procrasti-watching, procrasti-blogging and procrasti-baking than I usually do too. Plus I was struck with a brilliant idea that I want to write immediately.

Instead, I’m writing copious notes and hope that the idea will still appear as brilliant as it does today when I finally finish editing Careful What You Wish For and drafting It’s In The Stars.

Discipline…it’s exceedingly over-rated.

 

Happy Ever After Week 10

One of the things that I’d decided to do this year was to try and work smarter. The key to that was batching – especially in regards to my astro site, the readers of which are hungry for new content.

What I’ve taken to doing is setting aside the first Friday afternoon in the month and getting all the content written for that month – short daily forecasts where there’s something interesting happening in the sky, and slightly longer do it yourself posts for sign changes, full moons, new moons etc.

So, that was last Friday. Then I remembered that I had a deadline on Monday for some (paid) daily forecasts that I’d committed to writing. So I sat down on Saturday and what should have taken me a couple of hours – 2.5 max – took me all day. Those 50-word forecasts were so painful to write this time! I know my stuff (she says without blushing) and these normally just flow, but not this weekend.

By the time I was done I felt as though I’d run the mental equivalent of a marathon. Why was it so hard? I have no idea. I suspect that it’s partly because I wanted to get back to the novel, partly because I’d had such a productive writing day the day before (3000+ words on the novel in the morning and a month worth of blog posts in the afternoon), partly because it had been a busy week in the partition job, partly because my back was killing me, and mostly because I just wasn’t in the mood.

That’s the thing with this gig though – you can’t just say ‘I’m sorry, I’m just not feeling it today’ and faff about. The bum has to be planted on the seat and the words have to be written by the date you said they’d be written – especially when you’re being paid to write them.

Anyways, I have half a day out of the partition job today, next week’s business trip has been cancelled, and both the novel and a guest post for a friend are on the agenda for this afternoon. First, though, it’s a run out to the airport – Ms T is off to Sydney to visit my parents and catch up with some friends.

Until next week…

 

Self-care and resistance training…

At the best gym in the world

This post was supposed to be about why I hate the gym (and why I’m going anyway), but I’ve since decided that it’s actually about self-care – self-care in terms of really looking after yourself. The self-care that’s often overlooked in the name of self-indulgence.

It’s a concept that has kept coming up of late. Debbish referred to an article she’d read in this post late last year, and since then that same article has kept appearing in my feeds.

Have a read of the article – it rang heaps of bells for me. The key message I took away is that true self-care often involves doing the thing that you least want to do:

Sometimes actual self-care, “has very little to do with “treating yourself” and a whole lot to do with parenting yourself and making choices for your long-term wellness.”

It’s about putting in place those structures that mean you don’t need to escape your life as often as you might need to now. It doesn’t mean that every so often you don’t need to take time out or treat yourself, but rather that you don’t need to do it as often – or at the long-term expense of your health or goals.

I haven’t always disliked the gym…

I used to be quite the addict. You name a class, I’ve done it. I even used to double up – a pump followed by a step or combat…or vice versa. I can still listen to certain songs and will automatically know the steps from the old body step track or the rhythm of the pump track.

I stopped in my early 40s when a combination of injuries, weight gain, work travel, weight gain, work stress, weight gain, and chronic back pain took me away from the routine of classes. Actually, the chronic back pain started after I stopped – and stopped me from starting again.

I still moved. I walked and spent endless boring hours before work on the treadmill and cross trainer. The only time I had to exercise was before work and I decided that if I had to get to the gym by 5 am, I certainly wasn’t going to get up at 4.30 am to do something I disliked before heading to a job I disliked as well.  So, I ignored resistance training – even though I knew that I shouldn’t – and my pain got worse.

As we get older we need to do more resistance training.

Cardio is important, but there’s also that business about bone strength and maintaining muscle mass and how metabolism slows when muscles lose their mass. Yep, it’s technical and it makes my eyes glaze over too.

Aside from those reasons, I personally need to do resistance training to support a wonky back that’s always been wonky but is now more so as a result of too many years of doing too little to help it and too much to hurt it.

While I’m in substantially less pain than I was in Sydney, my spine has structural issues that need to be managed. It’s curved in a couple of places and I’m missing a few ribs and a couple of half vertebrates.  There’s also a couple of healed cracks in there from horse falls…don’t ask.

It’s something I’ve dealt with my whole life and managed relatively successfully until my early 40s – which was, you guessed it when I stopped swimming and resistance training…and when I started putting on (rather than lifting) serious weight.

