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, 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:

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 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 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.