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Does what you are saying strike a chord?

Journaling for exam stress blog

Last week I gave a talk for a local children’s cancer charity. It was at a fundraising lunch and, as I always do, I walked in and looked around the room, taking in as much as I could about the audience I was about to address. I don’t know whether this is a throwback to my teaching days, when I used to assess what mood the children were in before I approached the subject I was teaching, or whether it is just an instinctive thing I do in life generally, probably a bit of both. I just find it helpful to know who I am talking to before I begin.

I had been asked to talk about storytelling, I wanted to pitch what I was saying just right, so that I wasn’t just talking to a room full of hungry, bored people.

I started talking about my Grandad Joe. I had taken his flat cap and one of his woodworking tools as props. I explained how when my Dad had lost his Dad quite suddenly he had asked all my other grandparents to write their life stories and how I had with me a document, which was 20 sides of A4, typed, containing the first 26 years of Grandad Joe’s life. I went on to explain that there also exists a similar document for my Grandma and that they then wrote an even longer document about their life together.

 TThese writings are so precious to our family because they contain information and stories that we would never have discussed, despite being a very close family and spending a lot of time together talking about all manner of things. I then encouraged everyone to consider writing their life stories as a legacy document for their families. I asked them how much they would value such documents written by their grandparents and explained that if they had grandchildren, they might not realise how precious these stories are yet, but in the future they would treasure these memories.

The response was wonderful. Why? Well, they understood what I was saying. This theme is universally understood, but also because it was a room full of lovely people, mostly of retirement age. Most of whom had grandchildren so could relate not just to my perspective as a grandchild, but they could also see the value of sharing their lives with future generations and keeping their memories and stories alive.

When we speak it is so important to connect with the people we are speaking to, whether that is one to one or to a huge audience. The same is true when we write. Whether we are sending a text message to a loved one, or writing a book, it is important to think about who we are writing for and make sure we use the right language to engage them. We must think about the subjects we talk about and ensure that our words cannot be misinterpreted. It is important that what we are saying and how we are phrasing it conveys the intended meaning, and that that is what our reader absorbs.

When you write do you write for yourself or for others?

I know I do both. My journaling and note making is just for me. As long as I know what I am saying that’s all that matters. When I journal it is more about the process of getting things out of my head and organising them so they make sense and I can work through all the emotions and thoughts I am experiencing. When I am writing for others I have to be aware of who I am writing for. When I was a primary school teacher it was vital that I only used words and phrases that were easily understood and appropriate for the age group I was working with at the time.

Writing for adults is no different.

If you are writing for a national newspaper in the UK you should write as though you are writing for a 7-9 year old as it is believed that that is the reading level of most newspaper readers. Writing here I dare to extend that quite a lot because many people reading on Substack are themselves writers, so they have a good grasp of language. Even so, you want your writing to be accessible, and if you make it too complicated, and use too many unnecessarily long words, you will lose your reader.

Are you striking a chord with your writing? Perhaps you give talks and have strategies for keeping your audience engaged, I would love to hear your tips and experiences.

Don’t be afraid to change

Are you afraid to change your life?

Change can be really scary. None of us likes the unknown, familiar is always more comforting. Unfortunately “everything you want is on the other side of fear”, as Jack Canfield said.

I love change. 

I know that is strange, and I should qualify that I love change that I instigate. I think that is a distinction that needs to be made when we talk about change. When change happens to us, rather than us taking the reins, it isn’t as easy to accept. 

From being very young I have loved changing my environment, I love changing my hair and my look, and I have always been able to change my circumstances if something felt wrong or wasn’t making me happy. I firmly believe that we change continually throughout our lives and as a result many other aspects of our lives must change too. 

I have changed university courses because the first one I started didn’t feel right. I have moved house, ended relationships and had many different careers over the years because as I changed and grew, things just didn’t feel right anymore.

When I started teaching I thought I would be a teacher all my life, like my mum, and in a way I will always be a teacher, but it wasn’t the right career for me once I became ill. Over the years I have had many businesses and they have all taught me so much. Some have taught me practical business skills, some have taught me techniques and they have all taught me a lot about myself and what I need to be happy. 