They say that the best exercise for you is the one that you love…

That’s absolutely true. Regular movement is what’s important.  The problem is, I’ve spent the last 7-8 years doing only the exercise that I enjoy and ignoring what I know will be good for me.

While walking does my mind and my body a heap of good, I know that while it helps, it’s no longer enough on its own to keep my back strong.

That’s why even though I don’t enjoy it, in the interests of self-care, I’m adding resistance training back into my regular routine. I’m continuing to walk in the mornings – that’s non-negotiable – but I’m committing to the gym at lunchtime on at least two of the days I’m doing the corporate gig.

It doesn’t mean I have to like it, but I’m going to try and learn to enjoy it. I have a great playlist that I turn up very loud, and I’m just getting on with it. It’s a tough love thing and, while my mind might rebel today, my body needs it for tomorrow.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.

2018 – The Wellness Goals

In line with my word of the year heart, my wellness goals this year are aimed at heart health – improving it, healing it, making it sing:

  • Healthy body
  • Healthy mind
  • Healthy relationships

As a result of some extreme and sustained stress and anxiety in 2015/2016, I experienced high blood pressure – at one point dangerously high blood pressure. I’m an asthmatic and the medication I was placed on reduced my heartbeat to a level where I literally couldn’t breathe. Instead of feeling as though my heart was beating out of my chest, I felt as though my lungs were carrying a lead weight. My fitness disappeared overnight and climbing even a short flight of stairs left me breathless.

Although the doctor (eventually) changed my medication, I’m not on any at the moment and a pharmaceutical fix is absolutely not a long-term solution for me. Although our lifestyle has changed over the past 12 months, there’s no doubt that my weight is continuing to place stress on my heart.

This year is about healing both the physical and emotional hurts I’ve inflicted on that poor organ over the last few years. In short, I need to lighten up – in mind, body and spirit.

Healthy Body

1.Alcohol

Ok, I drink too much alcohol. My one glass a night has crept up to ½ a bottle a night – and more on weekends. It started as a way of managing the anxiety of my job and the crap storm that was happening elsewhere in 2015/2016. It was my way of winding down and numbing the events of the day – yes, my job back then really was that stressful.

Even after I left that job in July 2016, there was other stuff happening, long commutes, and…you don’t need the details. Suffice to say, I continued to self-medicate and de-sensitise.

These days that’s pretty much going straight to my belly with no nutritional value at all. I don’t intend giving it up completely, and would like to say I’d go alcohol-free during the work week, but in the interests of being nice to myself, will limit my midweek drinks to one glass of red a night – and not one that looks like this!

2. Water

At the other end of the spectrum, I’m slack on my water consumption. This is a problem as my body is one of those that tends to hold onto water. In the summer or on long flights that means my ankles become cankles by the end of the day. Then I spend all night back and forth from the loo to pee it all out again. Too much information?

My heart needs more water to do its job properly, so more water is what I’ll give it.

3. Nutrition

Generally speaking, we eat well. We eat and cook seasonally using fresh ingredients. I gave up sugar (including hidden sugars) a number of years ago – with the notable exception of the above-mentioned alcohol – but my portion sizes are too large (remember what I said in my word post about boundaries?) and although I never eat after dinner, I tend to snack in the late afternoon. This really is a mindfulness thing, but the changes I intend to bring into 2018 are:

  • Smaller portions
  • Meatless Mondays
  • No snacking
  • Reduce wheat and gluten – good sourdough can be my once a week treat

4. Exercise

 

I’ve fallen off the daily walk wagon in the last couple of weeks, but up till then was walking 5 km most weekday mornings.

As for my gym membership? I haven’t set foot in the place since November, so strength training simply hasn’t happened and everything is very floppy. Sadly, the opposite is true of my joints. I used to pride myself on my flexibility, but that’s non-existent these days.

In the interests of doing things that make my heart sing rather than groan:

  • I’ll re-commence my morning walks, but add in a longer one once a week. I’d like to set myself some sort of challenge to work towards, but am not there yet.
  • I’m getting back into the pool. I swam most of my life – until a boxing-related shoulder injury some years ago. It’s time to get wet again.
  • Although I hate it with an absolute passion, I do need to get to the gym and do some strength work.
  • Yoga. I spend a lot of time sitting on my bum, so need both my body and my mind stretched.

Healthy Mind

 

I still struggle with anxiety – those moments that consume my brain with worry and make my heart race, especially at night. As a result, my sleep patterns are less than ideal – alcohol helps me get to sleep, but it also leads to disturbed sleep.

