Saturday, 22 November 2014

Business Plan Part 1; A week in Murcia (Should I have travelled more) & My birthday!

Dear all,

As December draws near and my final few weeks away from home begins to feel very real – and very short - I’m resisting the urge to overthink things…with regards next year, what will be will be. However, I am not the type to leave things to the last minute and as much as I am determined to stop myself getting anxious and stressed about how the hell I am going to survive, I am also determined to get my head together in terms of an action plan. As I need to get my ‘professional head’ on I should really refer to this as my ‘Business Plan’…I’m not just an individual with a hobby anymore! So today I wanted to share with you a few thoughts on how I am considering my writing future and as it so happens it was my birthday this week so I hope you don’t mind me sharing a few reflections on the year too.

Sunny on my birthday, I'm going to miss that next year!

Business Plan Part 1

Let’s be honest about this; writing a business plan is difficult. I do not have a business degree, MBA or years of experience working in that sort of corporate environment. I have studied hard over the last few years and learnt as I have developed and made the time (not always easy, and sometimes extremely boring) to sift through lots of different research materials related to business plans. I have drafted as I have gone along and over the course of three years I have accumulated a lot of notes. One thing I would say about this is you have to be selective but in order to be selective you have to wade through a hell of a lot of documents. One of the most frustrating elements of this is the repetition. Once you go past the standard references which are the 'nuts & bolts' of a business plan it is easy to get suckered into overkill. Instead of really defining the core elements of what you do and producing a solid plan that will cover the basics you can start over-stretching your goals. As an independent person I am guilty of doing this. You visit a new source of material that has all these promises and attention-grabbing leaders so you decide to invest your time. You download a book or PDF, you enter your email for this time-limited offer, you go through the Call-To-Action’s, you click on multiple pop up windows, etc, etc. you all know…and then the first few pages or graphs or diagrams tell you something you already knew and you realise this multi-million-dollar business process is just the same as every other multi-million-dollar process and you have just wasted yet another morning or afternoon that could have been put to better use.

Barnes & Noble

Well, that's just tough in my opinion. It is the same as anything else in life, a lot of damn hard work for not much return…but that’s life! There is no way around it because the truth is most of the documents you will read and learn from will simply reproduce information that has been produced time and time and time again and you just have to accept that, it is a lot of repetition to find the few little things that will actually help. The thing to remember is that like the clichéd nugget of gold or the eternally proven phrase ‘needle in a haystack’ there are really useful and important pieces of information that will help you, it's just you have to run through treacle to find them. They can be found in everything you look at yet don’t expect it to be much. It could be as simple as one sentence…but that sentence could really transform your results. You may read every line of a hundred page PDF and only one paragraph helps you but that one paragraph may prove vital.

Barnes & Noble

That is the way I look at things these days. To start with I have never believed in 'secret tips' or those 'how I made a multi million business' stories. From pretty much leaving school at 16 (all my studies were part time) you learn very quickly to distrust anything or anyone that promises miracle solutions and if you are older than 21 and still think that someone sending you an email asking you to sign up to something in return for the secret steps to success then you need to be rudely awakened I’m afraid. That's not to say they don't happen, it's just those 'secrets' tend to all boil down to simple hard work and effort doing the basics you should be doing anyway - which of course isn’t very secret at all! Go to any reference library and the management section will have it all, it’s not hidden, it’s not secret, it’s all there in tomes of black and white.

                                                               Barnes & Noble

There is a difference in the digital age we live in however and it is fair to say that there are superb hints and tips that are there to be found when it comes to how to use specific websites or social media tools and that is why I still allow myself to get suckered into reading so many documents...I know most of it won't help but in the hope of finding that one good idea, I persevere. That is why in my opinion it is important to become a good speed reader (look up skimming and scanning) because unless as an individual you are willing to spend serious amounts of time learning complicated web design skills, programming and so on then in my opinion it is better to learn how to become an expert 'user'. I don't want to spend my time gaining skills I don't need for a career I don't have. Instead, I want to learn how to use social media to its best possible advantage in my field. If I want to learn about mailing lists I will learn how to use MailChimp (as an example) rather than maintaining my own in-built spreadsheets, and that goes for hundreds of individual tasks that I need to do. With larger more complicated areas, such as Search Engine Optimisation or Mobile Conversion for my website for instance, there isn't a chance in hell I can learn the basics, it's seriously complicated stuff that people get paid a lot of money for in companies where you don't wear suits, have bean bags instead of chairs and have a mini volleyball court on the roof terrace. Instead I need to find the best sources (companies and individuals) to go to that provide the answers and offer services that can help me. I may not be in a place (financially being the main one, but other factors too mean it takes time to prepare for these sort of works) to kick off projects but I need to make sure I have the areas noted ready for the time I am. That is why I have such an in-depth business plan when I am a nobody-one-man-band! It will come in handy soon.