I have been afraid

When I was younger I was very aware of what other people’s perceptions were. Teaching is a respected profession, and when I left there were so many questions. People couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to go back. 

When I started working as a therapist I felt a joy I had never experienced before. Helping people feel better, physically and mentally is the greatest gift. 

I always dreamed of writing, but as I wrote about in a recent blog for Booksmith Academy, I didn’t believe a career in writing for for people like me. As for writing therapy, there was no way for me to choose that career straight from school, because it didn’t exist!

change

It is always better to be brave and make a change, than to stay put and be miserable. My latest big change is not about my career, I have never been more passionate about anything I have ever done. I had no idea everything I love could be combined so perfectly into a job. No, this change is about my own writing. As you may know, I have been writing my memoir, and I really believed that was going to be my first book. I am more than half way through my second draft, so it has been a considerable committment. I realise now that, for now at least, this book was just for my own therapeutic purposes. One long writing therapy project. 

So, this week I have started my new book. I’m not going to share what it’s about yet, but it is something I am incredibly passionate about and I am so excited to be starting this new writing project and will take you on this adventure with me. 

I have put years of my life into my memoir, but it doesn’t excite me anymore, and although I can’t rule out publishing it one day, it doesn’t feel right at the moment. So, I am making a change and, as I have always done, starting something new. Something that combines all my passions and makes my heart sing. 

If there is an aspect of your life that doesn’t feel right anymore, it might be a job, a location, a friendship, even a relationship, you have two choices: you can be brave and make a change, or you can stay still and face the consequences. What choice will you make?

Build a Daily Writing Routine That Aligns with Your Unique Needs

Journaling for exam stress blog

Routine is key with any new habit

 

Writing is like any new habit, you need tobe consistent to see the benefits. Making your writing part of your daily routine is a great way to be more consistent, more productive and achieve better results. 

Although the commonly held belief is that it takes 21 days to form a habit, that has been disproved, it is now understood that it depends on many different factors and can be anything from 18 days to almost a year. This makes finding a routine that works for you even more important. 

There is no point in me telling you that the best time to write is in the morning if you have small children who wake you up at the crack of dawn. Equally if I suggest you write in the evening and you work nights, that might not work for you. So instead of getting preachy about the best times to write and I am going to help you think about your life and find the best routine for your unique needs.

Things to think about when trying to start writing…

Do you have a regular routine? 

Some people have a very rigid routine, they get up at the same time every day, leave for work at the same time, get home at the same time etc. Others have no semblence of a routine and that can make creating a writing habit more challenging, but not impossible. The key is finding a trigger that will remind you to write.

If you always get up and do certain jobs, maybe empty the dishwasher, make a coffee, walk the dog then sit down to work, could you write while you have your coffee? Maybe you could leave your journal out on your desk so it is the first thing you do before you start work?

If you are starting a journaling habit you don’t need hours, just 5-10 mins is more than enough to have an impact. If you are writing a book, then you may need to find longer stretches of time, but be realistic about the demands on your time. 

When my children were little people kept suggesting I got up an hour earlier to meditate and journal. My son was already waking me up at 4:30am so the last thing I needed was to be waking up any earlier. So I started making my “self care time” the hour after the children went to bed. I would journal, meditate and then sleep. It has to work for you and your life.

What time works best for you?

Are you an early bird or a night owl? Perhaps your most creative time is the middle of the day? Understanding your own energetic and creative fluctuations is important when you are thinking about creating a writing routine. If you work best in the morning, perhaps you can write before everyone wakes up. If you find it easier to create later at night, maybe your writing time will be when everyone has gone to bed? 

For women, you may notice that you are feeling more creative around the mid-point in your cycle. Perhaps what will work best for you is writing for hours during this week and just doing little bits for the rest of the month? Pay attention to how you feel throughout the month. There is no point fighting nature.

change

Be realistic

There is no point in creating a routine that involves you writing for 2 hours a day in the evening, if your evening is often disrupted by helping the children with homework, housework, calls from your parents because they need help… 

Write down everything that impacts your ability to write and then create a writing routine around those factors.

