Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Hello! I've been terrible at keeping up this blog, but I'm reluctant to abandon it because it has helped me through so much over the past 4 years. If you enjoy reading my musings, please check out Resurfacing and Rewriting. It's a mental health blog and everyone should think about their mental health and how to manage it — regardless of whether they have experienced mental illness or not.

I'm trying to figure out how to start making a living from writing and writing-related freelance work, like editing and proofreading. A major problem is my confidence in approaching people: I have few "contacts" and my anxiety means I'm terrible at networking, even online. It's frustrating, because I have confidence in my skills and my ability to do a good job, but I don't get many opportunities to demonstrate this because of my lack of confidence in networking.

I'm trying to work on short stories at the moment, because there are a few themed submission deadlines coming up that I really want to meet. It's not going very well... I suppose the trick is to keep scribbling and hope something emerges from the dross!

Monday, 3 August 2015

Power Month: The Review

My main goal for Power Month was to hit my 70,000 CampNaNoWriMo target and I'm delighted to say I did it! I now have a rough novel draft, which I intend to get rewriting after a breather for a few weeks. I spent most of the month thinking I wouldn't hit my target — I was writing 7,000 words a day for most of the final week — so this challenge was a reminder that I'm capable of achieving my goals when I set my mind to it. Instead of giving up or lowering my target, I kept going.

My other major goal was to write the next Scatterbrain Guide ready to release on 1st August... But that didn't happen. I had a very difficult couple of weeks near the beginning of the month, which threw me off course. Deciding to put the project on hold was disappointing, but necessary. Lesson learned: adjusting your goals when situations change is essential.

One of my lesser goals was to get writing some short stories. I thought I had neglected this goal, but I did actually do some freewriting and have come up with at least 2 solid ideas for stories. I think I forgot about this because it's in my writing journal and I therefore tend to think of it as "unofficial" writing. However, just because it's unofficial doesn't mean it's not essential — CampNaNoWriMo has reminded me of the importance of flexing our writing muscles most days, if not every day. Failing to complete "official" drafts (i.e. typed up and printed ready for making rewriting notes) is not the same as failing to do any writing. Lesson learned: give yourself credit for all of the writing you do, not just what has been completed.

Another of my lesser goals was to figure out how to make a living from writing and writing-related activities (such as proofreading and editing). I haven't done a lot of this, but I have gained some great ideas and encouragement from some of the people I've spoken to. If anyone has any tips or advice, please comment or email me!

I also intended to keep my blog Resurfacing and Rewriting going. It's been neglected for the past week, thanks to my prioritising CampNaNoWriMo, but I otherwise kept to my Mon-Wed-Fri posting schedule. I will get back on track this week. I love the blog, but it's hard work and it's always tricky in the early days, when it feels like nobody is reading your posts. I'm going to keep going, of course, because it's part of my mission to help break down the stigma surrounding mental illness and even discussions of mental health.

On the whole, I'm content with what I have achieved during Power Month, especially considering I hit a slump for almost half of it! August will be less rigid, but I hope to continue to progress towards my goals. Final lesson: pushing yourself can be motivating even when it doesn't work out — and achieves more than not aiming high.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

The Resurgence of POWER MONTH!

I'm feeling more energetic after my slump. I have written 40,000 words of my 70,000 CampNaNoWriMo target (though I might have cheated a little by including 6,000 words I wrote in the couple of weeks before... It was less demotivating than lowering my target!) and I'm more determined than ever to hit the target. The whole point of tackling my CampNaNoWriMo project is to  silence my inner critic by writing so much that I don't have time to pay attention to it. In theory, anyway! I can start critiquing my work after I hit the target and/or have a completed first draft of my novel.

I'm putting my next Scatterbrain Guide on hold. My novel is my priority and if I forced myself to write the Guide and publish it at the beginning of August, I doubt the quality would be up to my usual standard. I'd rather take a few extra weeks than charge people for a substandard ebook. It was a difficult but necessary decision to make. I'm disappointed, but when I launched Power Month I didn't expect to spend two weeks feeling like crap and neglecting my goals.

Power Month has been difficult, but I feel like it's pushing me forward towards my long-term goals. Here are some lessons I have learnt (so far) from Power Month:

1. You can't control hayfever, humidity headaches and feeling generally crap.
2. Stressing about the above will just make things worse.
3. You can adjust your goal (or how you measure it). It doesn't mean you have failed; it means you have reassessed the situation and are taking appropriate action to ensure you are as productive as you can be.
4. Worrying about not meeting your goals is a colossal waste of time. As is worrying about the amount of time you spend worrying.
5. You can work around feeling crap/worrying and still hit your targets.
6. Focusing on churning out a lot of words makes you less inclined to obsess over the quality of your writing.
7. Regardless of whether I hit my CampNaNoWriMo target, it feels pretty good to have written 40,000 words!