Barnes & Noble

One of the reasons I have included on my business plan a very detailed section for social media is that the changes in digital technology are moving at a blinding pace and the many sites I may want to use are constantly upgrading and improving and to keep up with all the innovations (which don’t have to be brand new by the way, just incremental improvements in the tools you have available to use - free and paid - or often overlooked simple ideas that express information in a better, and more easily connectable, hence, trackable, way) I need to make sure I don't forget about them. I may not be in a position to utilise all of them now but I certainly want to eventually. Another reason is that they are simply so good. Social media sites have such excellent professional tools that I couldn't come anywhere near them doing it all myself and I would look out of touch in no time at all if I ignored them. The way you can connect all of your profiles together to create an online brand and use such in-depth analytics is amazing and I don't pretend to have the ability to learn about how it all works. As long it is does work is good enough for me. That's why I said in order to find those nuggets or those needles in haystacks you need to read through a lot of material. You can then cherry pick those new ideas that you haven’t thought of or haven’t already found elsewhere and put them into action yourself or more likely ask or pay someone else to put into action. Sometimes you come across a new website or tool that has such amazing functionality you can see the benefits straightaway and it's more the case of finding the time to incorporate it. Other times, you use a site but you know you are not using it to its full potential. That last point is important when using multiple distributers for your product, they are always improving the services they offer and adding new features and tools and you need to keep up to date with those; even if you were using everything under the sun when you launched your last product, if that was longer than a couple of months ago then you can be pretty sure that distributer has added more functionality since then and you need to make sure you incorporate it. I realise I probably sound so naive now but if I didn't have my business plan to refer to, and in this instance it acts as a reference guide and weekly/monthly checklist, then I have no doubt I would forget things like that or leave it far too long between checking. It's not all about future ideas and what you need to move on to...it's also about making sure you are always maintaining the basics.

Wordery

I would like to sound convincing when I say it can be fun…it can be honestly…I have scanned through so much stuff over the years that finding new and innovative companies, tools, ideas, personalities, suggestions and so on can be very rewarding and satisfying. It’s nice to learn for the sake of learning. Of course not everything will be applicable, even those amazing new nuggets you pick up and think at the time – wow! Why didn’t I think of that! – they may be great but not necessarily useful for your business but it’s far better to have found it and tested it out than to have not considered it at all. Yet it can also be very demoralising. Writing a business plan can inspire you but also be a rather ill-mannered wake up call. You start to realise how much work there is to do! Sometimes I look at it and think to myself I will never be able to achieve all I have set out to do. I'm not even talking about earning money as much as that may make me sound ridiculous. (You have to be honest about income and whatever your forecasts are in relation to your business it can impact your ability to invest in new technologies and processes for sure, but I'm not even talking about that...I'm talking about maximising the potential of all the free things you can do (time is a cost of course!) There are so many things I want to do that won't cost me anything other than investing a lot of time but it is still quite daunting and that is why, for me, having a comprehensive business plan has proved essential in organising my time and schedules because I can be honest and say I would have drowned under the weight of trying to do it all or forgotten half of the things I need to do without it. 





That’s the stage I am now at, my business plan/social media vision/publication process/future ideas list/pricing document/marketing plan/ebook formatting and conversation guide/hybrid mega-document is bursting at the seams with three plus years of constant updating. I now need to streamline it into a formal document that is readable, coherent, professional and most importantly for me, formatted in a way that has a clear set of actions that I need to work on in 2015, the most important 'To-Do' list I have ever made, if you like.
One thing I feel compelled to say is how grateful I am to people and companies I will never meet or know. There are so many people online that have set up websites, forums and other social media sites that share information and although I am talking about self publishing and social media connectivity specifically for me, it counts for all subjects. Their selfless efforts to help others learn and grow, the exchange of information, is one of the greatest achievements of the internet in my opinion. I have learnt so much through these people that whether it is a whole range of broad strokes to apply, or one of those tiny little golden nuggets, I wouldn’t be in the position I am now where I am looking at years of hard work putting their ideas into practice.  My core product is writing and that is what I want to be best at (I have expressed my thoughts on art for arts sake in previous posts and I haven’t changed my mind about that, I would write no matter what) but without the skills and tools needed to connect with readers and make available not only my writing, but me as an individual, I won’t get very far as a business.

