Category Archives: planning

Resuming Normal Life

Taking time to rest

Taking time to rest

Hello my Lovelies,

I am sorry I have been absent for a whole month.  What started as a bit of a staycation became a full-blown nightmare, when Husband’s mother became seriously ill and nearly died.  We have spent the best part of the last month travelling between home and Oxford, juggling doctors and carers, fighting needless battles, emotionally stretched to the limit.  I have to tell you that this is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, trying to help not one but two old ladies who refuse to admit they need help, and who have lost the capacity for reasoned argument.  Anyone who has had to deal with Alzheimers disease will understand what I mean.  On the other hand, I was able to find reserves of compassion and care that I never thought I had.

Last week, we finally managed to have some time alone together, something of a holiday, although we stayed at home.  Husband is desperately exhausted, a situation not helped by the stress, and his diabetes.  He has gone back to work today, but I think we had a little respite that did him good.

And so today I resume my own life, my writing life.

This afternoon I am going to sit down with my diary and journal and work out what I want to achieve this Autumn, where I want my writing to go after all this upheaval.  I am grounding myself once more in my life, in my creativity, because I know that the only way to cope with this ongoing situation (and lets face it, it could go on for years more) and stay sane, is to have a life of my own, work of my own, something to distract myself from the worry, something to sink into and forget.

This is why we need creativity.

(Or at least, this is why I need creativity.)

Because Creativity rescues us when nothing else can, gives us a distraction, a reason to keep exploring, keep hoping, keep going.  And there are times in our lives when our art, our creativity, is the only thing that can save us.

I hope that where ever you are in your life, whatever challenges you face, that your creativity will provide you with a lifeboat to carry you to safety.

And I also want to thank you for being here with me.  Its really great to be back!

Happy Creating,

EF

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Journal Friday: Smorgesbord

Diary Pile 2I’m feeling a bit rough at the moment, so I’ve been spending a lot of time surfing the internet.  Its a good thing to do when my brain is mushy like this.  I have trouble parsing long  blocks of text, so little blog posts and internet sites are just the thing to keep my mind occupied and spark new ideas.

So I thought I’d share some of my journalling current faves with you:

I just bought this book.  Its written for teenagers, but its a brilliant introduction, and I am really enjoying dipping into it.

Loving this artjournal site.  So much eyecandy!

I love Bronwen’s Artful Life blog, and I really fancy trying her method of creating an art journal from a vintage book.

Have you come across creativebug.com yet?

I recently came across the idea of the Bullet journal, which was new to me.   Its a kind of cross between a to do list, a project planner and a journal.  Might be a great solution if you are pushed for time and looking for a way of combining recording your life with planning it!

On a similar theme, you might be interested in the whole idea of sketchnoting.  Check out the website of the Sketchnote Army, a pretty breath-taking archive of how to record information graphically.  You could combine Sketchnotes and Bullet journals, and you don’t have to be able to draw…

Lorraine Bell’s planner is delicious!

My Pinterest pinboard on organisers is continually growing.

If you love Moleskines, their myMoleskine site will bend your mind!

I love Plannerisms!

Well, that should keep you going for a while!  Hope you have a happy and creative weekend,

EF

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Scrivener Kicked My Butt into Enlightenment

People have been raving about Scrivener to me for ages, and I’ve been saying yeah, yeah, eventually. And then wrestling with Word for my novels, and spreadsheets for my research data. Given that I am hopeless at spreadsheets, you can just imagine how time-consuming that can be. Anyway, recently, my fanfic pal Chasingriver demonstrated to me conclusively that this was a programme I couldn’t live without.

You know, I hate it when she’s right.

It was the corkboard function that really sold me. Mainly because I’d spent the previous week working out how I could attach all the little index cards (each indicating a scene) which I had accumulated for my current project to my study wall without damaging the plaster with blu-tak. Once I’d downloaded Scrivener, it was a case of YAY! No more blu-tak! No more holes in the paintwork!

With Scrivener, you can put all your little index cards on the screen, and move them about to change the order as you like, just as you would with the real thing. The good part, though, is that while you can’t carry your entire study wall along to the library with you when you want to work there, you can with Scrivener.

(Did I mention that I’m not getting paid to say this about Scrivener, just in case you were wondering?)