My new blog Resurfacing and Rewriting is going well, which I'm especially pleased about because it's a project very close to my heart: a positive blog about mental health and recovery from mental illness. Please check it out — there is plenty to explore regardless of whether you have mental health problems or not, including book recommendations. I like to think it's helping to break down the stigma surrounding mental illness and encouraging everyone to discuss mental health more openly.

Power Month is proving to be different from what I expected, but I have gleaned a lot of positives from the changes to my plan. It's difficult to assess while I'm still in the throes of Power Month, but I think it has been a success.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Recharging the Power

So... Power Month hasn't been going as well as I had anticipated. The slump was getting me down last week, so I decided to take some time off and recharge. I did nothing I didn't feel like doing, writing-wise. My novel lay untouched. I came to the end of my stash of ready-drafted blog posts for Resurfacing and Rewriting and write Friday's post off the top of my head: I think it turned out all right. I did a little freewriting, but that was it.

Today, I returned to my goals and I'm determined to achieve every single one. I will have to average over 3000 words a day to reach my CampNaNoWriMo target of 70,000 words but it's doable. My motivation has kickstarted itself again and I have faced the fact that if I quit or neglect my goals, I will regret it more than trying and failing to reach them.

The whole point of Power Month is that I wouldn't have time to psychoanalyse my every action. I didn't want to obsess over why I tend to procrastinate, especially when the goals are important to me (although I suspect I know the answer). So I am diving back into action and shall refuse to think about anything other than putting one foot in front of the other. Or, rather, I will try not to overthink everything...

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

POWER MONTH Hits a Slump

I declared July Power Month in my last post and the first few days went pretty well: I worked on my novel, blogged and felt positive about the month ahead. Then the weekend hit... Hay fever and headaches caused by humidity are partly to blame, but my motivation has sunk and I'm wasting time worrying instead of taking action.

My tactic for the whole month is to power through, but I will especially have to apply that to my novel today. I'm aiming to write 70,000 words during CampNaNoWriMo, so my daily target is 2,500 words — I've built in some wiggle room, but I didn't intend to fall behind in the first week! Doubts are creeping in: will the novel turn out okay? Am I an idiot to waste time writing it? Will everyone hate it? Should I just give up writing altogether? I know I've got to grit my teeth and write through the doubts, but it's bloody difficult.

Because the novel is proving such a struggle, I'm also neglecting my other projects. I've done a little preliminary work (brainstorming ideas and freewriting) but nothing major. I'm no closer to figuring out how to earn a living from writing. My next Scatterbrain Guide is just a bunch of scribbles. I haven't drafted a stash of blog posts. I've done very little work on short stories. Just writing about my failures makes me feel lazy and useless.

I hope this slump is a temporary setback. I had such high hopes for Power Month and never expected to fall at the first hurdle.


Wednesday, 1 July 2015

July is POWER MONTH!

July is a big month for me. The Scatterbrain's Guide to Improving Your Life with Kaizen  launches today. 
I have written about kaizen a lot on this blog and I think it's a philosophy which suits most people. The concept is that you make small, continuous changes. Simple, right? Of course, it's trickier in practice than in theory and this new Scatterbrain Guide provides strategies which can help you make dramatic improvements with minimal effort.

I'm also starting CampNaNoWriMo today! I aim to write 70,000 words of my current novel in July, hopefully ending up with a complete draft. I actually wrote 20,000 or 30,000 words of the novel in question at the beginning last year, but it didn't work. Its reincarnation is told from a different point of view and the plot has been streamlined. I think CampNaNoWriMo will give me the kickstart I need, because having a big goal leaves little time to worry and obsess over how bad the novel is and how I'm a terrible writer. I struggle with letting go when writing first drafts. Once it's written, I can turn my critical eye to it and set about improving the draft.

More generally, I want to develop a clear strategy for my freelance writing (and related services) career. Being a more prolific short story writer will be an essential part of the strategy, but I would like to earn a living through working with words so that I can come off ESA and won't have to deal with the pressures and stigma of receiving benefits. I believe that would help my mental health and being self-employed means I can work around my mental illness and don't have the stress of being disciplined for having too much time off work, which led to me resigning from my last job. Wish me luck!

In addition, I am plugging away at my mental health blog Resurfacing and Rewriting, which I hope will support, encourage and inspire other people with mental health problems — though many of the posts are relevant to everyone. So far, I have had one comment which wasn't spam! Having said that, I have had a lot of encouragement via Twitter (my handle is @HayleyNJones if you would like to follow me), which has taken over Instagram as my preferred method of procrastination. The project is very important to me and I view it as part of my life's purpose because I want to help break down the stigma surrounding mental illness.

So July is POWER MONTH and I plan to power through, giving my current projects a big kickstart/leap forward. I'm quite excited! Although a lot has changed for me so far this year, I haven't progressed as much as I intended. For the first time in forever, I feel like I have control of my life and I want to move forward — as fast as I can.