                                          Wordery

So to conclude this section I will say that if you are working hard on an individual pursuit like I am then keep going, read as much as you can but don’t spend forever, take quick to-the-point notes, absorb as much as you can in as short a time as you can, don’t ignore anything because there may be a lurking golden nugget of information just waiting for you, but do not listen to everything as you will never get anything done. Write it all down but be ruthless with your time and realistic with your ambitions. Start working straightaway because a lot of what will become obvious only does so once you are up to your neck in it. It’s a tricky balancing act and one I certainly haven’t achieved yet, my time management is not the best I assure you but as an amateur I am learning a lot and without formulating it all into a business plan as I have progressed, I would be lost in a swamp of unmanageable ideas. There is so much to cover when running your own business that it may seem impossible at times but we have to keep trying! Hopefully next year as I am getting stuck into realizing some of my ideas once I am back home and settled I can share with you the success and failures in more detail. I realise I have talked in generalisations here but I'm not quite ready to share the specific strategies I am working on. But I will. I hope to be able to one day help others with ideas just as others have helped me. That's why I have called this Business Plan Part 1...at some time during 2015 I will try and produce a more detailed Part 2 that will show some of the things I have (or probably still trying to...) implemented.

My Birthday - A week in Murcia - Should I Have Travelled More?

I turned thirty five years old this week, aside from the normal feeling of making me feel old and making my mother feel even older, it was different in that it was the first birthday I can remember that wasn’t shared with my family and friends. It was shared with some new friends which I shall come to in a bit but you can’t (or - one can’t - not sure how posh I am feeling today) help but feel reflective when away from home and I wanted to quickly share with you those thoughts.

Wordery

My year away has been fantastic and I am very glad I did it…but I nearly did something different. I was torn between travelling in the more traditional sense of continually moving from place to place for a year. I was tempted to go to South America and spend the year exploring. I don’t think I quite had the money for that, I mean, I probably could have done it but things would have been very tight and I don’t honestly think I was mentally in the right place for it, without sounding a wimp, it would have been too tough for me.  More importantly, although I wanted to get away from London and get my head together I really did want to write and be somewhere I could think freely and in peace. In that sense, I thought travelling wouldn’t have helped me. I am not the kind of person that works well without routine and as much as I would have loved the experience of seeing so many new places my desire to write and think about writing was stronger than my desire to travel. For most of the year I have proved myself right, I have really enjoyed settling into a town and becoming part of a community here. I have done some very minor travelling, just nearby towns and cities in the region but nothing compared to what I could have done and the only time that has really hit me was the week before my birthday. I spent several days with some friends in a city (Murcia) about two hours away from me and it was a fantastic place. I’ll leave some links to Google Maps below so you can check the place out. It reminded me of the fun you have when you experience new places. For a few days it made me wonder if I should have gone travelling after all.



I will never know if I did the right thing or not. If you start thinking that way you will go crazy as it is an impossible question. If I had travelled I may have met other people and experienced other things that I would have loved and may have developed me as a person and as a writer in different ways but all I can say is that I think I made the right decision. I wouldn’t want to swap the friends I have made and the experiences I have gone through for anything. I have done a fair bit of writing and a hell of a lot of thinking and I’m exceptionally grateful for that, so in that sense, this year 'worked'.  I hope I have more travelling to do in my life, it may be many years before I get the opportunity but I’m okay with that.

For my actual birthday I spent the day on the beach! Ha, that was something new. Novembers for me are usually a cold and frosty affair (which can be great as well of course!) and so I thought it would be a sin not to sit in the sun for a few hours. I recently smashed my iPhone screen and the sellotaped emergency fix has given my camera an auto-blur feature so my ‘selfies’ aren’t edited, they just look like I’m giving myself literal rose-tinted glasses.