Anyway, yesterday I sat down in front of the offending, doomed wall, and started to copy out those little index cards into my Project folder. Away I went. I was having a lovely time. Type type, tap tap.

You’ve already guessed there is going to a BUT here, haven’t you?

Once I’d put in all my index-card scenes, I could see the plot I’d teased out as a whole. Or should I say HOLE. Because it was full of them. Holier than Righteous, as we used to say about my brother’s vests.

Now, of course this is a good thing. It is better to find out your plot is lacier than a wedding dress before you get down to churning out 80,000 words, rather than after. Of course it is.

Cue typical writers confidence wobble.

I crashed and burned.

Help! What have I got myself into? I thought I had a novel with a mostly sorted plot, and now I find there is mountains more work to do than I thought. Oh, oh, I am hopeless, my work is superficial, crap, lacking in psychological depth, etc. etc. You know the routine, because I’ll bet you’ve done it yourself at 3am enough times.

Don’t worry, I’ve got a grip on myself now. But it was a bit scary there for a while.

What the marvels of Scrivener have done is to make me see how I can get to grips with my project in a way I never have before. I have always been a ‘flying by the seat of my pants’ sort of writer, with plots that evolved organically as I went along. I’ve written to find the plots, rather than establishing them first. Much the same goes for character. I’ve done a bit of character work before on my novels, but most of the time, I’ve just sat down and written the damn thing, and kept writing till it felt done.

Which is why I could never get a handle on my books as whole, holistic entities, and why I always have such horrible trouble editing them.

You can’t break a stream-of-consciousness-written novel down into individual component parts in order to see if it makes logical sense, or to cut and paste bits around. Its too interwoven.

Cue HUGE AHA! moment.

Back in the dim and distant past, when I was studying systems analysis and design, I was taught that the way you design a system is to break it down into its individual constituent parts, each part serving a specific function and with a specified input, actors, outcome or output. But I never thought that you could view a novel this way, even though I was taught to look at every scene in my books, and ask what function it was there for, and whether it served that purpose. If it doesn’t, you have to cut it, say the gurus, with systems design and with novel editing.   Kill your darlings, they say, but I never could because I couldn’t see the whole, and I couldn’t see the individual functions.

What I think I am trying to say is that in two days, using Scrivener has revolutionised the way I conceptualise a writing project. It is scary, but it is also enormously liberating. I get it now, I really do. After years of struggling over how to plan, I now see it.

Thank you, Scrivener. (And Chasingriver, of course.)

Of course, I can also now see that I have a vast amount of work to do. But the nice thing about that is that I can also see how to break it down into little, manageable component tasks. Eating the elephant, as they say. I’ll let you know how I am getting on.

In the meantime, take a look at Scrivener, if you haven’t already.

Happy Creating,

EF

Inspiration Monday: Planner Smorgesbord

I’m still in the midst of Bear energy at the moment, only more so, because last week, after I wrote my last post, I went down with labyrinthitis, a nasty inflammation of the part of the inner ear that controls balance.  The result is dizziness, nausea and on occasion, terrifying episodes of vertigo. Controllable, as it turns out, but I’ve had better times.  At present, I am living with a kind of low level seasickness which, whilst its not very pleasant, is at least managable.

Reading is intermittently a problem, but I have been surfing the net a bit, and I thought I would share a few pages I have been enjoying lately, just to keep you going until my brain comes back enough to write something  more coherent!   But before we begin, I should start with all my cards on the table:

Confession:  I am a Stationery addict!

I’ve been having a bit of a planner fetish lately.  I’ve always been very fond of Philofaxy, which is the filofax addict’s dream.  Somehow, it doesn’t fulfil my passion for the visual, and I’ve always found filofaxes too rigid in their forms to really work for me.

What delight, then, to discover Staples’ ARC discbound system, which combines the flexibility of a loose leaf format like filofax with the aesthetics and practicality of a notebook.

It is very annoying that the gorgeous Martha Stewart aqua coloured ARC binders that are all over the blogosphere at the moment are not available in the UK.  I’m trying to work out how I can get hold of one.  In the meantime, have a drool at what Jen at IHeart Organizing has done with hers – it is irresistable!  (She does a blog planner too, which I am head-over-heels for.)

I love what Jackie and Michelle at A Creative Operation are doing with theirs!