I have to find ways of coping and switching off that don’t involve alcohol. I also need to learn how to let go of the things I can’t control – lighten the load my brain copes with. I spend way too much time worrying about what other people think and trying to control that.

These tactics should help soothe my mind:

  • Morning walks help me deal with the corporate gig and get my day off to a good start, and are integral to my mental health. Walking beside the ocean soothes my mind and makes my heart sing. In addition this year:
  • Swimming along a black line has always been an active meditation for me. It’s the main reason I’m hitting the pool this year.
  • I’m giving meditation a whirl and also recommencing a yoga practice after many years of absence. I’m starting with just 10 minutes a day…surely that’s achievable?

Healthy Relationships

This year marks 29 years that hubby and I have been together, and 24 years married. It’s easy to take each other for granted over that period of time. In a busy life, one on one time takes a back-seat.

In view of that, I’m suggesting we have regular beach walks together – it will help his heart too! – and a date night (or lunch) once a month.

While the three of us eat our evening meal together at the dining table with no telly, I’ll be reinstating the Saturday night specials – where I prepare a more elaborate or special dinner with music, candles and proper table settings. It’s something that we used to always do but has slipped over the years.

Ok, those are the goals…I’m joining with a group of bloggers to check-in monthly in a Wellness Wednesday style post. Wish me luck!

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2018 – The Business Plan

Here at The Hungry Writer, my business partner (Kali, Adventure Spaniel) and I have been busy doing some future planning.

We’ve been brainstorming, whiteboarding and thought balling. We’ve tossed around ideas, set some blue sky targets, taken a helicopter view of the situation and gone for a stroll through the blame garden. We’ve confronted the variables of our economic landscape and recalibrated our thinking in terms of our client base moving forward. We’ve looked to reposition our offerings in line with the goals underpinning our mission statement and with a view to nurturing and cherishing our ongoing commitment to excellence at every level. Outcome focus as a means of achieving positive deliverables within a realizable factual matrix. We’ve drawn a line in the sand and we have some clear visions regarding future-proofing the company and generating passive income.

Kali in planning mode

What does this mean? I poured a wine and started to write some stuff down. Kali alternated between snoring and wagging her tail encouragingly. By the time I finished my wine, I had a business plan for 2018.

Vision Statement

To be a financially successful independent author.

3-year strategy for focused growth

  • Increase product offering
  • Increase independent income to day job levels
  • Do more speaking at conferences and workshops

5-year strategy for focused growth

  • Continue to increase product offering
  • Increase independent income to mid-six figures
  • Be known as a successful writer

Values – my WHY

Success, for me, is defined as living (or being) the following values:

Freedom

  • The financial freedom to travel, explore and create
  • The professional freedom to choose and pursue my projects

Independence

  • The financial independence to build my own income and success
  • The professional independence to work with teams of my choice

Make a difference

  • Fiction: To be known as an author whose books provide a happy ending and whose stories make a bad day feel better
  • Astrology: To provide readers with the tools to expand their potential and increase their good day ratios

The Challenges

  • I have good traffic and social media presence on the astro site – am currently ranked in the top 50 astrology sites – but have no product to sell.
  • I have products to sell as The Hungry Writer but have limited traffic to the site and limited awareness of my books. It surprised me recently when regular visitors to my page via the weekly links were unaware that I’m an author.
  • I work 3-3.5 days a week in a corporate gig, so time to create needs to be tightly structured.

My Priorities: 2018 in focus

Double the number of products offered for sale.

Currently, I have 7 products for sale:

  • Baby, It’s You (Amazon)
  • Baby, It’s You (ibooks)
  • Big Girls Don’t Cry (Amazon)
  • Big Girls Don’t Cry (ibooks)
  • Wish You Were Here (Amazon)
  • Wish You Were Here (ibooks)
  • Wish You Were Here (Ingram Sparks print on demand)

In 2018 I’ll:

  • Release I Want You Back on all platforms
  • Release (working title) Happy Ever After on all platforms
  • Package and release six astro ebooks for sale on Amazon.

Double business income year on year and keep an eye on the numbers

Despite fiction being responsible for over 80% of my cost base, it accounts for just over 22% of my writing income – the remainder comes from freelance astrology commissions. This needs to begin to even out.

Just as I monitor the numbers on the websites, I have to take my head out of my own arse and do the same with book sales. Monthly.