Monday, 22 June 2015

On Persevering

Over the weekend, I came across two blog posts which really resonated with me: Keep writing stories, and keep sending them out by Jennifer R Donohue and How to Avoid Writing Burnout by Anne Leigh Parrish. Both posts acknowledge the frustration of rejection while emphasising how important it is to keep on submitting work. They highlight the need to separate your emotions from the submission process and treat writing as any other business. However, this is easier said than done...

I think part of the problem is that the processes involved in writing and submitting are all but invisible. Even when we read about someone having received dozens of rejections, this is usually in the context of discussing an overwhelming success story, like the Harry Potter books. We frame the example as an exception because the success of the finished book(s) is exceptional. There is only one JK Rowling! Statistics are a little more useful, but they fail to distinguish between different situations. We read that the average earnings for writers is X amount, but we have little idea of what is involved in earning the average amount — or how it can be surpassed.

It's always going to be hard to differentiate between writers — or even types of writers — because there are so many different reasons for writing and approaches to a writing career. Some writers have lucrative day jobs and don't need to consider short term earnings potential from writing; some writers rely on writing as their sole income and may be unable to work in a "normal" job. Some people write as a hobby and only submit stories occasionally; others are very prolific and submit dozens of stories, articles and pitches every week. I know where I fit in terms of the type of writer I want to be, but I have no idea how many people are living my dream of earning a living from writing — let alone how they go about achieving it.

How do you keep your faith in either a specific story or yourself as a writer? I keep writing because I have to — it's an urge that cannot otherwise be satiated — and I try to submit work whenever I can because I know it's the only way I stand a chance of being successful. After a particular story has been rejected a few times, I lose faith. I can't find the confidence to keep submitting it, because I assume it must be terrible. Even if all the rejections are vague/general/form rejections. Even if I got a positive rejection encouraging me to resubmit to the publication in future. I can't imagine resubmitting to a publication after 10 years of nothing but rejections: I'd assume long before that I simply wasn't good enough for that publication or that my writing style didn't fit.

Yet if someone else were saying all of this, I would reassure them that good writers get rejected all the time. I would point out that good stories get rejected because they don't fit a particular publication — or even a particular issue of that publication. I would tell them to keep persevering. To keep submitting even the stories that had been rejected several times.

I know my emotions get too caught up in my writing. Rejections in general don't bother me — in fact, I have been surprised by some very complimentary rejections — but a couple of weeks ago I got a very harsh rejection and it took the wind out of my sails. The ridiculous thing is, one story I submitted was written for my MA dissertation and I got positive feedback from both the markers, who are brilliant writers themselves — yet the rejection saying the same story (actually, an improved version of it) was utter crap (I paraphrase) has had a greater effect than the praise of two professional writers, one of whom has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize! I'm not saying the story is brilliant, but I thought it was good enough. I didn't expect such harsh criticism and receiving it has left me shaken. I doubt I will submit the story anywhere else.

My biggest challenge is dealing with the unpredictability of writing and submitting. My first acceptance was for a story I wrote pretty quickly over a few days, whereas stories I spent weeks crafting have accumulated rejection after rejection. Whenever I feel like I'm on a roll and submit regularly, I'm fine with rejections — until an unusually harsh one floors me. I can churn out drafts for weeks in a row and then face an existential crisis when I struggle with a certain story. I think the problem is that these unexpected blips seem to confirm my worst fears: that I am a terrible writer and everyone else knows. That I will never be anything but a terrible writer. That I should give up writing.

I try to detach my emotions from the business side of writing, but some blips are the literary equivalent of the school bullying zoning in on the aspect of yourself that you view as your biggest weakness. You believe them. You crumble.

I suppose I persevere because I need to write and submitting is a necessary evil in the process of achieving my goals. I just wish I was better at keeping my emotional responses to rejection in check and keeping faith in myself and my writing. How can I keep confident?

The only "solution" I can think of is to consider the numbers game: assuming my work is competent (which I doubt when my confidence is low), the more I submit the more acceptances I will get. The more competitions I enter, the higher my chances of winning (or, more realistically, getting shortlisted for) one of them. The more stories I write, the more good ones I will produce. In theory.

The numbers game theory circles back to the invisibility of the submission process. Do the writers with the most acceptances submit a lot more work than everyone else? Or are they literary geniuses who write perfect stories and submit them to the perfect outlet? Are competitions won by people who enter a lot of competitions? Or by wunderkinds who write perfect stories so that they can win a prestigious competition and launch a lucrative literary career? I suspect hard graft is behind most writers' success, but it's difficult to appreciate this when the only hard graft we observe is our own.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Staying Motivated

Staying motivated might be easier than getting motivated in the first place, but that doesn't mean it takes no effort at all. Complacency can kick in during a period of high motivation — you assume the motivation will last and go easy on yourself if you miss a deadline or two. When you feel inspired, it's hard to imagine returning to your previous state; just as it's difficult to imagine feeling inspired when your motivation has deserted you. However, when you are riding high on a tide of motivation, it's the perfect time to implement some strategies to ensure your motivation lasts as long as possible. Here are the strategies which work well for me:

1. Step up your challenges. As I explained in a post on momentum, it's easier to get excited about new opportunities when things are already in full flow. Changing up a gear or two can keep you inspired and productive. Keep your goals realistic, but make them big: aim to enter more writing competitions, set an ambitious deadline for completing your novel draft, self-publish some short stories, etc.

