Monday, 31 March 2014

Refresh: My Quarterly Review

I'm determined not to be one of those people whose New Year's resolutions fade into the past by springtime. That doesn't necessarily mean I will complete every resolution; priorites change over relatively short periods of time and life gets in the way. However, it means I have to take the time to review my goals every few months to ensure I'm still working towards something, whether or not I'm following my original plan.

I've completed 2 of my New Year's resolutions so far: I finished the computer courses I enrolled on and I can run for an hour (albeit very slowly). There are 29 altogether, but I'm unsure about a few of them and several are aiming to change my day-to-day habits (such as keeping a spending diary and doing yoga), so they are assessed rather than achieved. I'm working on the rest of my goals, but tend to be erratic when it comes to completing actions that count towards them...

So how am I progressing on my writing goals?

Hmmm... I have been submitting more work over the past few weeks, so should meet my aim of submitting at least 12 pieces within the next couple of months. However, I've been neglecting my novel and haven't yet finished the first draft, let alone finished the novel 'to a decent standard' as my resolution says.

Most of my writing progress has come about in ways I hadn't foreseen at the start of the year. I'm doing writing activities as volunteer work for a local non-profit and I'm trying to build a freelance career in writing nonfiction alongside my fiction. I forced myself to join LinkedIn and write a profile, which was terrifying — I'm announcing to the world that I take my writing seriously and want to be paid for writing!

Connected to this new change of direction are 2 courses for which I've just registered... I will soon be starting the first, which is on Web Design, and will be doing a 12 week Open University module called An Introduction to Bookkeeping and Accounting in May. The theory is that both courses will give me skills that will enhance my freelance writing career, plus they will be useful when applying for clerical jobs. 

Neither computer skills nor numbers come naturally to me, so both courses will be challenging. I have to remember that facing these challenges is the only way I'm going to improve my skills. In fact, a lot of my New Year's resolutions for 2014 have this theme — because facing challenges is always better than running away from your fears.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Validation Matters...

I've been published. Don't get too excited — it's a 300-word column in the local newspaper, not a book deal with a major publisher. Having said that, seeing my words on a page not printed by myself is an odd experience. It makes me think 'maybe I could be a real writer.' Whatever that means.

Someone else thinking my writing is good enough to publish (or good enough for anything other than the bin) validates that writing. It also validates my writing ambitions. It makes me feel a little more confident.

It's stupid: my writing being published doesn't mean it's better than my unpublished work. It doesn't automatically transform those 300 words into something good. Besides, there are thousands of mediocre writers whose work is published in some form. Many of them make a lot of money from terrible books. I know all of this, so why should such a negligible achievement make me feel validated?

I suppose it's evidence; one or two people, at least, think my words are worth reading. Or at least worth filling a few inches of blank paper. If one or two people think my writing is okay, perhaps more people will think it is okay. Perhaps it is worth taking the time to write and the trouble to submit work.

That's why validation matters: it gives writers the extra iota of confidence they need to keep going. So much of writing is a solitary struggle that it's good (even essential) to be reminded that it's not a waste of time. I'm pleased to be published in my local newspaper not because it's the culmination of a dream, but because it encourages me to keep pursuing my dreams.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Positively Productive Writing

I bought The Positively Productive Writer by Simon Whaley a while ago, after reading good reviews, and finally got around to reading it at the beginning of this week. I'm glad I did. If you're assuming it's full of hippy-trippy tripe about how everyone is a fantastic writer, you're wrong. Yes, it's unabashedly optimistic, but it's also realistic.

Simon Whaley provides loads of practical advice and encouragement. The book's key theme is coping with rejection: what to do instead of crying and quitting writing forever when the inevitable rejections pile up. The flip side of that is, of course, having the courage to submit work in the first place.

If you've read my recent blog posts, especially How to Be a More Assertive Writer, you will recognise how closely The Positively Productive Writer fits my current state of mind. In fact, my favourite idea in the book is similar to one I suggested in How to Be a More Assertive Writer using booster cards.

I suggested a classic CBT technique: writing your negative thoughts and more realistic responses to them on flashcards. For example: "I will never be published" and "If you never submit work, you never will be published. If you submit your writing frequently, there is a good chance you will be published because your writing is just as good as a lot of published work". 

Simon Whaley's booster cards, on the other hand, are reminders of your strengths and achievements. If you've ever had anything published - even a letter in the local newspaper - he says you must write "I am a published writer" on a card. If you write, you should write one saying "I am a writer! I am writing now!" and if you submit your work and get rejections, you should celebrate having the courage to submit by writing "I get rejections!"

So which is better?

Neither. Both sets of cards are valuable. Simon Whaley's are great for when you feel the sting of a fresh rejection or the despair of thinking you're not a "proper" writer. The negative thoughts/responses are good for those times when you're sure you will never be successful and anything you do is futile. I'm certainly going to use both sets of cards.

If you're in need of a boost, I recommend you buy The Positively Productive Writer by Simon Whaley and try his other ideas too. Or just read - it's like being given a good pep talk and a kick up the arse!

Friday, 7 March 2014

Killing Time Thieves

I've noticed a phenomenon in my life: I get more done in the busiest, most stressful periods. When I have plenty of time to write — literally hours — I lag, I avoid, I procrastinate. As my free time increases, my productivity decreases.

All of this points to an inevitable truth I have to face: my biggest time thief is ME.

I can't blame television (which I often have on as background noise when I'm writing anyway). I can't even blame the lure of the internet. I can blame my puppy a little, but as he gets older he gets less needy and (marginally) better behaved. He's teething, so I give him a carrot and he shuts up for a while.

My time thieves aren't responsibilities and technologies, they're a little more tricky. They are my fears: of failure, of rejection, of disappointing and disappointment. They stop me from doing as much writing as I ought to do, from submitting the work I complete and from doing more to promote my writing. I spend more time thinking up excuses not to do writing tasks ('there is no point in entering competitions because I never win' and 'why bother writing a themed story for that journal when they will just reject me?') than I spend actually writing.

I can't kill my time thieves until I fight them.

Fears don't disappear until you face them — multiple times. I'm caught in a vicious circle: I'm too afraid to step up and put my work out there, yet I will never overcome this fear until I put my work out there. What choice do I have? I can remain stuck, or I can take action.

Because whatever your time thieves are, the only way to kill them is through sheer determination and perseverance.

Isn't that annoying? Nobody's going to lock you in a room without distractions. An app that blocks internet access may help, but it's no substitute for willpower. Family and work take up a lot of time, but not every single hour. Most people can reclaim time spent doing stuff that's less important than their major goals in life.

The bottom line is, if you want something badly enough you have to grit your teeth and do it. Stop making excuses and get on with chasing your dreams.