If you want something more creative and visually oriented than the usual planners, take a peek at Right-Brain Planner.  I’m not sure I could aspire to such heights of visual complexity, but its pretty breathtaking, and shows that you don’t have to conform to what Filofax says your diary should look like.

If you fancy going right back to basics, you can’t do batter than iHanna’s tutorial on how to make your own!

If you want to go the whole hog, and plan your entire 2014, then do what I do and treat yourself to Leonie’s Amazing Biz and Life Planner.  This is the third year I’ve used mine and I really love it as a way of focussing on what you want.

And of course, don’t forget Jennifer Louden’s Life Organiser.  I use it religiously every Sunday.  Fact.

Meanwhile, being a bit compromised in the moving-about-without-falling-over department at the moment, I’ve been hanging my nose over the Organised Portable Home Office at ‘I’m an Organizing Junkie’.  Somehow I have got to make that one work so I don’t spend my whole life struggling up and down the stairs to find notebooks or binders when I’m working on the sofa instead of at my desk!

On that note, dear readers, I am going off to think about what to write about in my next post, but I hope that this one has fed your inner planner addict!

Happy creating,

EF

Word of the Year 2014

So, we have thought about intentions, and we have begun to consider the words that identify how we want to feel.  Those (five) words are the place from whence our intentions arise.  Because every day we can choose to do things that make us feel that way.

Clever, eh?

But there’s more:

You may have bumped into the idea of having a Word of the Year.  You can find out more about this habit here.

A Word of the Year is a kind of overall intention.  It gives you a direction, a way of formulating how you want to be in the world. It also has an uncanny habit of bringing into your life exactly what it says.

My word for 2013 was

Revolutionary

And oh boy, was it?!

This year has fundamentally changed how I feel about myself.  I have undergone a revolution in my core beliefs and my way of approaching the world.  I have turned my attitudes about my place in the world and, most particularly, in the world of work, on their heads.  In some ways, I have also revolved (the other meaning of revolutionary), coming back full circle to revisit issues that I thought I had dealt with before.

I have revolutionised the way I write and the way I feel about my writing.  I have set up this website and begun to dream new dreams about the kind of things I want to create.  It is exhilarating.

Let me tell you, revolution doesn’t have to be a violent upheaval that ends with tyranny and blood.

I have to confess that when the word first came to me, in the form of just revolution, (while I was still in the malaise of a serious bout of influenza which brought me close to being hospitalised), I was a bit scared.  I knew it was the word I needed, but it sounded frightening, as if I could be inviting an earthquake into my life.  Was I really ready for that much change?  After all, with limited energy, poor health and a susceptibility to anxiety and stress, it didn’t really sound a good idea to invite those kinds of energies into my world.  So I fiddled with it until it felt more friendly, more manageable.  And more appropriate to what I could cope with.  It became:

I AM REVOLUTIONARY

And this year, I have been.

So the question then becomes, what do I want to be next?

I don’t have to stop being revolutionary, of course, but 2014 needs a new word, something that allows new energies into my life, allowing me to blossom and grow in new ways.

I have been sitting with my five words and my journal and calendar, contemplating what I want to be and do next year.  How I want to build on the intentions and lessons that revolutionary brought with it?  I thought about kind, lovingkindness, courage, and strength.  The first two felt too soft, and the last two, too tough.  I needed something flexible, something I can grow with, something I can work with whilst still treating myself with lovingkindess.  And this is what I came up with:

DARE

Dare feels good.  It popped into my head at 2am on the way back to bed after a loo break (TMI), and I knew it was the right word.

Dare is about having a go, putting yourself out there, but not in a way that is perfectionist.  Not in a Nigel way.  Dare means trying something out and seeing if it fits.  It means trying something, and knowing that it doesn’t matter if I fail or if I don’t get it exactly right the first time, or even if it turns out to be the wrong thing after all.  At least I will have tried.  At least I will be in the arena fighting, as Roosevelt would put it.

Journal Exercise:

So, I invite you to take time to sit with your feelings words, with your creative and life intentions, and to consider what word might truly describe and inspire how and who you want to be in 2014.  What feelings and new adventures do you want to manifest in your life?  What energies do you want to invoke?

When you consider this, do it in the spirit of lovingkindness towards yourself.  Look at your life with a gentle hope, not in the spirit of forcing yourself into new contortions.  This is not some New Agey wishing, some pseudo-psychobabble soppy thing.  This is a life affirming way of moving yourself to new levels, of becoming more yourself every day, and of being deeply, affirmatively and satisfyingly creative.

