Posted in Writing

I Dream of Dancing

photo of shadows dancingA post about my strange dream to do with work, dancing and self-knowledge

What a funny dream I had the other night! No, don’t click away yet, this is interesting, honestly…

My Strange Dream

I dreamed I was in my kitchen doing chores, and as I was pottering about I noticed my reflection in the window, doing, not surprisingly, the same thing that I was.

Then I realised that a couple of feet away there was another reflection of me, but this one was having a good time, dancing about, waving her arms in the air, completely absorbed in having fun.

My Initial Interpretation

photo of little girl walking down a long path into the distance
Just following my dreams

On waking, my immediate thought was “Pah! I’m so transparent! My subconscious is obviously trying to tell me to stop doing so much work and to have more fun.” I know I have a bad midnight oil habit, and being self-employed and freelance, I have the worst boss when it comes to productivity demands.

To start my morning sociably, I shared this thought with my friends on Facebook, where I’m always happy to make a joke at my own expense. “I’m such a simpleton!” I concluded.

Then I attacked my to-do list, suppressing the thought that actually I’d been really looking forward to starting back to work this week after the school holidays. Surely I couldn’t be that jaded already?

The Truth Outs

Only later, when my friend the author Nancy Freund stopped by to comment, did I realise how foolish I had been. Her view:

I think it means your work IS your fun. I imagine you’re dancing most of the time.”

RapeseedNancy is an insightful writer, possibly as a by-product of her synesthesia, and as soon as I read her comment, I had to bow to her wisdom. Yes, my work is indeed my fun – my writing and editing and publishing projects, and all the social networking (both online and in real life) that go with it are so enjoyable. Having spent nearly 30 years as an office-based wage-slave before going solo, there are days when I cannot believe my good fortune.

I may not be a bestseller (yet), but today and every day, I have plenty of reasons to do a happy dance. Thank you, Nancy, for making me realise I’m not such a simpleton after all.

If you’d like to experience more of Nancy’s insights, check out her novels – I reviewed Rapeseed, which features a synesthete, here). 

Posted in Personal life

Far from Retiring (Nor Am I Shy)

A post-birthday post about my busy life and why I’m not retiring any time soon, despite reaching 55

Birthday card showing pic of crowd with caption "Debs didn't expect so many of her Facebook friends to show up for her birthday party"
Birthday card

Last weekend I reached a particular milestone birthday that in the heady days of my twenties, I had speculated might be my retirement age. 

In those days, I worked as a journalist on a trade press magazine in the telecommunications sector, called (no surprises here) Telecommunications. I was based in central London, in a mews building round the corner from Buckingham Palace and Victoria Station. This wasn’t quite as idyllic as it sounds, because our office had virtually no windows, thick walls and a heavy outer door, which made it feel like a nuclear bunker.

This may sound like a high-tech magazine, and I suppose we were cutting-edge in those days, but it makes me smile (and feel ancient) to recall our office technology:

  • Cover of Telecommunications magazine from September 1988 showing large mobile phone
    This passed for cutting edge technology in September 1988

    We had an early fax machine across which we had to send copy to our American head office each month, and they’d fax us back the proofs to check. It was always touch and go as to whether it would work.

  • The fax machine was a step up from the telex machine, used to send urgent messages. This was not far removed from using Morse code:  I had to type messages via punched holes on a paper tape, each letter showing up as a specific formation of dots. Once I’d punched the paper tape, I dialled up a phone connection and threaded the paper tape through, so the message was transmitted faster than I’d typed it. Transatlantic calls were expensive in those days, and saving seconds counted.
  • The single, shared office printer – a newfangled daisy-wheel – was so noisy that it had to have an acoustic hood. Whenever anyone wanted to print, we had to plug a long cable into the back of their desktop terminal, because there was no such thing as wifi printing. Or indeed wifi.

An Era of Reform

We were on the cusp of denationalising public services, including the government PTT monopolies. British Telecommunications was daringly abridged to British Telecom to sound modern, before being more ruthlessly honed down to just BT. Mobile phones were the size and weight of a brick. If you managed to make a simple phone call on one, you were doing well. As to apps – well, they were unheard of.

