New habits – It’s all about consistency

It’s hard to believe that we are almost halfway through January, and only a couple of weeks away from the boys going back to school. While Simon has been working long hours, I’ve fortunately been able to work flexibly and the boys and I have been taking things very slowly.

This has meant that most days, I’ve been able to focus on my 30-minute goals of writing, reading, moving and learning. In the first 13 days of the year, there have only been two days that I haven’t written. Given that becoming more consistent with my writing was the reason I initially decided to set these goals, I’m pretty happy.

Three of those writing sessions were spent working on blog posts, and one was writing notes and chapter outlines for my book (after a night of poor sleep thanks to ALL the ideas wanting to come out) but otherwise I have added more words and more depth to my current book. One of those sessions ended up being over an hour and I added 1500 words and took the plot in what I believe is a really strong direction. I learned that once I get into a writing groove, I really need to write every day otherwise I’m likely to be kept awake with ideas. It’s obviously much easier to pick up the thread of the story if I’m writing every day.

The other goal that I met most days was reading. Given we are in holiday mode, and it’s been too hot to do too much, it’s probably not surprising that I have only missed reading on one day. I’ve finished 2 novels and a short non-fiction – the fabulous Failed It!: How to turn mistakes into ideas and other advice for successfully screwing up. I’m two-thirds of the way through another book (Suitcase of Dreams by Tania Blanchard) which I have been looking forward since I read her debut novel The Girl from Munich in late 2017.

I also started listening to The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper yesterday on my morning walk. I put the call out for recommendations of ‘page turner’ audio books that would entice me to get out of bed for a walk – and walk longer. This was definitely a good one to start with, although given the heatwave forecast this week, hearing about bushfires and arsonists is probably not a great idea.

As I said in my post last week, 30 minutes of reading was almost a ‘free kick’ because in the last few years at least, I have been reading a lot, it meant that I didn’t forgo my reading just to meet my other goals. Last year I read 52 books. They were mainly commercial fiction with the odd literary work thrown in, but I decided that life was too short (and my to be read pile too tall) to trudge through books I wasn’t enjoying, just because they were award winners. I read quite a few books by authors who write the sort of novels I am trying to write –with dual historical timelines and with lots of family secrets and dramas. I’ll include a list of my favourite books of 2018 and some of the books on my list for 2019, below. and you can also follow me on Goodreads to see what I’m reading.

I had really hoped that my movement goal would work well, but late nights (reading or playing the new family favourite board game – Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle), hot weather and seven days of swimming lessons for the boys made that a bit tricker. I have done three parkruns (including on New Year’s Day) which I am excited about as I do have a goal to get quicker and run the whole 5km. A few of those sessions have been walks with the boys and even with the heat, I think we’ll do more walks together now they have been introduced to geocaching. Our Crossfit benchmark this month includes deadlifts which is my favourite lift and double-unders (skipping) which I can’t do but I’m excited to practice. The heatwave this week does mean I’ll need to be disciplined about getting up early and getting my workout done.

Sunday morning walk in the sunshine

I thought having a learning goal would be good but it has been the hardest to fulfil, in part because trying to listen to training videos when the boys are around has been hard. The only positive I will take from this is that I have been looking for learning opportunities each day which is a good mindset shift.

Keeping a record each day on the monthly page of my planner has been good, and I have made a point of leaving the things I don’t do blank, rather than making a cross because I want to focus on what I have done rather than what I haven’t done. Having an achievable, measurable, timed goal each day feels like a good way to cement some good habits, so I’ll definitely continue for the rest of month. I haven’t decided on my goals for February, but I may well continue to focus on these four things until they become a part of my daily routine.

We’re off to join some friends at a local caravan park and water park tonight (a local mini-break is better than nothing) and we’ll be trying to keep cool.

I’ll be back here on Thursday to share some of my favourite books about Hanoi and Vietnam.

I’d love to hear how you are going with your writing goals for 2019.

What’s on your reading wish list for the year ahead?