Work smarter

  • Traffic on both sites responds to new content (see graphs below), but this is time-consuming to produce, so I need to be smarter and more focused on my content offerings
  • Repackage where possible (astro posts)
  • Develop a calendar for blog posts and batch post and schedule in advance once a week to maximise time I can spend creating content that will be income producing in the future

Increase email list- both astro and fiction lists

  • Develop a schedule for newsletters – and stick to it
  • Develop a “lead magnet” for each brand to grow mailing lists

Increase general brand awareness

  • Draft list of potential speaking topics and begin actively seek out opportunities
  • Develop press releases for all new fiction
  • Begin developing networks in Sunshine Coast and Brisbane
  • Increase traffic to The Hungry Writer – target is 40,000 views in 2018. It was just on 30,000 in 2017.

  • Increase traffic to Jo Tracey Astrology to 500,000 views (it was just over 400,000 in 2017)

Checking in…

I’ll check in on progress on a quarterly basis – sort of like my own mini CEO roadshow.

What about you? If you’re an author (indie or traditional), have you planned how you’ll grow your author business this year? What’s your ‘why’?

 

 

Nanowrimo – your training program

Last week I told you about nanowrimo – the equivalent of a marathon for writers.

Marathoners pull on their trainers each day and practice. If this is the marathon of writing challenges, the key to success is in the preparation. With November nearly here, it’s time to get started (if you haven’t already) on your Nanowrimo training plan:

1.Decide how you will be writing your novel.

I use the Scrivener app. Here’s 10 reasons why. I love how it sets session targets. I especially love the corkboard – so much that I might just manage a separate post on it.

If you’re writing your nanowrimo novel in MSword or freehand, simply  enter your word count daily into the nano website. You can stay on track, and the graph is cool. I told you about the graph, didn’t I?

2. Have a back up strategy…and use it

Be paranoid. I back up to a hard drive and also to dropbox – just to be sure.

3. Carry a notebook and pen with you at all times. I use a moleskine. It makes me feel like a real writer.

4. Have coffee – or wine – on hand.

I tend to subscribe to the “write drunk, edit sober” theory… not that I take this literally, but you get the idea.

5. Set your targets

Dig your calendar out from wherever it is languishing and mark in your writing days for November. Decide how many days a week can you write? (Hint: be realistic)

5 days?

7 days?

This will determine your nanowrimo daily target.

If you intend writing 7 days a week, you’ll be heading for a target of 1667 words a day.

I go to bed an hour earlier and write there. It works for me – just don’t tell my chiropractor. Quite often I dream what happens next.

I also tend to grab moments wherever I can – in the hairdressers, waiting at airports, during lunch hours. Wherever, whenever. The year my daughter did the HSC I got heaps of words written waiting outside maths tutorials. I felt like I’d been called to the headmaster’s office.

While you have your calendar out, mark in all your commitments – places that you know you have to be. Be honest, and be realistic.

Maybe you can manage a half an hour in the morning before the kids get up and all hell breaks loose, or an hour at night after they go to bed. You might choose to fit it in on a weekend, or get together with friends for a marathon writing session.

However you schedule it, keep to it.

6. Schedule in your down-time

You have to. Getting out for a walk, or a coffee or whatever will help keep the creative juices flowing – and ensure you stay sane. If you want to stay inspired while you’re walking, listen to your favourite podcasts.

7. Expect life to get in the way- it will.

There will be some days where you can sit down uninterrupted at the keyboard and others where you’re clawing 5 minutes here, there or anywhere. Life doesn’t stop just because you’re doing this. Houses will still need cleaning, clothes will still need washing, gardens will still need weeding, and arguments will still need mediating.

In the same vein, there is no perfect year to do nano – it’s what you make of it.

8. If you really want to do it, you will make time.

I recall finishing my first nano experience in 2009 in the airport at Perth.

As well as the normal demands of home and my full-time job, the relocation project I was working on for Perth (and managing largely from Sydney) had blown wide open.

2010 was much the same, although this time the relocation was in Hong Kong and the final chapter was finished at that airport.

On both occasions I carried my notebook with me and scribbled during coffee and lunch breaks. Back in my hotel bed each night I’d transpose my scribbles into real words.

Somehow the word total grew. Having so much on added to the sense of achievement.

In 2015 I spent most of November road-tripping around England, and in 2016 I was climbing a mountain in New Zealand – or, rather, walking Milford Track, which is much the same thing.

9. Run your own race

I’Il go hard the first week of the challenge and, despite the session targets I set myself, usually end the first week well ahead of schedule.

This is good because I tend to hit my personal wall at about the 25,000 word mark – and things slow from there.