Another institution undergoing radical change was the government pensions scheme. For the first time, we were allowed to divert a small fund into a private system.

I still don’t really understand what it was all about, I just blindly followed advice patiently provided by our boss, who had a PhD in nuclear physics and had worked at CERN splitting atoms, assuming that if he was that smart, his advice would be a safe bet.

Accordingly, I signed up for the scheme he proposed, which required me to designate my expected retirement age. I chose 55. am unimaginably distant age for one aged just 25 – more years distant than I’d already lived. We fondly imagined that by 2015, our biggest social problem would be how to fill the long, idle days freed up for us by labour-saving technological advances.

What they didn’t foresee was the economic crisis that would rule out early retirement for all but the lucky few.  Nor had I counted on still feeling so young and active by the time my policy matured. (My young nephew, turning 11 this week, thought I’d just hit 45.)

Still Far From Retiring

To the outsider, it may look as if I am living in retirement, as I work for myself from my peaceful country cottage. Sometimes, particularly when planning weekday lunch dates with friends, I even fool myself. When everything I do is something I love (well, apart from the housework, anyway), it’s hard to equate it to real employment.

It was only when lunching with a former colleague on Friday that I realised just how hard I still work. When Diana, who I hadn’t seen for a couple of years, I made myself hoarse reeling off the long list:

Cover of pension advice leaflet headed "It's time to choose"My friend Diana’s career had been in accountancy, and she is a brilliant budgeter. After I’d reeled off this list, she looked at me calmly and said: “You’re doing too much. When do you ever sleep? Go home and have a rest. Take the rest of today off.”

As I drove home trying to stop my eyes crossing from sleep deprivation, I realised that she was absolutely right.

When I got home to find a letter from the insurance company asking me whether I was ready to take my retirement payout, now that I’d hit 55, or whether I wanted to defer, there was only one realistic choice. I phoned them straight away.

“Please defer the policy,” I told them. “I shan’t be retiring any time soon.”

We agreed they’d review the policy each year from now on, and be in touch this time next year to ask whether I’m ready to retire.

But I think I already know the answer.

If you enjoyed this birthday post, you may also like these from my archive:

The Only Certainty in Life: Birthdays and Taxes (on my mum’s 80th birthday)

There’s No Time Like the (Birthday) Present (on discovering the elixir of immortality – allegedly)

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Posted in Personal life, Writing

Tiptoeing into the New Year (2015)

Welcome to my first blog post of the New Year!

Debbie writing with a pen on paper
Sometimes the pen is mightier than the keyboard

Well, did you miss me? Did you notice I’ve been offline for a bit? Probably not – if you’ve got any sense, you’ll have spent a lot of time offline over Christmas too.

But I have to say I’m greeting the first working week of the New Year with renewed energy and enthusiasm, after spending as much time as possible away from my computer during my daughter’s two-week break from school.

When I furtively dipped back into the internet now and again during the holiday fortnight, it was effectively under cover – I’d set up an out-of-office message to cover my two email accounts: the online equivalent of dark glasses.

In fact, if I hadn’t been part of Helen Hollick’s fabulous Christmas Party Blog Hop, I’d have spend even less time online. Reading the other participants’ fascinating posts was the main reason that I sneaked back to my computer at all.

Why Christmas Isn’t Over Yet…

Blog hop logo
Catch it before it’s too late!

What do you mean, you didn’t read the 25 fabulous articles on the blog hop, on different aspects of Christmas traditions and with plenty of festive fiction samples to enjoy?

Fear not, there’s still time to catch them with a clear conscience, because, as I’ve just discovered, Christmas isn’t actually over just yet. I’m not talking about waiting for Twelfth Night (today, 5th January, according to some people, or tomorrow, 6th, for others, including me). The vicar’s letter in the new Hawkesbury Parish News states that the festive season doesn’t officially conclude until Candlemas on 2nd February. Now there’s the excuse Laura was looking for to keep the Christmas tree up for a little longer.