2. Plan your future. When you have decided on some short term challenges, start thinking about long term ones. Again, ensure it's possible to achieve your goals, but go big. Schedule future challenges in your planner or calendar. Commit to your plans and chase your dreams.

3. Develop contingency plans. Preparing for difficult times is not tempting fate: it's common sense. What will you do if things go wrong and your motivation goes out of the window? Which goals are your top priorities? Which can you delay? Think about where you can get support — friends, online forums, books or whatever — when your confidence slips.

4. Keep taking action. Watch out for complacency and avoid procrastinating. Most of us know our personal go-to excuses, so bear them in mind and view them as red flags. Whenever you find yourself thinking "there's no hurry — the competition deadline is over a week away" or "it makes no difference whether I do this or not" (insert your favourite excuse), treat it as a reminder to redouble your efforts. If you skip one deadline, take special care to meet the next. If you move some tasks from one to-do list to the next, make sure you do them first.

5. Have fun! Feeling motivated is enjoyable. It makes you fall in love with your work — and often your life — all over again. Relish the thrill you get from completing a task or meeting a deadline. Enjoy searching for new challenges and opportunities. When you're having fun, you're more likely to continue doing the things which result in your high level of motivation.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Short Story Ebook Out Now!

Product DetailsBuy on Amazon UK  Buy on Amazon.com

Nobody warned me that self-publishing could be addictive... A couple of people suggested I self-publish some of my short stories, in addition to the Scatterbrain Guides I am publishing through Kindle Direct. I hadn't considered doing so, because I've always preferred to go down more traditional routes when it comes to my fiction. However, these three stories work well together and since I don't have the time at the moment to publish a full collection, a mini ebook seemed a good way of testing the water and seeing whether people are interested in my short stories.

Here's a description from my website:
3 Lurm Valley Tales Three loosely linked short stories set in a fictionalised East Devon. Strong as a Winch Cable is the diary of a stressed out teenager who falls in love with a mermaid. Identity Theft is presented as letters from a middle-aged woman who fears a doppelgänger is taking over her life, to a prisoner on Death Row. Over The Edge is comprised of a lawyer’s notes and interview transcripts as an investigation is made into how a rave may or may not have stirred an ancient, malevolent spirit. Somewhat unconventional in format and subject, this ebook offers a taster of Hayley N Jones’s short fiction.

It's part of my new attitude to life: instead of worrying about whether something will work, try it and see! After all, most people have several failures under their belt and the alternative is to remain too scared to do anything, to put yourself on the line and your writing online. I have spent too many years being scared. It's time to get out there. My new motto: if you're not failing enough, you're not trying hard enough!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Slogging it Out

I'm working on my next Scatterbrain Guide at the moment. Well, it's open on the laptop screen in front of me. It has taken me about 45 minutes to write a single paragraph. The cat has tried to contribute by walking over the keyboard, but I didn't think ,llllllllllllllllllmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm contributed anything to my chapter on building healthy habits. My dog is quiet at the moment, thanks to a rawhide chew, but the writing just isn't flowing.

I think this is one of the most frustrating aspects of writing: sometimes it flows fast and strong, while at other times you have to slog it out to get a trickle. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for my being stuck today — apart from generally not being a morning person and getting disorientated by my alarm not going off, which meant I got up an hour later than usual, and my thinking it was Thursday when I woke up. I suppose that's a net gain of 23 hours, in a way, but it doesn't help my state of mind!

My other focal point for this week is a short story. That's not going well, either. I have most of the elements in place, but I'm struggling to express them in the right way. In the past, I would have gotten discouraged and given up. Nowadays, I get on with the long, hard slog because at least it produces some work and you never know when that trickle will become a torrent...

Thursday, 4 June 2015

When You Have Momentum, Go With It!

You may have gathered that I've been rather busy lately and you probably assumed that I'm not looking for more projects to tackle. You're half right — I wasn't looking for another project, but when one found me... I have signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo!

I have done NaNoWriMo in the past, which takes place during November each year, but this is my first Camp. It's taking place throughout July and my personal target is to finish the current draft of my WIP, a psychological thriller novel. I estimate that this will involve adding at least 70,000 words to the several thousand I already have. The novel has a complicated history: it started life with a different point of view, narration and less focused plot. I abandoned it for about a year because it wasn't working and I couldn't work out how to fix it, then the answer came when I was trying to start a different novel. I'm more confident about the reincarnation of the novel, but think Camp NaNoWriMo will give me the motivation needed to actually finish a draft.

I have some momentum back in my life now, which hasn't been the case for a long time. Perhaps I'm putting too much pressure on myself, but I believe it's vital for me to go with the momentum and strive to achieve my goals. The alternative is bemoaning lost opportunities and wondering if I would have been successful had I thrown myself into my plans 100% — I'd rather fail by not living up to my expectations than by being too scared to take action.