Eliminate distractions

Leave your phone in another room or put it on silent and face down. Tell everyone this is your writing time and only to disturb you in an emergency. Shut down all other windows on your screen, or write on paper. Give yourself the best possible chance to focus.

Don’t be too rigid

Life is always going to happen, if something comes up which stops you from writing, try to find an alternative time to write or just accept that it happens sometimes. DON’T LET IT UNDO ALL YOUR GOOD WORK! Miss that session but get back in the saddle ready to focus for your next session.

Find the best space to write

If you don’t have an office, create a little area where you can write. Perhaps you have a bureau or kitchen table where you like writing. If you can’t have a permanent writing space, create a writing kit in a bag that you can easily take with you wherever you are writing that day. Make sure you make your writing space somewhere you want to spend time. Have a candle you light when you start writing, create a writing playlist, maybe have a photo you love out to inspire you. Make sure you are using stationery you like if you are writing by hand, or that your screen is at the right height if you are working on a laptop/computer. Think about what chair you are sitting on because you may be sitting there for a while, you want to be comfy. Create a really appealing writing space, however permanent it may be, that way you will want to escape to your writing every chance you get!

Track your progress

Make a note of how many days you have managed to journal, or how many words you have written each day if you are writing a book. When you reach a milestone, perhaps 50 days journaling in a row or reaching 50000 words, celebrate your achievement. Perhaps you go to your favourite cafe for a coffee and a cake, or you buy yourself a book related candle for your writing space. Whatever it is that makes you happy. Acknowledging your achievements will help you stay enthusiastic and spur you on to keep going with your writing habit.

 

Most importantly, enjoy yourself! 

If you don’t make your writing time something you look forward to you won’t keep it up. Your writing time should be something you treasure, creating a routine that works for you is so important because it will stop you from constantly fighting against your own intentions. If you create a routine that doesn’t suit your life, you will waste so much energy being frustrated because you aren’t finding time to write. Find the write routine and it will be effortless and enjoyable. 

Get in touch and let me know when you write and what your routine looks like.

 

 

Find out more about writing routines:

I wrote the blog Daily Rituals to Change your Life a while ago, If you want to know why routine is important for our wellbeing this is a great starting point.

I love listening to the Writer’s Routine podcast, if you enjoy finding out about other writer’s habits, why not give it a listen?

The Joy of an Artist Date

Artist Date

 What is an artist date?

Artist dates are a concept created by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. The idea is that once a week you take yourself somewhere that will inspire you. Perhaps you go for a walk in nature, to a museum, go people watching in a cafe.

Here is what Julia Cameron has to say about artist dates:

 An artist date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, you inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against interlopers. You do not take anyone on this artist date but you and your inner artist, a.k.a. your creative child.  

For many people the thought of going somewhere alone is scary, so my suggestion would be to start with somewhere familiar, somewhere you feel really comfortable. Once you have achieved that, you can start to stretch your comfort zone a little. 

What are the benefits of an artist date?

When you are thinking about your writing life it is important to ensure that you are feeding your writer, whether that is reading or going on an artist date. You must make sure that you are putting as much in as you are taking out, otherwise your writing will become lifeless and empty.

You might be wondering how you are doing to make time to  go out for two hours a week, every week. 

artist date

We’re all busy, and, as with all habits, it may not be possible every week, but if you put it in your diary, and make it a priority, you might surprise yourself. As a writer you set time aside for your writing, that is important to you, whether it is writing a book, journaling or writing blogs and newsletters. You probably also make time to read, remember one of my favourite quotes from Pam Allyn: 

Reading is like breathing in, and writing is like breathing out.

Well, it can also be argued that your artist dates are an important part of that breathing in. Their purpose is to inspire you and give you food for thought, to enrich, and enhance your writing. So, really, artist dates and reading are like breathing in, and writing is like breathing out! 

Artist dates are also a great way to step away from whatever you are currently writing and give your brain time to breathe. When we allow ourselves to relax and shift our focus away from our writing it is amazing how inspiration flows. 

artist date

What sort of places can you visit for an artist date?