ALLi logoIn the meantime, I’m back in the room – and I’ve just been blogging about the benefits of going offline on the advice blog of Alliance of Independent Authors. You can read that post here, if you’re interested: Don’t Let the Internet (Tail) Wag the Author (Dog)

  • What’s the longest you can bear to stay offline – or indeed online?
  • Do you have a top tip to share on avoiding internet burnout?
  • Feel free to join the conversation via the comment box below!
Posted in Writing

My New Time Management Trick

For the start of the new academic year, a new post outlining a way of using school timetable methods to manage an adult’s workload

Photo of Laura in her new school uniform
Maybe a smart uniform would make me feel more efficient

Enviously examining my daughter’s beautiful school journal, provided by her new secondary school to help pupils manage their school timetable, homework and extra-curricular activities, I realised that I’ve been missing an obvious trick for my own time management: using an academic diary to manage my workload.

If, like me, you work from home, or just want to get more out of the hours in your day, I hope my new time management plan, outlined below, will help you.

My Working Day

During my many years of marching to the beat of an employer’s drum, I often had to complete time-sheets to demonstrate how many hours I’d worked on various client contracts. Now those days are behind me, and I have the luxury of working full time from home. My natural antipathy to housework ensures I’m not tempted to leave my desk other than for a mid-morning tea-break and lunch, scheduled to ensure I stretch and breathe, and to reassure my retired husband that I haven’t forgotten his existence.

The pattern of my working day is geared around my eleven-year-old daughter’s school timetable. Since she started secondary school (high school) last week, I’ve gained an extra hour, as she leaves homes nearly an hour earlier than when she was attending the village school. It’s as if the clocks have gone back an hour: I’m normally at my desk by 8am.

Everyone tells me that as children get older they need you more, rather than less, so I take time out when Laura gets home to talk to her about her day, supervise homework and take her to evening activities (flute lessons, Guides, Youth Club, Stagecoach and tea at Grandma’s – phew!) But I can usually grab an hour or two of time in the evening after she’s gone to bed.

My To-Do List

A combination of regular paid work, short-term contracts, public speaking gigs and speculative personal writing projects means my workload is busy and varied, and I’m never, ever bored, but trying to squeeze such a mixed agenda into a fixed time-frame is challenging. It can be frustrating to feel that I’ve worked all hours, cutting corners on sleep, without achieving all that I need to do. As a result, my to-do lists can often be classed as works of fiction. I’m also conscious that I should be getting more exercise, and would like to squeeze in a thirty-minute daily walk.

It’s a classic problem for self-employed creative types: to be full of ideas, enthusiasm and energy, but to fail on the practical side, overpromising and underdelivering. Even if your only client is yourself, rather than a paid customer, as when you’ve committed to yourself to write a short story or novel, it can be disheartening, and end up sapping your creativity as well as your income.

My New Plan

I’m therefore uplifted by by new plan, which is to follow the structure and principles of a typical school timetable to make the finite number of hours more productive:

  • start with a grid of available time slots, broken down into short segments that match a realistic concentration span (no more than two hours each)
  • create a list of “subjects” (e.g. blog posts, articles, fiction or non-fiction writing projects, contract work, planning, financial management)
  • allocate an appropriate number of periods per week to each subject, according to their priority (writing projects every day, financial management weekly)
  • schedule the slots into a grid in a varied pattern that reflects when the different parts of my brain work best (creative writing first thing, admin later in the day)
  • include some free time for rest and refreshment (mid-morning playtime, sociable lunch break)
  • allow some free periods for contingency e.g. for rescheduling an activity if I need to go out for an appointment during its allocated time slot (I usually go out at least once a week to meet an author friend for coffee or to take a brief for a new contract)

I’m resisting the urge to dash out to the shops now and buy a shiny new academic year diary, complete with timetable to fill in. Instead, I’m going to create a template on my computer and print it out at the start of each week, adding details of the specific projects I need to complete each week. I’m also going to schedule a series of “school bells” on my phone to make sure I move on to the next “class” as necessary during the day. If not, it’ll be detention time for me!

Will it work for me? Will it work for you? Only time will tell. I’m just trying not to be discouraged by the fact that I’ve just drafted this blog post in a time slot I’d allocated for fiction writing…

Do you have any top tips for time management that you’d like to share here? Please feel free to join the conversation via the comments box below.