Then I met some friends in a local bar for what I thought would be just a few quiet drinks but they threw a bit of a surprise gathering for me which nearly choked me up I have to admit, it was very touching.  The people I have met here have been great to me, very welcoming and putting up with my constant mis-pronunciations, terrible grammar and vocabulary and have been understanding of my wish to be by myself a lot. I didn't want to seem a weirdo always walking around alone or sitting in the cafe with his laptop being withdrawn and isolated but at the same time, that sort of was the reason I came here! So I have been lucky, I've met some very nice people who have become friends. I won’t post any photos here because it’s not fair to share pics with other people in it…and we ended up (or I did anyway) pretty drunk so I will save us all the embarrassment…well, okay, I can't resist, one of their gifts was a wig (I won't go into the story) so I’ll embarrass myself just for the hell of it!

No decade; no era, would have accepted that...
I feel this has been a very worthwhile year…but it’s not over yet! I have a few weeks left which I plan on enjoying so I’ll leave the in-depth reflections for my final blog from Spain next month.


CHEERS!

Take care all,




P.S: Please join me on all my social media pages:
And Author Profile Pages to keep informed of the latest releases:
I’ll be adding this to all my previous and future blog posts – just one of the thousands of mini-action points on my business plan I have got to get around to at some point!

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Friday, 7 November 2014

Thinking in the bath...

Dear all,

When I think of a subject for a blog post I always try to keep it related to my personal experiences of writing but that doesn’t necessarily mean the physical act of writing. Sometimes the most important part of the writing process is the research and preparation. For me, this includes taking the time out to think through an idea without distraction, putting myself in a position where I give it my full attention. I have talked before about how much I enjoy walking and how important it is to me for clearing the mind and allowing fresh perspectives; so I thought today I would share another favourite activity that helps in this regard: taking a bath!

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I feel excited about writing this post for two reasons. The first being the genuine pleasure of sharing my writing life with you, which is of course, the purpose of this blog…and taking baths is part of that no matter how much of a personal issue it may appear at first! The second reason is that, as you may know if you have read my blog this year, I am currently living in Spain and due to return home for Christmas. As you may guess there are lots of things I miss and cannot wait to return to, my family, my friends, my town, my local Indian restaurants…but enough of that, what I am really looking forward to is taking a ridiculously long, dangerously hot, crazily scented and decadently bubbled, bath…and writing this post gives me a chance to daydream about it. (Okay, okay, I’ve said before about how isolation can do strange things to you, just go with it.)

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One thing before you all assume the worst. Yes, I have been washing! I hope you are ahead of me when I say by way of explanation that my apartment has a shower. A very nice, perfectly fine shower and I have no complaints about my facilities, no, no, no. However, there is a world of difference when it comes to showers and baths and it has nothing to do with cleanliness. I know people who only take showers because they hate the time and effort it takes to run a bath, they get bored sitting there for ages doing nothing and prefer to be in and out. I understand that, it’s a bit like what I was saying in my previous post about sunbathing, some people love the peace and quiet and stillness, others get bored out of their brains. I’m here however to applaud the bath, to promote long, uninterrupted selfish bathing! I’m sorry to the environmentalists, of whom I count myself a minor member, I realise inappropriate use of water and unnecessary wastage is to be frowned upon.

So why do I think that taking about a bath deserves its own blog post?

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If I cast myself back to this time last year before I left for this trip and get back in the mindset of working the 9-5 then the thing that strikes me most is how we have to make the best of our evening hours. We get back from work and we have maybe three or four hours to ourselves. Well, I say ourselves, if you have children or other caring responsibilities then it is not simply ‘you time’. Which of course is fantastic I’m sure, you miss your kids and want to see them, absolutely, but when looking at it from a writing point of view, it means you take away an hour or two from the evening. Then you have to cook and eat a meal. Fine, all very nice. Let’s say it is now 9pm. You have put the kids to bed, you have had a nice dinner and you are either alone or tell you partner to get lost while you concentrate…let’s count up the possible options you now have to avoid writing:

1. Go out for drinks with friends (It’s a Monday night and everyone is busy, too tired or too broke to go out, so not tonight).

2. Go for a walk. (You’re too tired, so not tonight.)

3. Go food shopping because the supermarkets don’t close until 10 and it will be so much quieter at this time of night. (Just no.)