Momentum is an important element of Kaizen, which is the subject of the next Scatterbrain Guide I'm working on. Small changes accumulate and beget more changes. Often, bigger changes arise from making the tiniest of tweaks. The power of momentum is due to a few things:

1. Making the initial change is the most difficult step; subsequent changes take less effort.
2. Getting results from the initial changes boosts your confidence and encourages you to make more and bigger changes.
3. The initial changes often produce more opportunities or make you aware of more opportunities.

You get used to the insecurity of trying new things and start to enjoy the excitement. You realise that you have the ability to change your life.

If you build up any momentum in your life, go with it — search for opportunities, make extra tweaks, plan bigger changes. Going along with momentum is easy; once it stops, those changes become much harder to implement.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Launches!

Today is a big day for me: my first ebook, The Scatterbrain's Guide to Getting (and Staying) Organised, is published on Amazon UK  and Amazon.com and I have started my new blog, Resurfacing and Rewriting.I always find it strange when something I have been working on is revealed to the world, because the work has already been done. The feedback I get (or lack of it!) will influence my work in future, of course, but in the meantime there is nothing I can do.

I veer between feeling anxious about how my work will be received and feeling eerily calm as I tell myself it's out of my control. I try to use the anxiety to fuel the next pieces of work, to push myself to do better, but I also have to try to maintain a balance so that I don't get too intimidated by the thought of how future pieces of work will be received. Being anxious can help you thrive under pressure, but if you get too anxious it stifles and paralyses you.

Hence I will try to enjoy today and not worry too much about whether anyone will read my work, or if they will like my work. I will celebrate the fact that I have put my work and myself "out there" in the world. I will keep reminding myself that, in a small way, this is part of my dream. So I will launch and keep launching and urge you to do the same!

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Too Busy to Be Scared

I've been saying this a lot recently, but it's worth repeating: the best way to deal with fear is to take action. The fear is still there, but it gets pushed into the background and gets less of your attention. I think this is why some of us thrive on tight deadlines: you are forced to take action or freeze. Taking action is the lesser of these evils, so you take action.

Sometimes, giving yourself a tighter deadline is the best option. That's why I gave myself a couple of weeks to set up scatterbrainguides.com and publish the first guide (out on Monday from Amazon — shameless plug!). Perhaps I could have done a better job with more time and given the project more polish, but I would have also given myself more opportunities to get scared. By announcing the project and acting on it so quickly, I forced myself to take action instead of giving attention to the fear.

I've done a similar thing with another new project: a blog called Resurfacing and Rewriting. The website is already set up at www.hayleynjones.com and I will start blogging on Monday 1st June. The blog is aimed at people in a similar situation to me, who have mental health problems but have recovered enough so that they want to pursue their goals and get back into the world. I view it as a bridge between mental health resources which target people who are currently in the worst throes of mental illness and general self-help resources. Some of the posts will be relevant to anyone who wants to improve their life, of course, but the majority will apply mainly to people with mental health issues.

I still intend to blog here for the foreseeable future — partly to give myself an outlet for talking about difficulties with setting up a new blog! I also like that this blog is more personal, having started as a hobby, whereas Resurfacing and Rewriting will have a more professional slant. I don't have it all figured out, because my new mantra is "take action" even if I haven't planned every detail!

Monday, 25 May 2015

Eek, it's Happening!

The Scatterbrain's Guide to Getting (and Staying) organised is now available for pre-order on Amazon!



It's happened so fast that I'm struggling to get my head around it. I can hardly believe that a couple of weeks ago, scatterbrainguides.com didn't exist and the book wasn't started, let alone written.

It demonstrates what can happen if you put your mind to it: once you stop waiting and start being proactive, things slip into place faster than you would ever expect. In addition, I haven't had time to feel too anxious about my new venture, because I've been so busy! It demonstrates a truism I keep encountering:
The best cure for worries/fears is taking action.

I'm trying to remember that as I develop this project and another I've got lined up (I will tell you soonish, promise!). It's easy to get distracted by spiralling thoughts about how I'm destined to fail and it's a stupid idea anyway and nobody will ever be interested... Of course, the only way to prove if my fears are correct is to take action, so I tell myself it's an experiment to find out whether or not my fears are unfounded. The ridiculous thing is, in my experience, even when some fears are realised it's never as bad as the worst case scenario I imagined. So even if my business fails, I'm sure I will learn a lot and I will definitely be glad I gave it a shot.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Announcing my New Project: Scatterbrain Guides

Sometimes several ideas come together at once and it’s impossible not to act on them. Even if there is a high chance of failure, you need to test the water and find out. That’s what I’m doing with my new project: www.scatterbrainguides.com

A while ago, Rosemary Gemmell left a comment on this blog, saying I should think about publishing an ebook based on some of my blog posts. I brushed it off a bit at the time, because it didn’t sound like something I had the courage to do, but it has stayed in the back of my mind ever since. Then, last week, I got fed up. I was sick of never taking action and letting my life slide by in a muddle of anxiety and dashed hopes. I also kept thinking about a couple of my blog posts in particular, The Scatterbrain’s Guide to Getting (and Staying) Organised, parts one and two

I thought about how I think, as someone who has always been labelled a scatterbrain, and how I can embrace it instead of working against it. Through trial and error, I have learnt what works best for me – simple, no-nonsense strategies that get maximum results from minimal time, money and effort. What if I could save other scatterbrains the hassle of trial and error (and lots of research)? What if I could provide them with the strategies that work for me, in a convenient format?