Everyday life is a continual act of creativity.

When I say ‘sit with it’, I mean: allow yourself time to consider.  Allow ideas to filter, percolate and bubble in your mind.  Don’t force it.  It will come to you.  Let it happen.  You know deep inside what you want for yourself as a creative being.  Allow it to emerge.  And then rejoice in it.  Allow it to inspire every corner of your life for the whole year.

I guarantee it will take you places you can’t even begin to imagine right now.

Happy Creating,

EF

How do you want to feel?

“Be willing to look at your own life and want more for yourself without beating yourself up or making it about another self-improvement plan.” -Jennifer Lounden

Jennifer Louden’s recent post about Freedom from Self-Improvement seems completely apposite right now, in the run-up to Christmas, when we are all feeling the ‘we’re not worthys’ very badly.

Everyone else seems to have a nicer house, prettier, more stylish decorations, tastier cocktail treats, better fashion sense, better-behaved kids.  My own melt-down usually comes with present-wrapping.  Everyone these days makes present wrapping into an art form.  Me, I struggle to fold neat corners in my artfully chosen, blends-with-the-bauble-colour-scheme wrapping paper, never mind the hand-cut decorative snowflakes and layers of gauzy ribbon that some people cook up!

Christmas is a bunch of big red emotional triggers for me anyway.  So right now, I am choosing how I want to feel, and doing only those things that make me feel the way I want.

Sounds too good to be true?  Too many SHOULDS on your plate to even think its possible?

Remember, you always, always have a choice.

In the last post, I was talking about Intentions as an alternative to goals.  There is a process to setting intentions, and it starts with this:

How do you want to feel?

I found this exercise in Danielle LaPorte’s excellent book, The Firestarter Sessions.  It is another book I heartily recommend, and if you want to know how to do it properly, I suggest you grab a copy and check out the worksheet on page 73.

Journal Exercise:

Take some time with your journal.  Write about the feelings that give you a sense of wholeness, enoughness, satisfaction, happiness.  How do you want to feel about yourself?  How do you want others to see you?  What qualities do you admire in yourself and others?

Come up with between three and five words that describe how you want to feel/be in your life.

Mine are:

Radiant

Calm

Wise

Joyful

Creative

Take your time over this.  Make a long list, if you like, and sit with it for a while, weeks if necessary.  Then hone it, edit it, pick and choose until you come up with a series of words that describe heart of who you are.  How do you want to feel in the future?  What symphony do you want to start in your heart?

Key to this part of the process is NOT BEATING YOURSELF UP.

Choose words that resonate with you.  Not what other people would like you to be, or what you think you OUGHT to feel.  You are shaping your life, your coming year.  What feelings do you want to feel?

This is not about self improvement.  It is about self-actualisation.  It is about being fully and deeply yourself.  And by being fully yourself, you can let your innate creativity loose.  You can choose your creative direction and flow with it.

For more on this, check out Danielle LaPorte’s website.

In the next post, I will be talking about your word for the New Year

Happy Journaling,

EF

Why I don’t set Goals anymore

I love deadlines.  I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

Douglas Adams

 Following on from my previous post about celebrating our creative achievements, I’d like to talk a bit about goals.

There is a lot of talk about setting goals and resolutions for the New Year around in the blogosphere at the moment.  I’m a sucker for all kinds of productivity systems, believe me.  I’ve got a cupboard full of Filofaxes, and I’ve read David Allen’s book ‘Getting Things Done’ more time than I can possibly count.  (I still don’t really understand it, though.  But that’s another story.)  Anything that requires a list, a planner, a diary, a system, I love it.

Except.

The thing about goals is that they are just another tyranny of the Scarcity culture, the trend in society that persuades us that we are not enough.

Meet your goals and you will be enough, they say.

Except.

What if they are not the right goals?  What if they are someone else’s goals that you are just pursuing because you feel you have to in order to please them?  What if life gets in the way and simply prevents you from completing them?

And.

Once you have achieved your goal, there is always, always another one.  One goal is never enough.  Because you are never enough.

What if you were enough?

What would you do if you couldn’t fail?

More importantly, what would you do if it didn’t matter if you failed?