 

My top reads of 2018 (in no particular order)

The Sister’s Song – Louise Allan

The Passengers – Eleanor Limprecht

The Opal Dragonfly – Julian Leatherdale

Three Gold Coins – Josephine Moon

The Paris Seamstress – Natasha Lester

The Jade Lily – Kirsty Manning

The Greater Good – Tim Ayliffe

The Last of the Bonegilla Girls – Victoria Purman

Anatomy of a Scandal – Sarah Vaughan

The Peacock Summer – Hannah Richell

Boy Swallows Universe – Trent Dalton

The Lost Peal – Emily Madden

Tilly Maguire and the Royal Wedding Mess – Emma Grey

The Lost Man – Jane Harper

My top non-fiction for 2018

A Certain Light – Cynthia Banham

Any Ordinary Day – Leigh Sales

One Hundred Years of Dirt – Rick Morton

And a couple of great audio books

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis -J.D Vance

Reckoning – Magda Szubanski

Bridge Burning and other hobbies – Kitty Flanagan

On my to be read pile for 2019

Unfettered and Alive – Anne Summers

Essentialism – Greg McKeown

Boys will be boys – Clementine Ford

Cedar Valley – Holly Throsby

Becoming – Michelle Obama

New writing habits for 2019

This year I have decided not to get caught up in making any big resolutions. I am excited about 2019 but I know that resolutions and year-long plans are not the solution for me.

2018 was a frustrating year, to say the least. I didn’t make the progress I would have liked to in my writing and as a family, I felt like we were all on a treadmill of busy. The end of the year threw us some curveballs, with Simon’s surgeon deciding he would need to replace the prosthetic bone that had been fitted in March 2016 when a cancerous tumour was removed, and in November Simon’s Mum died after a long illness.

Throughout December, I read so many posts about setting goals and making resolutions. I could have gone with my standard get fit and healthy, write more and be more organised but I knew that wouldn’t work, even if I made them into SMART goals. I also knew from the experience of 2018 that life changes from month to month.

In 2018, I struggled to consistently set aside time to work on my novel and my copywriting. In late October, I eventually finished the first draft of the novel I started during Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) in November 2017. The novel tells the modern-day story of a young woman moving to the Barossa. As she re-creates a new life for her and her daughters, she uncovers her Aunt’s life story and the family’s history. It is now ‘sitting’ quietly and when I am ready, I’ll print all 90,000 words and start working on a second draft. The story definitely needs more fleshing out and I have a lot of historical research to do, but I am really happy with my first attempt at a first draft. If I can take anything out of 2018, it is the fact I now believe that I can write a book. I started a second book, based in Hanoi, in Nanowrimo 2018.

As I was being bombarded with posts about New Year’s Resolutions, I was trying to find the motivation to return to my writing.  I had lost both the enthusiasm and interest to write – and yet there was so much I wanted to work on – blog posts, my novel, and building up my copywriting work.

I put the call out in a few writing groups asking whether people preferred a word goal or a time goal. There were many different approaches and when I explained the reason behind my writing slump, I was surprised by how many people suggested I should just take it easy and perhaps let my writing go for a while. While there was no clear-cut solution to breaking my writing drought, the suggestions and the encouragement had just the right effect and I found myself deciding to go with a time goal of a 30 minutes a day of writing. I started then and there and ended up adding 800 words to my novel.

As New Year’s Day arrived and I started the year with a 5km parkrun, I decided to set a fitness goal for the month. Moving 30 minutes every day. And because I like a list, I decided that I should complement my 30 minutes of writing and moving with 30 minutes each of learning and reading. Two hours a day to start making some small steps towards some big goals. It is probably no surprise that reading for 30 minutes a day is almost a given but by adding it to my goals, I’m not feeling guilty about taking the time out to do it.

The learning goal was something I decided to add when I looked at how many courses I had signed up to during 2018 and not completed. Writing them all down was a bit daunting and I wasn’t sure where to start. There were courses on copywriting, SEO (search engine optimisation) and feature writing that I knew I needed to work through to progress my copywriting and fiction writing and so far, dedicating 30 minutes a day to learning something new has felt good.