Then I realised: I can!

ScatterbrainGuides will publish lifestyle guides on various areas of interest, starting with The Scatterbrain’s Guide to Getting (and Staying) Organised, which will be available to buy on Amazon on Monday 1st June 2015.

The guides are designed so that you can dip in and out of them, which is crucial when you’re busy and/or get easily distracted. They contain no padding; as much as I enjoy books which offer lengthy explanations, inspiring quotes and lots of anecdotes, I often want simplicity first and foremost. Scatterbrain Guides aim to be as convenient as possible. The aim is to publish a new guide every month – at least for the first 6 months. Because of the fast-paced nature of the project, feedback is encouraged and appreciated. What subjects would you like Scatterbrain Guides to cover?



Thursday, 14 May 2015

Balancing Fear and Practicality

I have been making plans. I don't mean to seem coy — I'm just terrified that they are stupid ideas. At the moment, the worst case scenario is that I'm wasting my time working on these projects. If I start to actually talk about them, I expose myself to ridicule and humiliation.

Yet I have learnt (again and again) that taking a leap in the face of fear is worth it. My modest writing successes happened because I submitted my work, rather than worrying that everyone would hate it and shutting the work away in a folder. I've had many pleasant surprises too — when my story Someone's Having a Laugh was published on shortstorysunday.com last month, many people who I barely know read it after my mum shared the link on Facebook and were very complimentary. In fact, I'm pleasantly surprised every time someone doesn't tell me I'm a terrible writer — even if it's a rejection!

The projects I'm currently working on could help me to earn a living instead of relying on benefits. They would fit in around my bad days (and weeks...) and wouldn't involve the situations that aggravate my anxiety the most (meeting new people, dealing with lots of people at once, etc). But if it all goes wrong, I expose myself to embarrassment and more anxiety.

So do I go for it or not? I think I know the answer....

And to avoid accusations of coyness, one of the projects is based on some of my blog posts: I'm considering writing a full Scatterbrain's Guide to Getting (and Staying) Organised, which I would publish on Kindle. If anyone has any advice — or just reassurance that people might be interested — please don't hesitate to get in touch via the comments here or email hayleynjones@hotmail.co.uk Thank you :-)

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Shifts. Or, Why a Writer Chooses to Get Rid of Her Desk.

Sometimes everything shifts in your life but the changes are not apparent to other people, apart from close friends and family. From the outside, your life looks the same. In many ways, it is the same: I'm still living with my parents, still single, still struggling with anxiety and depression. I haven't had a windfall or found a job. I spend my time in a similar way, reading and watching TV and trying to write. Yet I feel very different.

Perhaps the most visible change is that I've become vegan. I've been a vegetarian for around 16/17 years, so the transition isn't as dramatic as it is for some people but it's a big change nonetheless. For one thing, it restricts the variety of chocolate I can eat! More than anything though, I am now living in alignment with my beliefs. I used to kid myself that the dairy industry was unconnected to the meat industry and that sales of leather didn't contribute to the perpetuation of the meat industry. I did a lot of soul searching and committed myself to avoiding all animal products. Even leather shoes.

The second big change is...decluttering! My hoarder tendencies aren't as extreme as they used to be, but I was holding on to a lot of stuff. Stuff I didn't use much (or, in many cases, at all). Stuff that did little more than take up space in my tiny bedroom. It didn't make sense.

So I got rid of the piles of magazines, keeping useful articles in a folder for future reference. I donated clothes that were so baggy on me they looked ridiculous. I sifted through piles of paperwork, putting most of it out for recycling. I've even put my straighteners and two sets of curling tongs in the loft, to see how I cope without them.

Then, over last weekend, I stepped it up a notch. I got rid of my desk and chair. I hear you: "But *gasp* you're supposed to be a writer!" Indeed, but I rarely used my desk. Apart from to pile clothes on. My computer is a laptop and I tend to use it either (shocker) on my lap or at the dining table. Getting rid of my desk made sense.

But, gosh, how much sense it made! Without the desk, my bedroom feels massive. I have actual floor space. I can sit on my floor for the first time in years. My desk was essential when I was at university, but it became surplus to requirements and I was bloody slow to see it. 