4. Call up your mum to say hi (Hmmm, maybe tomorrow).

5. Watch T.V (nothing on, again!)

Well, that’s it. Nothing for it, I’m going to have to damn well write….

http-//www.pinterest.com/pin/404549979002137260/ 

Hold on. You forgot number 6…

6. A bath!

Fantastic. It takes twenty minutes to run. You can sit in there for at least an hour if you are taking it seriously. It takes ten minutes to get out and avoid passing out or feinting. It takes another twenty minutes to cool down and feel yourself again. By that time, it’s far too late to write. Let’s go to bed! Good job.

I’m being a little flippant, I know. The truth is though, I have done that so many times I can’t begin to count. I’ve used baths to avoid all sorts of things and I know full well that 95% of the time I will be useless afterwards, no matter how inspired I may be during the bath, no matter how fantastic and unique and imaginative an idea I may conjure up (don’t forget this point) during the bath…I’m not doing anything afterwards.

However, and I am being serious now, it really can be a beneficial thing to do as long as you admit that you are doing it for the right reasons. Yes, taking time away from writing is a distraction like any other but what other times do you get in your life to have total and utter privacy, quiet and calm to think and de-stress? Yes, it may still be difficult if you have young children and you don’t have anyone else to supervise, I appreciate that but in my case, and I’ll be selfish from now on and talk about me (it’s my blog, so there) it is an opportunity to cut myself off and instead of wasting that soaking-time daydreaming about being the Formula 1 world champion or something (not that I do that at nearly 35 years of age…ahem…honestly) I focus and concentrate on the stories that are percolating in the mass of slush that is my brain.

http-//www.pinterest.com/pin/412923859556815511/ (& for equalities sake I did try looking for a man in a bath)
There are a few things that can happen. The one you are hoping for is that problems clear up. Remember above when I said in brackets not to forget that point of being inspired, well it is because you must always have a pen and paper to-hand to record those magical moments. This may cause you difficulties. I have lost some fine A4 lined comrades to the watery depths over the years. Nevertheless you must try. A lot of people do this for sleeping, they record all their dreams when they wake up. That doesn’t happen so much for me. It is more common with baths.
There is something about immersing yourself in hot water (bubbles, oils and scents all to your own liking, please) that relaxes in a unique way for me. I often have music but as with writing, if I know I want to think through some ideas I will play jazz or classical, or albums I know are mostly instrumental. I don’t need words clogging up my attention. I am able to find a peaceful sense of calm that enables clear thinking.

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The images I have spread throughout this post were found by a simple search on Pinterest. I have used the URL of each image as its caption. To find out more about the image, which original site it came from, its owner, its location and so on please go to that URL and explore. I know that is being lazy on my part but I...well, I...I am being lazy. 

I expect one of the reasons individual activities like bathing and walking help so much is because writing is very much an individual activity. You need to be a bit selfish and go within yourself to find not just words and phrases, but a meaning to what you are doing. Sitting in front of your computer typing is of course essential but sometimes you can get lost in the process of writing and churn out paragraph after paragraph that aren’t actually going anywhere. You are writing for the sake of writing and although sometimes that is needed – I am a big believer in simply writing and seeing what comes out – sometimes it can be a bit of a waste of time because as good a practice as it may be, you just end up deleting it because you are trying to push through a scene and it just isn’t working, the ideas simply aren’t there. You sometimes need to admit you need a break and a bit like a mathematician who has to try multiple calculations before seeing progress, you need to run through scenarios and see what you are most happy with. Again everyone, I am a novice, so what do I know, but I spend a lot of time writing and this is one of the problems I come up against. I want to finish something so I bash out a few pages but really, it’s not right, it’s too convenient, it’s too implausible, it’s too…easy.

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So thanks for sticking with me through this rather odd post. I have enjoyed thinking about home and it’s less than two months away now so as well as looking forward to the traditional xmas Shakin’ Stevens, Slade and The Pogues on the radio, holly & ivy wrapped around the bar of my local, retro woolly jumpers and finding any excuse for excessive drinking and eating, I can also dream of reading A Christmas Carol in the bath.

And if it is good enough for J.R.R Tolkien then it’s certainly good enough for me! Please scroll to watch the following section: From 7:32 to 7:47.