Well, the obvious places are things like museums, art galleries, bookshops, cafes etc. But you can go literally anywhere. If you are writing a book about a particular location or time in history for example you might want to visit somewhere relevant. Perhaps there is a famous writer’s house or museum near where you live that you could visit to soak in some of their genius. You might want to visit the seaside or a woodland. 

You might decide to take yourself to a cafe with a book of poems, or go to the cinema to watch a film that you have heard good things about. It really doesn’t matter where you go, there is inspiration everywhere.

The important thing is that you value your writing enough to commit to taking this time away to feed your inspiration and allow yourself to be the best writer you can be. 

If you are looking for some writing inspiration and a group of friendly, supportive writers, why not join A little word told me… this group is for enthusiastic amateurs. If you are a professional writer or write for business, over at Booksmith Academy (the book writing business which I run with my sister, Jen) we are just starting a fabulous new budget membership to support you with your writing. You can find out more about InkWell Scribes on the Booksmith Academy website. 

 

 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click the link and buy the product/service associated I will receive a small payment in return. The product/service will not cost you any more. I never recommend anything I have not experienced myself. I always appreciate any purchases made using my links as they enable me to continue writing and helping more people. 

 

Have we got New Year wrong?

New Year is almost a month away now, but have we got it wrong?

Every year I feel this sense of excitement and anticipation about the coming new year. I don’t believe that making resolutions is helpful, but I do like to do some planning for the coming year, to journal about things I would like to achieve and I always write a kind of bucket list of things I want to achieve this year.

Then January comes around and by the time I have got the kids back to school it is time for my son and husband’s birthdays, then I take my daughter back to University and before I know it, it is almost February and I have done a fraction of the things I intended to do. None of my new habits have really had a look in, I have achieved very little. 

What’s more, I know I am not alone in this. I constantly see blog posts, Youtube videos and social media posts saying the same thing. So, my question is, have we got New Year wrong?

On Thursday it is Imbolc. For those of you not familiar with this festival it is a Celtic/Pagan festival marking the end of Winter and the start of the growing season. The half way point between the winter soltice and the vernal equinox. It celebrates the returning light. 

This for me feels like the perfect time for me to start my year. It is getting lighter, the spring bulbs are beginning to burst into life and my body begins to feel a little less like hibernating!

Human hibernation?

A few years ago I read the brilliant book, Wintering by Katherine May.  Ridiculously, this was the first time I had heard someone openly discussing something that I had felt for a long time. In winter we need more rest, we need to hibernate. 

I thought it was just because I am a fire sign and always feel energised by the sunshine and warm weather. I have always hated being cold and find it much harder to be productive if I am cold.

human hibernation

The image above is how I feel during the winter months. I just want to be cosy and warm and drink hot drinks and read good books until it ends. As the days get longer and the garden begins to burst back into life I begin to wake up again and my productivity and creativity slowly returns. 

Of course, the fact that we are much more likely to be ill during the winter months, we are more likely to eat comfort food and we don’t get outside as much, all contributes to this feeling of hibernation. We are often forced to maintain our daily routines, and if we don’t have to, we feel we should. Even though scientists have proven that we need more sleep during the winter. It is a time of year filled with parties and socialising, which tires us out even more. Then we get bombarded by the “New year, new you” brigade and it is overwhelming.

snowdrop

My new New Year

I would like to propose that if you struggle with January, as many people do, that we call Imbolc, the 1st February, our new year. We accept that we need January to recover and cope with the dark, cold weather, and we start our intentions and productivity schedule in February. Release any guilt you may hae around January lacking focus and productivity and embrace it for what it is, a necessary period of hibernation for those of us in the colder climes of the northern hemisphere.

So, Happy New Year and I hope that 2024 is a wonderfully happy and productive year for you, and that you achieve everything that will make you feel truly fulfilled. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on this, so please do get in touch, I think there are a lot of people who are beating themselves up for feeling this way, and actually it is perfectly natural and normal.

 

 Reading recommendations:

Human hibernation

Life is a rollercoaster

 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click the link and buy the product/service associated I will receive a small payment in return. The product/service will not cost you any more. I never recommend anything I have not experienced myself. I always appreciate any purchases made using my links as they enable me to continue writing and helping more people. 

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