10. The middle 2 weeks are hard.

Most stories are abandoned somewhere between 15,000 and 25,000 words. The story is often in the saggy doldrums – enthusiasm is waning and the end is still a long way off.

I find that the efforts of the first week get me through the middle two.

11. What if my story gets stuck?

When I get really stuck, I jump scenes – sometimes writing the end first, other times writing another scene that has jumped into my head. It works for me.

I don’t happen to believe in writer’s block – I’m way too busy for that. If, however, you feel that you’re suffering from this malaise, check out this post: 8 ways to beat writer’s block.

12. What if I don’t know if my idea has legs?

That’s what makes nanowrimo so great- it allows you to explore an idea and determine whether there is really a 85-100k novel in it.

My effort in 2009 was largely semi-autobiographical. It was 50,000 words that will never see the light of day (heaven forbid), but needed to come out of my head. Nanowrimo was the best time to do that. Once those words were out, other ideas started to flood in. I now have a board full of potential stories- most of which consist of a single line. If you want to write something, but need to clear some space in your head first, I’d urge you to use this years Nanowrimo for precisely that purpose.

13. Plotter or Pantser?

If you like to know where you’re going to go with the story and how you’re going to get there, you’re probably a plotter.

If you’re starting with the germ of an idea, maybe a character or two, and just seeing where it leads you, you’re a pantser.

Perhaps you’re a combination of the two? I’m definitely a pantser.

Nanowrimo is a great time to play with something different. If you’re a plotter, why not give yourself the freedom to see what happens? If you’re a pantser, why not experiment with a different technique?

14. Don’t edit

The point of nanowrino is to get the words out, so resist the urge to edit as you go.

15. What if I don’t make the 50,000 words?

So what? You’ll still have more words than you started with.

And finally…

Nanowrimo is meant to be fun, so try not to be too hard on yourself, or do the analysis paralysis thing. Just write.

There’s no judgment, or right or wrong. There are just words – and hopefully more of them by November 30 than there was at November 1.

Why you should write a novel in November

So anyways, November is around the corner…and if November is around the corner, so too is NaNoWriMo. Nano wtf? National Novel Writing Month.

Essentially the challenge is to, along with a few hundred thousand other people, get 50,000 words out of your head and onto a page – or a laptop -during the month of November. It’s a bit like a novel writing marathon.

By the end of November, our poor little novel writer’s wrists are burning, our eyelids need propping open, our body fluids have been gradually replaced by copious amounts of caffeine or alcohol, and most of us have hit a wall at some point through the process. In our case the “wall” isn’t extreme physical exhaustion (although it can be) – more often it’s a blank screen, or page.

The hardest part of the process by far is fitting writing a novel in around life – because, as we know, it doesn’t stop just because we’ve committed to writing a novel. For those of us with kids, November is the time of the year where end of year exams and end of year performances and presentation nights all start to fill up the calendar. In addition, most of us have jobs and other responsibilities. We don’t have time to add writing a novel to that list. Do we?

So, if it’s that flipping hard, why do we do it? To be honest, asking a writer that question is a little like asking a marathoner why they lace up the trainers to put their bodies through 42kms of pain, or asking a climber why they do Everest. The answer is simple – because it’s a challenge and it’s there.

I’ve done it most years since 2009. Each of my novels has started life during Nanowrimo. Baby, It’s You and Big Girls Don’t Cry were both managed while I had a full time job – with large chunks written in hotel rooms and airports during office relocation projects – and all the things that go along with being a Mum with a (then) school age child. The bulk of Wish You Were Here was written during nanowrimo in 2015 – even though I was on a road trip through Britain for the 2nd half of November.

I even signed up last year – even though I knew that I’d be on Milford Track with access to no technology for a week of the month. The first 30,000 words of I Want You Back came from that.

Should you enter? Yes. Especially if:

  • You’ve been talking about writing a book someday for ever and flipping ever
  • You’ve got a story in your head that needs to escape
  • You like a good graph

Need more convincing?