(This is a film from the BBC, the original page is http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/writers/12237.shtml however you cannot share that archived footage so I found it on YouTube. The uploader has cut the film into two parts from the original one, and this is the second part only. I should not really be posting this, I avoid sharing without permission normally but there was a line in this that I really wanted to use, it is only a few seconds as noted above. I will probably remove this link soon. Sorry for breaking protocol! If you want to watch this film in full (and it's great so you should) please go to the BBC website above to watch.)


Take care all,



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P.S: Please join me on all my social media pages:
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Saturday, 1 November 2014

Writing time and location, or, I really need to structure my day...blast you sun!

Dear all,

November. Wow. It feels like I’m in the last stretch now. I leave for home mid-December and one thing strikes me more than any other…I need to get writing next year.

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As I’ve said many times, I’ve had a great experience and I don’t regret it at all but I have learnt one big important lesson and that’s what I want to talk about today. How incredibly vital it is to have (for me) a dedicated time and location to write every day.

Barnes & Noble

I could pick on any number of things that have kept me from keeping to a strict schedule while I have been here in Spain but I'm going to focus on the most obvious one, the one that I didn't fully appreciate the allure of and naively thought wouldn't drag me into its clutches; the sun. I’ve loved being in the sun! I was unsure as to whether or not my skin was capable of tanning, I’ve never gone much past…oh, let’s say, burnt-maroon before but that was quickly answered: No. I’ve been out in the sun for so long (take extreme care everyone – use sunscreen!) that I have happily accepted that I will remain non-bronzed. However, what has amazed me is how much I have enjoyed relaxing in the sun. Normally I get very agitated sitting or laying still for long periods of time. I become restless and start listing in my mind all the things that I could or should be doing.  Back in London, that’s not too much of a problem because a prolonged hot spell isn’t that common and even on hot days you can get clouds that break up the direct sunlight giving you plenty of opportunity to get up and move on. Here in south east Spain, it’s a different thing altogether, in fact it’s the opposite. You hardly ever get clouds or rainy days so if you wanted to you could roll out your beach towel at 9am and not have much of a reason to leave until sunset. So that has been a test…how to summon the willpower to NOT go out in the sun and stay inside and write or do any other number of required tasks. I never thought that would be a problem for me, I can’t explain how much I underestimated the pull of sitting in the sun. It is an absolute pleasure to soak up the rays, you feel a strength from it, a natural sense of good health…now of course that isn’t scientifically true (just type in “dangers of sunbathing” into Google) and I have on occasion had some trouble with rashes and spots, especially during the August and September months which were far too hot for me, I’ve blogged about that before so won’t repeat, but I certainly know my limits when it comes to living without air conditioning. And yet…I have found myself being drawn to laying out in my terrace as if it were an essential part of my daily routine. It has in fact become one, I feel bad if I don’t get a couple of hours of sunbathing with the headphones on listening to my favourite 90s radio stations (did I just admit that?) and reading a few pages of whatever book I’m on. And that is the problem I never saw coming...and I hate to sound so pathetic, unmotivated and easily swayed on such a non-problem…it has been the main reason I have not written anywhere near as much as I should have.

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Here’s the bind. The sun has replaced all the temptations I had problems with back in London. There I had lots of different places I could write but they were within a few minutes walk of a very busy town and if I went ‘up town’ which is still for some reason the way I refer to going to central London then the temptations increase to a silly level. Think of all the distractions a city centre offers, and no matter how educational and inspirational they may be, they remain distractions: bars, restaurants, shops, theatres, museums, parks, cafes, etc. You can flit from place to place and without any trouble at all, take up an entire day. Where I am now is a small town that doesn’t offer those distractions. If I want any of that then I need to get a bus to a larger city approx. an hour away (I’m not a driver). However, wrap all of those into one bundle and put it on one side of a set of scales and on the opposite side put the sun and the sea and they will weigh the same. The countryside is so beautiful here it never gets boring or tiresome to walk by the same stretches of sea, mountains and beaches. So you have in effect swapped one set of distractions for another just as difficult to overcome.

Rakuten.co.uk Marketplace!

Now I should say that (I wonder if this is actually the millionth time) I am an amateur writer and I am in no way speaking for the professional masses. Yet we all know that distractions are a huge problem for all writers. So I wanted to tell you in this blog what I feel I need in order to be productive.