Instead of a desk, I now have a flexible space that suits me. My white ottoman, which I believe is older than I am, has become a moveable seat/surface. Should I wish to do so, I could use it as a desk while sitting on the floor. My writing books are easier to grab and flick through, too. They are on shelves which used to surround the desk, so I would have to clamber over furniture to reach them in the past. Now, I can access information or inspiration in seconds as I pass through.

Moreover, I feel better for having a bedroom/workspace that is less cluttered. I'm not finished (whittling down my books is a work in progress), but my room feels more like a sanctuary and less like a health hazard. Being able to move more freely makes me feel more free. My mind is clearer and for the first time in months, I can focus on writing.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Spring Cleaning!

I have been decluttering like crazy over the past week. There has been so much dust flying around that I keep sneezing! I'm actually quite tidy nowadays (a contrast to my teenage years of a floor covered in clothes and magazines), but I had amassed piles of stuff that I didn't need. I was fed up with sleeping in a room that would pelt me with books if a large plane flew overhead.

Some of the stuff I wasn't ready to get rid of until now — folders of university notes, ancient short story drafts, random pots of Play-Doh... Other stuff was useful, I convinced myself. My back issues of Mslexia were bound to come in handy. Except that a lot of the information in old magazines is out of date. That is the nature of magazines. So I went through all 5 box files of Mslexia and tore out useful articles, interviews and fiction. It all fitted into a single folder — with space left for future cullings from Mslexia.

Books were another issue. I'm never going to be someone who owns just 10 books, but I forced myself to admit that I would probably never re-read many of my books. These are books I've enjoyed, but which are nowhere near being favourites. There are also loads of books I will probably read once and pass along. Most of these were bought in charity shops or as part of a special offer, or just picked up on impulse in the supermarket. I may not even read some of them. So what's the point in clogging up my precious shelf space with books I don't cherish?

This was surprisingly difficult to face up to, but easy once I got going. If I do get an urge to re-read any of the books I'm chucking, I can buy (and store) them on Kindle. In theory, I could replace all of my older classics for free on Kindle, but most of these ate favourites and worth the shelf space. I wouldn't be without my copy of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, complete with my AS notes in the margins.

I think spring has put me in the mood for simplifying my life and whittling down my possessions. I love red lipstick, but I have several different shades and don't need to buy more. In fact, buying more stuff in general costs far too much space, let alone money. I'm taking stock and focusing on the things that give me pleasure — reading books by authors I love, writing, hanging out with my friends and their daughters (the eldest of whom was delighted with my random pots of Play-Doh!), walking my dog, drawing, baking. There isn't much time or space left over for anything else.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Mental Illness Isn't the End of the World — But Sometimes it Feels Like it Is

It's no secret that I've been struggling lately. I stress about everything at the best of times, so the past few months have had me worrying about everything from whether I'll be able to write more soon to whether I'll still be living with my parents when I'm 50. Suffice to say my current situation is less than ideal!

But I have to remind myself that it's not the worst situation. I may struggle with my finances, but I'm not going to be left to starve anytime soon. I have a safe place to live and I've got my dog, Murray Monster. Sure, there are times when I'm so overwhelmed by my problems that it's hard to breathe, but I have some good things in my life. I have a foundation.

I think a key aspect of dealing with any problem is to stop beating yourself up. Blaming yourself for your situation isn't taking responsibility — it's as helpful as blaming your parents, your school bullies or the world in general, i.e. not at all, even if there is a grain of truth in it. All any of us can do is our best, whatever constraints and challenges we face. There's no point panicking whenever we fall short of our expectations. All we can do is go from here — this very moment — and try our best.

Being able to see this perspective is evidence that my mental health is improving. Not long ago, I felt that my life was hopeless and I was useless and a burden on my family and friends. That's one of the most horrible things about mental illness, depression in particular: it steals any sense of time passing and life changing. It feels like you're hiking up a mountain and can only see the slope you're trying to scale. Everything else is covered in fog. When things improve a little, you can look down and see where you've been but the top of your slope is still covered in mist. You don't know whether it ends, let alone if you can make it. As mental health continues to improve, you see more of the mountain above you. You can see the top of the slope you're climbing, maybe even the next slope or ones beyond. Hopefully, one day, you will be able to see the top of the mountain.

I think writing a novel is also like this: you may have a vague sense of the whole, but you can only write it step by step. You start out with a map, but once you're climbing the mountain you lose track and take detours, slopes blur into one another... I suppose it all comes down to faith. You need to keep faith that the mountain is there and that you can conquer it. 

Of course, that's easier said than done when you're surrounded by fog and can't see your hand in front of your face! You might also reach the top to find — as I did with my. First attempt at a novel — that you were climbing a foothill and the mountain is beyond. What do you do: give up or keep climbing?

Monday, 9 February 2015

The Hardest Thing is Also the Easiest

I often wonder why I keep going. Most days, I feel like I am trudging through a deep bog and it is too foggy to see where I'm going or if the bog ever ends. Why do I keep setting goals, let alone trying to achieve them? Why do I keep writing?