  • 50,000 words isn’t a full novel (unless you’re writing novellas, category romance or children’s books), but it’s a bloody good start.
  • It’s a great way to take a new idea for a test flight. By 50,000 words you’re going to know whether it’s got legs and, if it doesn’t, you’ve only wasted one month. In my view, that’s an efficient outcome.
  • It doesn’t need to be a novel. Perhaps you’ve been thinking about a non fiction project, a memoir, a collection of short stories or poems, a screenplay.
  • It never needs to be seen by anyone other than yourself. The book I wrote in 2009 was vaguely semi semi autobiographical shite. It will never be published – although I have used parts of it in everything I’ve written since. I’d had it in my head for so long that writing it down allowed all the other stories that had been waiting their turn behind it in my brain to come tearing out. (I think my brain is a tad like an air traffic control tower.) Anyways, that character – my runaway astrologer Alice – has her own story that I’ll be writing this year. And no, it’s no longer even vaguely semi semi autobiographical. Except for the astrologer bit.
  • It’s one month where you can experiment with different genres, different voices. Again, if it doesn’t work, you’ve only wasted a month. The year I drafted Big Girls Don’t Cry, I experimented with writing as if it were a project plan ie from the end backwards. The year I wrote Baby, It’s You, I wrote to a playlist. I wrote 3 different viewpoints in I Want You Back. Because it is only a month, you can try out different techniques to get you through the wall, through the saggy middle, and to have a little fun with the process.
  • Even if you don’t get to 50,000 words, you’ll have more words at the end of November than you did at the beginning.
  • It’s great training. To be a writer you have to get in the habit of writing – every day.
  • If you’re a plotter or edit as you go, this is a great opportunity to just let the words flow. See what happens. No edits – not until December 1.
  • You get to see the graph on the nano site. It’s a great graph.
  • With nanowrimo, there’s no escape, no catch-ups. If you’ve been struggling to establish a writing habit, I can’t think of a better way to do it.

Am I entering this year? Absolutely. I have Alice’s story – or the The Book After The Book That’s After I Want You Back – to tell. It’s the last in my Melbourne Girls series and will tie up any loose ends – all the way back to Baby, It’s You.

If you’re up for it, you can sign up at the official site. You’ll find forums, events, cool widgets for your blog, emails of encouragement and a cast of hundreds of thousands of other people doing it with you. I’m Astrojo, so if you’re signing up, come follow me.

Reviews and why I don’t read them

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Ok, here’s the deal: I tend not to read reviews. I’m one of those writers who can’t – I’m scared that I might accidentally read one that’s not so good, downright bad or non existent.

My skin, you see, is paper thin – and yes, I’m aware that in the game I’ve chosen to be in, that’s not a good thing. I’m the type of person who could read 125 reviews and dwell only on the one that said something like ‘chick lit is crap’…or ‘your character was a whiny, spineless individual.’

I’m the same in the partition. I’ll work my arse off on a presentation to get everything just right – making sure that every box is ticked, every i tittled (that was on my omgfactoftheday calendar as a fancy pants word for dotting i’s), every previous piece of feedback is incorporated. Then, when a new box is created to be ticked, a new i needing tittled, I’ll beat myself up for not anticipating it.

I know that the way I feel is not rational. I know that not everyone will have the same sense of humour, like the same books, the same movies or the same TV shows as I do. I know that what I find likeable (or amusing) in a friend, in a character, in an attitude, in a situation could be the opposite for someone else. they might find that trait just plain annoying. I know that people will read into things what they think they should. I know that some people are never pleased, and others are pleased only when they are identifying faults. I know that some people can take offence at anything and everything. I get that.

The number of times I call blog posts back for editing – just in case someone reads something the wrong way is incredible. I think I edit 90% of the words that come out of my mouth and my keyboard. I allow the remaining 10% to keep me awake at night.

So I don’t read reviews – in case no one has left one, and in case I don’t like what I see.

I do, however, leave reviews – if I’ve enjoyed a book, a restaurant, a hotel. If I have a problem, I address it first with the restaurant or hotel before going to town about it on Trip Advisor.

As for books? I’ll leave stars on Goodreads for those I’ve enjoyed, and nothing at all if I didn’t. Much of the time if I don’t like a book, it’s because I don’t like the genre – and to review on that basis isn’t fair. If it wasn’t my cup of tea, why should I leave something soul destroying for the author?

It’s like the supernatural buff who complains that there were no zombies in the literary offering. It’s like the couple who love French fine dining who leave a scathing review for the local Thai: ‘the food was too spicy and the service wasn’t what we’re used to.’ Or maybe the honeymooners who chose a family friendly resort during the school holidays: ‘it was impossible to get any privacy, and there were too many noisy children in the pool and at the buffet.’

I’m not great at reviewing. I either enjoyed it or I didn’t. I generally don’t know why I did or I didn’t (unless I’m reading outside my genre). It’s why I enjoy reading balanced, well thought out, intelligent reviews by people who do know why they did or didn’t enjoy something. Debbish, I’m looking at you.

