How I organise my life

As almost anyone who knows me can tell you, I love organisation. Like, I love it.

Over the years, I’ve downloaded loads (loads) of organisation apps, bought all kinds of notebooks and diaries, and trialled more organisational methods than I can even begin to articulate.

I really, really love organisation.

I also happen — and I don’t think that I’m bragging too much when I say this — to be someone who manages to get a lot of work done. I am, genuinely, very productive. And that includes my professional and personal life. As the sole staff in the department where I work, I am tasked with managing everything that needs to happen to make sure that my department runs. I also — partially because I just can’t bring myself to say no to something that means I get to have a real impact on my campus and teaches me something new — have a habit of signing myself up for all sorts of committees and extra commitments. That means that, more often than not, my professional to do list is long and complex because, inevitably, every project I’m working on is at a different stage of completion.

My personal life, too, is also quite busy because (as I think my goals post from this year shows) I have quite a lot that I want to be working on this year.

All of this means that I’ve had to develop a way of tracking my progress across various projects and learn how to budget my time so that I’m able to get everything done (and still have time to breathe and vege out and watch Netflix). I’ve used a lot of task managers in the past — I used Asana for a while, I used the to-do list on Notion, and then I’ve cycled through a fair few paper methods — but over the last few months, I’ve started to lean quite heavily on my Google Calendar and it’s honestly changing my life.

Especially now that Google Tasks is a thing.

My entire life is now organised through a time-blocked Google Calendar and Google Tasks and, from time to time, a good old fashioned brain dump into my notebook.

The brain dumps themselves aren’t too complicated. I usually just take a moment at the beginning of every week and every month to list out the things that I need to get done during that space of time. Sometimes I can think that through directly in the Tasks app, but sometimes I need to scratch things out and think things through a bit before I decide how to best address certain things, especially because I’m usually breaking down bigger tasks into subtasks to make sure I get everything done on time.

That brain dump, though, makes it way onto my Tasks list as soon as it’s complete and then everything auto-populates into my calendar and ahhh… that’s where the magic is, my friends.

Here’s an example of a week earlier this month —

screenshot of google calendar
Example of my calendar and task list

You can see on the right-hand side that I’ve got that running task list of things that I wanted to address. L&A edits were broken out, roughly, into weekly chunks because I wanted to get those edits complete before the end of the month (and, as of this moment, I’m on track, though I’ve got a 15 chapter week coming up so I’ll have to make sure I prioritise my time well enough to get it done). Those tasks populate in the ‘all day’ part of my Google Calendar and that visual is nice, especially when I’m trying to plan ahead. There are a few days coming up (on both my personal and professional versions of this calendar) where I have a lot of deadlines, so it’s nice to be able to visualise that and start to plan to complete some of those things early to save myself the future stress.

My to-do lists have changed the most over the last few years in terms of how I track things. I have pretty consistently used an electronic calendar (though I made the switch last year from my Apple Calendar to my Google Calendar and I was also maintaining a paper calendar up until about early 2017) and I like the efficiency that these calendars bring into my life. I can carry them around everywhere, they’re easier to update and schedule recurring notes to myself… all the usual things.

But I was still in the habit, for the longest time, of just using a good ol’ fashioned legal pad to write down and store my to do lists, and that meant I was constantly re-writing them when they got too heavily scratched out (because that bothered me for some reason) and I was having to jot myself little notes if I was, for some reason, leaving my office and going to work on things elsewhere but I was concerned I’d forget what I was supposed to do.

The paper to do lists just weren’t functional for me anymore.

And that’s why I love the Task piece of Google Calendar. It shows up alongside my other appointments (therefore making it easier to block my calendar to make sure I address certain tasks), it’s easy to edit and change things around as my life changes, and I still get that completely satisfied feeling I get when I sit down with a legal pad and scribble down thirty things that need doing — I just, then, assign them all due dates and stick them into my calendar.

It’s made me a more efficient worker (it definitely stops me putting off things I’m not the most keen on doing) and has helped me better visualise my workday so that I feel like I have a better handle on everything.

On top of how much I love Tasks, Google Calendar has (probably) made itself my forever calendar.

I love how easy it is to build new calendars, I love the Goals function, I love the aesthetic. I love my Google Calendar.

I’ve got calendars for a few different categories in my life — my personal calendar (blue), my professional calendar (orange — and then my actual work calendar syncs up in a slightly brighter orange), my work holiday calendar (yellow), tasks (green), my son’s calendar (red), and the family calendar (purple). I use these calendars to note down different events/appointments/etc that I have to remember and to calendar block tasks for my day (usually my mornings, evenings, and weekends because, otherwise, I’m at work). I know that other people who do calendar blocking have calendars for every type of event they’re scheduling — work, appointments, workouts, errands, etc. etc. etc. — but I’ve limited it to these few because 1) that much going on in any given week sounds overwhelming and 2) I don’t really think that I’d find that that helpful. But, as always with calendars, I think that so much of it is about trial and error and figuring out what works best for you.