The Catch-22 is this:  Our success-oriented culture tells us that we must have goals in order to be successful.  (For a very narrowly defined value of success, that is.)  If you don’t achieve your goals, you are a failure.  If you do achieve your goals, then you have to have more goals.  We are on a twenty-first century hamster wheel.

Let me illustrate:

Your goal is to write a novel.  How do you measure that goal?  Is it to write 50,000 words, as NaNoWriMo would have it?  Is it to complete a first draft?  Is it to get to a drafting stage where an agent accepts your work?  Is it to get it to the drafting stage where an editor is satisfied?  Or to publication?

And when you get there, what next?  Write another novel?  Does this one only count if it wins the Man Booker Prize?  Or if it tops the Amazon bestseller lists?  Or if you make your first million from it?

You see what I am getting at?  When do you say ‘when’?  When is it ‘enough’?  When does the goal, the To Do list, end?

Yes, goals motivate us.  They help us to get things done.  They help us build businesses and careers.  They help us expand our expertise, our creativity, our skills and range.  As creative people, goals help us to plot a course of where we want to go with our talents, what we want to explore.  And that is all good.

Except when it isn’t.

Intentions

The Douglas Adams quote at the top of this post says everything I feel about goals.  For me they are stressful, and because of my health, I need to eliminate all the stress from my life that I can.  That’s why I set intentions.

Intentions are gentler.  Intentions allow room to grow and explore.  They don’t stop me from achieving things.  They allow me to achieve far more, in fact, because they allow me space to find out more about my creativity than a narrow, specific goal might.  They also take account of the times when my health does not allow me to pursue timed objectives.  Intentions are better for my kind of creativity and my own personal challenges than goals.  And they take account of who I am as a whole being.  They allow me and my creativity to grow at a slower and more mindful pace.

If you are wondering what an intention might be, how about this illustration:  This year I decided on the Intention to make our home a calmer place filled with light and peaceful colours.  Now, I could make a whole To Do list based on this intention:

  • Paint bathroom white
  • Buy new living room rug
  • Sew new curtains and cushions
  • Declutter every room

And so on.  These might be classified as goals.  They might even be timed, with one goal set for every month of the year.

Instead, this Intention can evolve over the coming months.  Each of these items may indeed be included in the things I do to fulfil my Intention, but they are part of a wider, more fluid way of living that allows for evolution and expansion.  Intentions don’t stay still.  They move and change shape.  They allow me to go at my own pace, a pace that I can afford, both in terms of personal stress, time and finance.  If I decide an action doesn’t fit with my Intention, then I am at liberty not to do it.  And I know I am not going to wake up the morning after I have put up the new curtains and realise they are completely horrendous in the light at this time of year!

Perhaps the two things I like most about Intentions are that they are:

Not static

Slow.

Perhaps you might feel that Intentions are a luxury that you cannot afford in your time-pressured, stressful existence.  If you feel that way, I invite you to consider seriously how you are living.  If you are all rush-rush-rush, how are you ever going to have time to notice and experience your life as it passes?

Journal Exercise:

In the next few posts I am going to talk about the process of setting (particularly creative) intentions.  And it is a process, something that evolves and takes time.

In the meantime, take some time out with your journal to think about what goals mean for you.  Are you one of those people who always fails with their New Year resolutions?  Do you have goals, and if you do, do you achieve what you set out to do?  Do you consistently set them so high you can’t but fail to achieve them, or so low that you don’t value them because they take no effort to achieve?  How do you use goals to beat yourself up, to tell yourself that you are not good enough?  Where do you fail, fizzle out, fall off the waggon, and do you know why?

Alternatively, how do goals motivate you?  What have they helped you to achieve?  How do you feel when you complete a goal –are you proud of what you have done, excited about the next step, satisfied that you did what you set out to do, or disappointed because you don’t feel as if the result is quite what you expected or wanted?  Was it the right goal for you in the first place? (Indeed, whose goal was it?)

While doing this exercise, be kind to yourself.  Don’t judge.  Be gentle.  Treat yourself as if you were a dear friend whom you want to support to the utmost.  Be patient.  Don’t rush.  You are not seeking to punish yourself.  The goals have done that effectively enough already.  You are on the journey to find a new way of being.  A new way of sparking your creativity and enriching your life.

Happy Journaling,

EF