Having said that, when you’re tagged in a post there’s no avoiding it…which was why I was thrilled when Debbish reviewed Wish You Were Here. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: she’s super clever when it comes to pinpointing issues and I respect her opinion more than I can ever tell her- and that’s not just because I was ecstatic and relieved and all those other words with her review. Anyways, here it is. I’m stoked.

Of course, having said all of that, if you liked Wish You Were Here, I’d love it if you could leave a review. Not that I’d read it, but you know what I mean, right?

Finding time to write: 5 tips to beat the excuses…

Feather pen set of abstract color

Tomorrow is November 1, ie the official start to nanowrimo.

Just lately, I’ve spoken to a few people who’ve said things like:

‘I SO want to do this. Like, seriously, really want to do this- but I just don’t have time. I have a job, you know.’

Or

‘I’m ready this year, but November is when the shit starts to hit the fan with school stuff.’

Or

‘I don’t know how people manage it. I have a family, and a job. I really want to do it- I know there’s a book in me- but I simply don’t have time.’

Here’s the thing- I know. I know all of this. I’m busy. You’re busy. We’re all busy – in our own ways. Sometimes I think busy-ness is a competitive sport.

I have a family and work a stressful full-time job too. I’m out the door at 6.30am, and back home by 7pm. In the meantime, I have a heavy blogging schedule with the astro site, and like to keep regular posts happening on and anyways and here too. My house still needs cleaning, and clothes need washing, and shirts need ironing, and gardens need weeding, and social lives need arranging. There’s always something that has to be done. A couple of hours to sit down and write can seem like a guilty pleasure.

I used to say that I’d like to run a marathon. I said it so often that I had to enter a 10km event. Twice. Then it hit me that I didn’t really want to run a marathon- I didn’t really want to run at all. I hated it- so much I can’t put the words around it. Emily’s story in Baby, It’s You, is mine (well, the running bit is)- except that it took me longer to declare that I was never ever ever running again. Ever. A nice walk would suit me perfectly well.

The same analogy goes for writing a book. You might have been saying for years that you want to write a book. The experience of nano could help you decide if long distance writing is really for you. Or it will help you get it out of your system and convince you that the literary equivalent of a nice walk is more your style.

If you really (and I mean really) want to do nanowrimo, but have no idea how you’re going to fit it in, try these tips:

You don’t need to write 50,000 words

That’s right. You don’t. Any words you do write will be more than you had last month. Set yourself a session goal. It could be 500 words, it could be 1667…it could be somewhere in between. It’s all ok. This month I will be completely off the grid for 5 days when I’m tramping Milford Sound, and a further 3 days in the Victorian High Country. The likelihood of me making 50,000 words is slim – but, then again, I said that last year too.

Schedule your writing time

Get your calendar out and mark in all your commitments- places that you know you have to be. Be honest, and be realistic.

Maybe you can manage a half an hour in the morning before the kids get up and all hell breaks loose, or an hour at night after they go to bed. You might choose to fit it in on a weekend, or get together with friends for a marathon writing session.

However you schedule it, keep to it.

What’s my routine?

I tend to exercise first thing in the morning- at least a few mornings a week – so my alarm goes off at 4.45am. During November, I’ll use that hour to write and walk at lunchtime instead. I usually manage to write for an hour or so (in bed) each night. I write at the hairdressers, I scribble in my journal in the 15-20 mins I have every morning between getting off the bus and meeting my BMF for coffee. I grab every single minute I can.

I try and get next weeks blog posts done and scheduled on Friday evening and Saturday mornings before whatever maintenance appointment needs keeping. It’s mad, but it means I can spend time with my family on the weekend, and get my real writing done over the time that’s left.

Yes, it’s chaotic, and busy and all the rest of that, but I figure that one day (hopefully in the not too distant future) this will be my full-time job and I won’t need to fit a corporate role around it. In the meantime, I’m prepared to do what it takes to get there.

Schedule your down-time

You have to. Getting out for a walk, or a coffee or whatever will help keep the creative juices flowing- and ensure you stay sane. I tend to write to a playlist, so when I’m stuck, that music and a ramble often gets it all flowing again. If you want to stay inspired while you’re walking, podcasts are a great idea.

Limit your TV

Yes, yes, yes…but it’s only for 30 days. You can catch up on your favourite shows later. I tend to allow myself an hour a night. The same applies to internet.