You can see in the sample calendar that I have my morning blocked out pretty fully — I move from writing at 5am to getting ready at 6am to commuting at 7am and those are standing appointments on my calendar every workday. I remove those appointments whenever work is closed and calendar block those days with my own tasks. Those days usually end up looking like this —

calendar blocked day

Weekends usually end up looking that way as well. My weekend scheduling isn’t nearly as strict as my weekday scheduling because, of course, my son is home! So even if I’ve carved out two hours on a Saturday morning to be working on something, I am definitely not focused for those two hours. My son is a bit older and, at this point, is content to play without me bothering him, but I still like to check in and make sure that we spend time together on the weekends. I have a standing appointment on Sunday (well, it’s nearly standing — the time shifts a bit every weekend so I schedule it every week, but we go all the time) to go on a long walk with my son at a local hiking trail. It’s a bit of exercise, which is nice, but mostly I just like getting outside with him and chatting about random things (usually Pokemon).

I used to work a little more in the evenings after work but, lately, I’ve let that time become free time that I use to check off some of the goals that I’ve set up in Google and to just sit on the sofa and watch Netflix (I’m currently watching Travels with my Father and it is absolutely hysterical) or read a book (I’m currently reading Brit(ish) and would defo recommend).

It’s hard, giving up on what I sometimes tell myself is free time I should be using to work on my writing but honestly — I deserve the time to breathe a little bit. I deserve time to sit on the couch and do nothing.

It helps a little bit, I think, that the goals I’ve set also happen to pop up in the evening, so I’m letting myself feel at least a little productive.

I currently have three goals set in my Google Calendar — run four days a week, do yoga every day, and learn a bit of French every day. You schedule these like you would any other task in your calendar (on the app you just click that little plus sign in the bottom right) and then it moves you through a set of prompts to help you decide how you want calendar to schedule this for you —

Once you’ve clicked through these screens, your Calendar will automatically add appointments to your calendar based on the free time that you have available (it works best, I’ve found, when I’ve already calendar-blocked the rest of my day with the things I want to accomplish). And, my favourite part, it learns when you complete these things and learns to schedule according to your preferences.

We’re in the 21st century, my friends.

You do have to go into your calendar to note that you’ve completed these goals — they give you little completion circles at the bottom of each goal so that you can see how well you’ve been doing on any given week —

The physical fitness goals can be connected to your health app, which is great because it means that I don’t have to remember to go into my calendar and physically tick it off. My Nike Run app is automatically connected to my health app anyway, so any time I run on the app (which is always), it’s all done automatically. I do yoga on YouTube, so I have to enter that into my Health app, but it’s an engrained part of the process now, so it’s not too cumbersome.

I find the goal setting piece to be a really nice way to articulate my continued commitment to things that I want to make a more regular presence in my life. I see it on my calendar every day, I get notifications on my phone and laptop when it’s time to complete them, and while that doesn’t mean I’m perfect (see — my French goal), it does mean that I’m constantly confronted with this thing that I want to learn in a gentle, nudging reminder sort of way.

So that’s how I organise my life! This was a long post (yikes), but this is honestly one of my favourite topics in the entire world. So now I want to know — how do you organise your life? What apps do you use or are you strictly a paper person? I always love hearing about other people’s techniques (especially because it ends up giving me ideas!) so let me know!!

X Elle

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Writing Projects – 2019

I am just full in on planning 2019 aren’t I? There is just something so exciting about this time of year — I love thinking about the year ahead and starting to pull together some kind of plan for how I’m going to tackle the inevitably very ambitious list I’m about to set out.

And oh my god did I set myself an ambitious list for this year.

I’ve done my 2018 wrap up and talked about my goals for 2019, but here, I wanted to talk about the writing projects that I’m planning on taking on this year. When I did my writing check-in in June last year, I “assigned” writing pieces to each month, and I found that that really helped structure the way that I was moving through projects through the rest of the year. I didn’t always stick to it — I was slated to start working on a multi-chapter fanfiction in November but I ended up writing a massive, unplanned oneshot instead — that structure made sure that I built in time to work on the things that I really wanted to work on while remaining flexible enough to accommodate those little changes (like projects that suddenly come up and refuse to go away until they’ve been dealt with).

So what follows isn’t a hard and fast, month-by-month plan for my 2019. It will look like that when I set it down, of course, but it’s a plan that I’ve made that I know will twist itself around as the year starts to unfold. It’s a plan that will, at minimum, help me achieve the writing goals that I’ve set for myself, but it’ll also help me think of new projects, give myself a little bit of breathing time after big projects, and will help me be as productive as I like to be (I love to be absurdly productive). In the hand-written version of this, I’ve noted things that I’d like to complete in each month with red boxes — I can’t do that here, so I’ll bold those projects that I want to finish in any given month.