Everything seems so damn hard a lot of the time that I find myself thinking I'd be happier if I never set goals. That way, there can be no disappointments. Anything good that happens will be a bonus. But I can't. Part of me will always want to be A Writer (as in, "proper" writer who makes a living from writing, no matter how frugal) and part of me will always write.

Following your dreams is hard. Working towards goals is hard. Keeping faith that it's better than giving up is bloody hard. I suppose the trick is to gain what satisfaction and enjoyment you can from the monotony, the banality of trying to change your life. Sometimes that will be finishing a short story, other times it will be watching an episode of Friends that I've already seen (conservative estimate) 50 times while I plug away at my novel-in-progress.

Full disclosure: I've had a stressful month and have been ill for the past week, so I'm not in the most positive frame of mind. In fact, this is the second time I've been ill this year and it's left me with about 9 days when I've had a relatively clear head. My energy runs low at the best of times, so all hope of tackling my New Year's resolutions head on has sunk into the bog I mentioned at the start of this post. Suffice to say, I feel pretty crap at the moment.

However, I read something today that made me feel a little better: time passes anyway.

It's so obvious that I've never really thought about it before, but whether or not you're working towards a goal, the time you would have spent on it passes anyway. Writing when I might never be successful seems like a waste of time, but the time I spend writing passes anyway. As does the time I should have spent writing. The real waste of time is not working towards your goals.

Am I really going to look back in 10+ years and wish I'd watched Friends more? Or that I should have spent more time worrying about the prospect of failure? Yes, it's bloody hard to keep writing (and exercising and working on being less anxious), but it's also easy to keep going because there is no other option. Time passes anyway.

So I will keep adding words to my novel and I will keep doing the little tasks that I hope will add up into something big, something good. Even if I waste the rest of every day feeling awful, I have marked some progress. I will keep celebrating these tiny milestones because it's better than the alternative. Time passes anyway, so I might as well use it to be the best I can be.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Featured on Thresholds

I entered a feature competition run by Thresholds short story blog last year, not expecting anything to happen. It was an exercise to see if I could write an engaging piece about a writer's work. I knew I wouldn't win and, indeed, I didn't make the longlist. But I got an email from the editor saying that she would like to publish my feature on Thresholds. It appeared today: Subtle Brilliance.

It discusses The Lottery by Shirley Jackson and how it has influenced my own writing. Not only is it one of my favourite short stories, but it lingers in my mind in a way that no other story does. I used to think it lingered merely because of its content and Jackson's writing skill, but I came to realise it also had a lot of writing lessons to impart to me.

The main lesson, which I touch upon in the Thresholds piece, is that I tend to psychoanalyse my characters and explain my story. I need to learn to trust the reader to make the connections. As I was reminded in Writing Short Stories , which I discussed in the post I wrote last week, short story readers are intelligent and insightful. They don't need to have their hand held. By not trusting my readers, I'm not trusting my writing.

Friday, 2 January 2015

New Year, Fresh Inspiration

The less said about the end of last year, the better; suffice to say that I'm glad 2014 is over. I started 2015 on a positive note, partly thanks to a fabulous new book, Writing Short Stories by Courttia Newland and Tania Hershman. It has helped me to rekindle my passion for short stories - both reading and writing them.

I was excited when I first learnt that Tania Hershman was working on a book about short stories, because her first collection, The White Road, opened my eyes to new possibilities. It included short-short stories or flash fiction, which I had never read before, and the stories were all inspired by New Scientist articles. I became a fan straight away and was similarly impressed by Tania's next collection, My Mother Was an Upright Piano. I had high expectations, despite not being familiar with Courttia Newland's work, and Writing Short Stories surpassed them.

The best thing about the book is its focus on individualism. Some 'how to write' books are very prescriptive and try to persuade writers to follow certain formulae or guidelines. This may be helpful if your goal is to get a grounding in writing commercial fiction, but I'm interested in stories that simply aren't found in women's magazines. I don't mean this as a criticism to those stories - on the contrary, I wish I could write them well since the financial reward is greater than that received for being published in literary journals - they just aren't for me. Writing Short Stories encourages writers to experiment and push boundaries. It teaches us to tread our own path.

It also teaches us how to do this effectively: experimentation for the sake of being obscure or seeming 'high brow' is not something to aim for. Instead, it's essential to know when clarity is needed, how ambiguity can be useful and what effect any aspect of the story has on its whole. The authors of Writing Short Stories tackle every angle of, um, writing short stories. They use illuminating examples and explain everything clearly, illustrating their points with examples from their own experiences.

Writing Short Stories is a Writers' and Artists' Companion, so it follows their format of containing a generous midsection (much like myself!) stuffed full of advice from other short story writers. The advice encompasses a range of topics, from setting to paranoia and absence to epiphany. It adds richness to what was already an invaluable book.

I was writing a little more than I had been before I  read the book, but it has lifted me out of my dry spell.  I am inspired again and I hope the year ahead will be full of short story successes - both completing and publishing.