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Before that, there has been one huge benefit to spending so much time outside...time to think. Without sounding too abstract and all poetic about it, it is essential for productivity - having time to think. I've really managed to clear my mind a lot out here, both on personal issues but also in terms of writing: working out ideas for stories or characters, generating ideas for the social media projects I want to work on, ideas for the business in general. So although the most important task is getting the words down, just letting your mind settle and feel open and free helps enormously and I am so grateful that I've had that chance. 

There is an easy comparison to make first of all in relation to all other jobs I have had when it concerns 'productive working time'. They have all, in the main, been office jobs and although had varied duties and responsibilities the common factor was that you turned up in the morning and left in the evening. So, if we just take a basic average 9-6 job that means ever since I left school and started working I have been perfectly used to getting up early, travelling to a fixed location, staying in a room for eight or so hours (I know how many people do the sandwich at the desk for lunch thing but I’ll be honest and say even when it was frowned upon I always used to go out for a walk at lunch) and then travelling home. Now, why can’t I do that for my writing? Yes, as we all know you sometimes get called into meetings, you have to go on training courses, you may have to travel to other sites occasionally, you take the odd five minutes out here and there for a coffee or if you are a smoker to pop outside for a crafty-ciggie (not sure why I wanted to describe it that way) but when you boil it down, you don't have a huge amount of distractions. You are at your desk and you get on with your work. You can't just raise your arms up, have a stretch and think, 'Well, I might just take a look around the shops for an hour,' or, 'I think I'll take the dog for a walk,', etc. You are there and you get your work done. (Although I dare say we are all guilty of spending too much time visiting Facebook unless you are at a company that blocks social media sites, ha!)

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I may have mentioned this before but I have read about several high profile successful writers who force themselves to treat their writing as a traditional office job. They didn’t want to build an extension to their house for their office, or do the shed in the garden thing because they honestly felt that they wouldn’t have the discipline not to constantly break off and wander back to their house, or take the dog for a walk as I mentioned above, or whatever it may be. So they purposefully rented office space in the centre of their city so that they could treat their writing as a full time job in the 9-6 sense - get up for work, get dressed for work, get the train to work…

Now I’m not in a position to hire office space in central London but I really like the idea of that and I think that admitting you don’t have discipline for a certain way of working and creating an environment that you would be able to work in is just a different form of discipline and motivation. You know what is best for you so you take active steps to achieve that set up.

So I have to make an admission to myself and admit the fact that I may not be able to write if I remain in the set up I currently have. It’s just a thought and not something I can put to the test because this was an unusual year but I really don’t think I could stay inside and write when I see a blazing hot sun outside shining down through a cloudless clear blue sky. What a weak thing to admit but there it is. 



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The thing is, at home, you can trick yourself into thinking you have done a decent amount of work for the day when really, compared to what you could do, it's nothing. If you get a good hour or two under your belt in the morning you suddenly give yourself permission to muck around for a while. That wouldn't happen in an office! 'Er, excuse me boss. I've just spent an hour working on that presentation and I think I've done a cracking job. Do you mind if I go and lay down on the roof and catch some rays now please? I'll do another hour this afternoon, promise?' You can imagine the response. I once sent my boss an email requesting to take some annual leave and one of the team leaders came to my desk and took a photo of me, then a few minutes later I got an email back from my boss saying he had just seen the photo and was surprised to see that I wasn't wearing a clown's suit. That's the sort of attitude that can be painfully demanding but certainly gets results. Now, I'm not saying I want to treat my life as an office job, because, well, I may as well go and get an office job if that's the case, but I do think there are things to take from a disciplined working environment. Next time I write for an hour or two and then stop, I will ask myself, why am I stopping? If I was in an office away from home, I know I would have another couple of hours work in me before I took a break and imagine how much more quickly my book would be finished if I doubled my output.

                                                Barnes & Noble

Before I conclude that point I should add that there is the reasonable expectation that I could timetable my day and only allow myself a certain amount of time outside. This is not exactly a crisis I know, I hope you don't think I'm crying here. (See my postscript remark) There is no reason why that can’t work. Except for me it hasn’t. I have tried. I have tried setting up a routine and having fixed times of the day when I sunbathe, food shop, write, read, email, etc. I have failed miserably. The reason isn’t entirely clear to me but I think when I have the option to do any of those at any time of the day I feel the need for a timetable is redundant and I get annoyed at myself for not taking advantage of my time here while I have it (the weird contradictory problem of having too much freedom) and therefore end up deliberating about what to do so much, I end up doing nothing! When you only have yourself to answer to, adhering to a self imposed schedule takes a lot of discipline. The thing is, you love it, I love it. It's not like I'm desperate to get away from writing, I want to write! It's just that keeping up with prolonged periods of writing and ignoring all distractions is tough, even when you love it!