But a plan on its own doesn’t mean much and even recording it in my gorgeous Emma Kate Co planner isn’t going to help. As Timehop reminded me this week, I also started 2018 with the goal of writing and moving for 30 minutes a day. Given I had completely forgotten about those goals, it obviously didn’t last long.

So far, the enthusiasm is still there and I’m enjoying ticking each task off my list but when this starts to wane, I’ll be calling on friends and family to keep me honest. I already have some good fitness buddies and I’ve joined Running Mums Australia for some extra encouragement to get my running back on track. My network of writing and blogging friends is growing which I know will provide both encouragement and accountability.

When all else fails, I am also looking at this as a set of goals just for January. In February, we’ll be back at work and school, so I might need to set some different goals. But for now, I am hoping that spending 30 minutes on each of those activities with make them more of a daily habit rather than a chore.

When it comes to making the most of 3.5 hours of dedicated writing time a week, I won’t just be working on my novel. Thanks to some great discussions with Emma from A Simple Living Journey, I’m planning to blog more about my novel writing process and the inspirations for these stories.

I’m looking forward to sharing more of my writing during the year and I hope you enjoy it.

Do you have any resolutions or goals for this year? What are you writing in 2019?

Finding my writing mojo with a road trip and a pen

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Editing on the beach – I could get use to that

Despite my good intentions at the start of the year, I haven’t had nearly enough time to write and when I have sat down, I’ve struggled with writer’s block. I’ve only added 5000 words to the 50,000 I wrote during Nanowrimo and for once, the strategy to just write and let the words flow hasn’t worked.

I was feeling frustrated that I had lost my novel writing mojo. Part of the problem was the fact I just didn’t know where my novel was up to. I’d half plotted the novel out in Scrivener, and then during Nanowrimo worked on particular scenes, so when I came back to it months later, I wasn’t sure where to start.

I might have continued to flounder had it not been for the push to enter a couple of really exciting writing competitions for beginners. This was just the incentive I needed to re-focus on my writing – but I wasn’t sure how to do it.

As we were packing for a two-week, 5000km road trip last month, I decided to print out the 190 pages of my manuscript and start editing. Now, I should say now, as someone who 12 months ago didn’t think she could write a novel, I feel like a fraud describing what I have written as a manuscript – but, that is what it is – even if it is a work in progress.

Turns out that printing out these pages, and picking up a pen has had a really positive effect. Editing the words I’d written, I rediscovered my writing mojo and I rediscovered my enthusiasm and excitement for the story I am trying to tell. There were definitely moments of “this is rubbish” but these were outweighed by moments of “I love this story and I want to finish it”.

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that is was easier to edit this way because I have always been a “pen to paper” editor. But the other thing I found was having the pile of papers that make up this very rough first draft sitting beside me in the car or beside my bed, has prompted me to pick it up to read, edit and write – even if I only had 5 or 10 minutes to focus on it.

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Gertrude the cat is making sure I edit a few pages before picking up my book

I might have deleted more words than I have added but I have realised that is not a problem. While Nanowrimo is great for setting up a good writing discipline and for getting the bones of a story down, it does set up some slightly unrealistic expectations about how much you can write. I’ve learned in the last few weeks that it is just as important to delete the words that don’t add to your story as it is to add words.

While I only got through about 50 or 60 pages, just having those physical pages around has helped me think more about my book in the last few weeks than I have since Nanowrimo. I have had more ideas about how to structure my story better, and I’ve plotted out the story. I feel like I have become engaged in my story all over again, I know where I can take it and it’s so exciting.

Early on in the year, I’d set some lofty goals to enter a couple of competitions that required a completed manuscript, and that certainly did help with the feeling of being overwhelmed. So I have dialled things back and am now working on refining just the first few chapters for a couple of competitions really aimed at beginners. This is just the push I needed, and it’s been great to realise that sometimes, going back to the basics is really all you need.

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On the road from Cobar to Bourke – I fell in love with the colours of the outback