Be kind to yourself

You don’t need to make like Superwoman. It’s ok if there’s a dust bunny in the corner, or a weed in the vegie patch, or leftovers for dinner or that New Moon post and newsletter. It’s ok to ask for help, and it’s ok to stand in the middle of the room when you get home and scream…or is that just me?

So, how about it? Are you in?

Am I in it?

Masks with theatre concept

Am I in it?

It’s one of the most common questions I get asked- although one of my closest friends doesn’t bother to ask…he tells anyone who’ll listen that he’s the lead character in each of the books. Life is full of disappointment.

The people who ask this question assume, incorrectly, that they are in the story…or that they know someone who is. I suspect some are worried that they are- especially the ones who know they’ve pissed me off. What did the coffee mug say? Something about not pissing off a writer- you could end up in a book. Dead. The thing is, they’re not either- yet.

It is, however, a reasonable question. It’s also a question that my husband has never asked. Part of him, I think, doesn’t want to know. For the record there will never ever ever ever be any part of my husband in anything I write. Ever. Probably. Maybe. Some of his qualities are, however, in each of my heroes. Naturally, they’re the qualities I fell in love with all those years ago. Good answer?

It’s safer to say there’s more than a little of me in each of my heroines. There’s a little of me in Emily, my heroine in Baby, It’s You. Like me, she’s a Pisces, has a thing about daggy pop music, will never ever ever run again, and is prone to blisters. There’s also a little of how I’d like to be in Emily- I’d especially like her hair and her waist.

There’s only a little of me in Abby from Big Girls Don’t Cry. Abby is the most complex, damaged and inherently strong of my leading ladies (to date). Abby was not (especially at the start) a particularly likeable character, but by the end of the story, I hope readers could connect with her.

Of them all (so far), Max from Wish You Were Here is most like me. Not physically, of course, but for much of the story, she’s the most passive of my girls and also the least damaged. Because she isn’t damaged, her flaws are possibly going to be more frustrating.

Like me, Max has a habit of drifting along and falling into decisions rather than making choices. I suspect this is because she hasn’t really been challenged before. Not really. Max needs some pretty drastic things to happen to her and around her before she makes the changes she needs to make, sees what she needs to see, and goes in the direction she needs to go. She has an almost immature and self-contained view of her own world and doesn’t see what’s even slightly below the surface or how her action (or inaction) can impact others. In a way, she’s oblivious to all of that.

The similarities between Max and myself didn’t occur to me until I was finishing the copy edit for Wish You Were Here the other day. Although most of this book was drafted between November and February, the layers were added since. Coincidentally (?) I’ve had some pretty chaotic stuff happening to me personally in the last 6 months- much of it in the same theme (although not the same events, of course) as what I’d written in for Max all those months before.

Although I tend to go with the flow, it’s only been in response to the (increasingly heavy-handed) hints that the Universe has dished out that has prompted me to start making the decisions that need to be made- rather than drifting on pretending that it will all go away and life can go on as I know it…or knew it.

I don’t know whether subconsciously Max responded in the way that I would or whether I wrote her that way because of what was happening in background of my life. I’m not even sure that the distinction matters. While Max shares these traits with me, she is also a very different person, with very different motivations and trigger points- and is a much better cook.

The thing is, writing what we know doesn’t mean that we write who we know.

As a writer, it stands to reason then, that our characters will say things we’ve heard others say, or do things we’ve observed others do. Then we exaggerate it. In the case of my “villains” or antagonists, I exaggerate an awful lot. All of my friends have been warned that anything they say could be taken down and used later by a character who will probably bear no resemblance to them.

Likewise, it would also be easy to say that the starting point when writing about relationship is what you know. Or what you think you know. Or what you imagine you know. Or what you want to know and experience. The rest comes from your imagination- and the characters themselves. As it should.

Before Baby, It’s You was published I lay awake worrying about what people would think of me when it came out. Would they read too much into it? Layer me into Emily, layer what they thought they knew of me into the rest? And that’s exactly what some people did. ‘Oh, I didn’t know that you felt that way,’ someone said. ‘I don’t,’ I replied, ‘but Emily does.’

It was only a few months down the track when I realised that I hadn’t exactly sold that many copies that it occurred to me just how arrogant I was being. It’s not something I even thought about when Big Girls came out. It’s not something that’s worrying me this time around either- even though, as I’ve admitted above, it could be reasonable this time to draw some similarities between Max and myself.

As for the other characters in Wish You Were Here? I’m sorry to disappoint, but they’re completely made up…even my “villain”… especially my “villain”…

Wish You Were Here will be available from the end of October, 2016