So this is both a specific point in that I am trying to explain why my year away hasn't been as productive as I would have liked (although I have no regrets) and a more general point about what I need to think about next year when I am back home. This year was all about a different experience and moving on with a new direction in my life. Now that I have just six weeks left I realise the importance of enjoying my time in this environment and I don’t feel too guilty for being outside lazing about. If I were to have moved here permanently I hope my brain would have switched around a bit and made it possible for me to be adhere more rigorously to a timetable. It would have changed my perception and for sure, my expectations. If I had come somewhere with the specific intention of writing and writing alone, such as the many fantastic writing camps that people attend, then I am positive I would have treated my time differently. 

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Okay. So excuses and explanations aside, I know I am capable of working so much harder and producing so many more words. I know it. I have been slow and I have allowed myself to be easily distracted. I admit it and put my hands up without resistance. So here is what I need to do for January.

First of all the weather will be on my side. I won’t want to go out! Ha! It will be cold. It may be very, very cold considering my body will be adapting to a year in Spain. So I doubt very much I will wake up and look outside and say to myself, grab the factor 50 Rob and get out there! That won’t happen. Not in the same sense of just idling about. On the flip side of that I am missing walking around London more than I can explain and I can't wait to get out and about in the streets, parks and other favourite spots that I'll be sharing with you next year. That is essential for my well being and also because I have a lot of research to do for my book (London locations) so it will be a very different type of 'going out' if that makes sense. 

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I need to be stricter about my writing hours. I need to set myself three sessions and I will copy other people when I say I will try to enforce them into fixed slots and not just the ‘as long as I do them’ scenario. I will try hard to do a two hour morning, afternoon and evening session. I am lucky in that I have options for locations. I have great coffee shops, pubs, libraries, and other locations to utilize and there is no excuse for not finding a comfortable, distraction-LESS place to write. I can switch them around, I can go to different places on a weekly basis for instance, no reason why not. So although I won't be renting an office space like I described above, I will be doing most of my writing away from home, but please, I don't want to sound like a totally weak minded bright lights chasing inattentive slacker! I am capable of writing at home too I promise!

I have taken images from my Pinterest board, “Bookshelves and Reading Places” to splash some wonderful photos through this blog post (http://www.pinterest.com/thinkingplainly). They have all been added by people over the last week. Strictly speaking they are reading places more than writing places but I thought it would be interesting to generate some ideas with whoever is reading this to see what you identify with...could you see yourself writing in these types of settings or is somewhere else more suitable? I have listed the URL for each image as the caption so you can find out more about the image and the person who pinned it. I am going to write a specific blog post on Pinterest soon to explain what I am doing there and some ideas for the future but for the time being just in case anyone reads this that follows and contributes to my boards a big hugely appreciative THANK YOU for taking the time out to post your pictures and share them with everyone, you have done an amazing job making it such a great board and I owe you.

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So, now that I have said all this, let’s see how much of my own medicine I take. In January I will report back and let you know how I am finding things back home and whether or not being back and in a routine and commencing properly my writing life will be a success or whether I am without doubt one big bag of hot air and I produce no more work than I have out here.


One thing is for sure, I won't be doing any writing on this Halloween hangover...laying down on the terrace recovering is priority number one. I hope you all had a great party and are laughing over all the photos of the night before...



Cheers!


Take care everyone,

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P.S: This is solely about my writing. I will also be spending time developing other projects for my company and I will let you know about those too. I’m excited to get back to working on my social media accounts such as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Flickr and so on. Hope you will be part of those too next year.

P.P.S: Again! This is a blog about my experiences on writing. I realise on the scale of things moaning about having the opportunity to sit on my backside all day in the sun isn’t a problem that the UN needs to get involved with. However, please remember that everyone has their personal lives and nothing is ever what it seems on the surface. I felt the ridiculousness of this subject matter with every word I typed however it is a real and serious subject when it comes to writing so please take this blog (and all of my posts) in context, a blog on the issues faced by people trying to write. 

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