Photo of Laura in Dark Ages fancy dress
Going back in time at the Scottish Crannog Centre

 

If you liked this post, you’ll find my daughter’s attitude to action-lists entertaining, in this post from the archives:

What A To-Do! The Tale of My Young Daughter’s Action List

 

Posted in Family, Self-publishing, Writing

Writing With Many Hats

(A post about one of my writing roles – as Commissioning Editor of the Alliance of Independent Authors’ blog of Self-publishing Advice)

Moroccan fez hats in restaurant
Moroccan hats n a Boulogne restaurant (fortunately, they didn’t have to eat them)

Writing my latest post this morning on the ALLi blog, it occurred to me that many people who read my Writing Life blog will have no idea of the double life I lead.

Well, much more than double, really – I am a classic example of a multi-tasker (and that’s probably why I’m permanently tired!)

What is ALLi anyway? I hear you cry. And what are you doing writing on its blog when you’ve got a perfectly decent one of your own?

A Brace of Blogs

Actually, I’ve got more than one blog of my own. Echoing those car stickers that you see in rear windscreens saying things like “My Other Car is a Porsche”, my other blog is about book promotion, offering tips to authors on how to sell more of their books. Which in itself echoes the title of the book I wrote for Silver Wood Books a couple of years ago called Sell Your Books! See what I mean about the multi-tasking? That second blog is called www.otsbp.com – which is short for Off The Shelf Book Promotions. But back to the ALLi blog…

ALLi for One, and One for ALLi

ALLi logo

ALLi (pronounced to rhyme with “ally” rather than “alley”) is the acronym for the Alliance of Independent Authors. It’s the professional organisation for self-published writers and indie authors all over the world, launched by bestselling novelist Orna Ross just over two years ago.

As a self-published author interested in networking with other writers and in improving my writing craft and self-publishing skills, I joined ALLi not long after it was launched. ALLi members may write guest posts for its blog of self-publishing advice (www.selfpublishingadvice.org), and after I’d written a couple of guest posts, I was flattered to be invited by Orna Ross to join her small staff as the Commissioning Editor of the blog. It seemed too good an opportunity to pass up, and so about a year ago I assumed the role, working from home, at hours that fitted in well around my other work and responsibilities.

Commissioner Debbie

The Young family does Fontainebleau
More hats – this time at Fontainebleau on our camper van tour in 2011

The job of Commissioning Editor is to, er, commission articles for the blog, adding to its extensive resource of advice and information for authors who self-publish their work. There are specific themes for each day of the week, and I’m responsible for filling four slots each week:

  • Opinion (Monday)
  • Writing (Thursday)
  • Publishing (Friday)
  • Reaching Readers aka book promotion or marketing (Saturday)

To fill these slots, I track down ALLi members who have relevant messages and advice to add, and I give them a broad brief on what I’d like their post to be about. I plan the schedule of posts to provide a good variety and range of topics to appeal to writers in all genres, wherever they are around the world. When I receive the copy, images and author bio for each post, I input it to the blog via WordPress and add the necessary metadata and other details.

Keeping Myself Posted

By definition, I have to read every post – so it is a great way of keeping myself up-to-date and well-informed about self-publishing trends and developments, which complements the other writing activities and ambitions in my life.

But it was only when I was looking through the site index that I realised just how many posts I’ve written for the blog myself – some of them composites of comments by other writers, some them exclusively my thoughts. And it occurred to me that they might interest readers of my Writing Life site. So here are links to a few of my favourite posts, for your convenience:

If you’d like to read all the posts I’ve written for ALLi, this link will give you everything that has been published under my byline on the ALLi blog.

And if you’re an indie author who is interested in joining ALLi, here’s the link to find out more.

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collectionBut for now, I’m heading off to slip on one of my many other writing hats – working on my new collection of flash fiction, Quick Change, due out next month. If you’d like me to let you know when it’s available, please feel free to sign up to the mailing list for this title.

PS In case you’re wondering, my other car is a Ford Ka – but more about my vehicles another day!