2019 Project Calendar

January: edit Lucy and Alex, finish redrafts, write multi-chap
February: edit Lucy and Alex and send to friend, finish multi-chap
March: short stories, one shot
April: Poppy and Jack rewrite
May: Poppy and Jack rewrite
June: short stories
July: short stories
August: Poppy and Jack edit, Eligible edit?
September: short story edit in prep for submission
October: NaNo prep, one shot
November: NaNo
December: fanfiction, planning for coming year

In putting this calendar together, I tried to balance my time so that, after a long burst of working on something long, I could transition into a month (or two) where I was working on smaller projects that don’t often require me to sustain the intense level of focus that I usually have when I’m working on something longer. I tend to get buried in the worlds of the things that I’m working on, so it’s nice, after doing that for a few months while I’m editing something, to get to slip back into a slightly less intense headspace.

You can see that I’ve also, of course, built in space to write fanfiction this year because, even while I’m trying to ramp up my original work, I do still spend a lot of my time writing and thinking about fanfiction. It is what started me writing and, honestly, is what helps me continue to think through who I am as a writer. Fanfiction helps me grow and has introduced me to a number of wonderful people across the internet that have honestly changed my life.

And also, I just love writing fanfiction too much to stop. Even if it were wise, I don’t know if I could bring myself. It’s just too enjoyable. And isn’t that what writing is supposed to be about?

I guess it isn’t if you ask those ‘art is suffering’ types, but I am not one of those people.

Anyway —

I’m focusing a lot, looking back over this, on editing a lot of the novel length things that I’ve been producing for the last two years. I’ve grown so much over the last few years that I’m really looking forward to going back over these projects and giving them one final update. I’m thinking, once I finish working with my friend on Lucy and Alex, about putting that novel through Amazon self-publishing. We’ll see if I go through with it, but I’m confident that between my edits and my friend’s wonderful comments, I’m going to end up with something that feels ready to send out into the world.

This calendar looks more packed in the first quarter of the year, but I think that’s mostly a function of the fact that I know what I want to be working on in the more immediate future and the rest of the year is still in limbo. I have a general-enough idea and these month goals will definitely guide me, but I don’t like to do too much detailed planning until I’m a little closer to the actual time frame. That ensures that I’m working on things that I actually want to be working on and that I’ve given myself enough space to think about the projects that are really speaking to me in any given month.

Because nothing is worse than writing that is very obviously forced.

At the same time that I’m working on these writing projects, obviously, I’m trying to work to complete other writing related goals, like sending my writing out more often and hitting my rejection goal (I’ve already got my first rejection of 2019, by the way!). Those things can be harder to slot in if I’m not clearly articulating an emphasis on them beyond my overall goals for the year, but I think that setting reminders for myself in my task manager (my preferred manager to date is Google Tasks because it connects to my Google Calendar) every few weeks will work well enough. If not, then that’s something that I’ll reevaluate when the time comes.

All told, I’m excited to get cracking on these projects this year. January is super ambitious (and I’m already laughing at the idea that I’m going to finish this massive multi-chapter fanfiction in February), but now that I know what I want to work on, I know how I can allocate my time to start achieving those goals. I’m still waking up at 5am every week day (that gives me about an hour to write each morning), and I find that I’m much more productive if I go into that time with a very clear sense of what I’m going to be working on. These lists help me structure that time and ensure that 1) that time doesn’t go to waste and, 2) I stay motivated to continue waking up at what is honestly a terrible time.

Like I love how quiet my house is at 5am, but don’t get it twisted — 5am sucks. It’s why I don’t wake up at that time every day. I need to sleep through sunrise at least two days a week or I’d go completely crazy.

That’s also why I try to use consistent calendar blocking on the weekends. I don’t always do it, but that does help me find ways to stay productive during the weekend (even though my weekend is a mess because I’m a single parent).

Maybe this is something that I’ll talk about in more detail at some point.

But, because I could literally ramble on about this forever, I’m going to force myself to sign off here so that I can actually get to working on these goals I’ve set out for myself. Before I go, though, two questions (because this is something that I think I’m going to start doing at the end of my posts) — have you got a sense of what you’ll be working on this year? Do you set out these kinds of calendars for yourself or do you get organised in another way?

X Elle

My 2019 Vision Board

My 2019 vision board

I mentioned in my goals post yesterday that I was still working on the goals I set for this year as I was putting together my vision board on New Year’s Eve, and I wanted to write a dedicated post because, honestly, vision boards (as of last year) weren’t things that I necessarily bought into.

I thought that they were just things that those hip, lifestyle bloggers on YouTube did every year so that they could have one more video to capitalise on that New Year energy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — I honestly just thought that that was most of what it amounted to.

But, at the start of 2018, I found myself in a weird place. I was aiming to set myself some goals for the new year, but I was feeling sort of lost and a little directionless and I needed something that could help ground me a bit more.

And then I remembered that vision boards were a thing.

That first year, I just went down to my local library and grabbed a bunch of the free out-of-date magazines that they leave by the front door and sat on my floor for a few hours cutting out whatever I fancied and pasting them onto a spare bit of cardboard. It was therapeutic, actually. The act of flipping through those magazines and finding things that spoke to me and arranging them was relaxing in that way that nearly mindless things are. I tacked it up, originally, by my bedroom door, but once I moved house in the summer and got myself my own home office, I pinned it up over my desk. And seeing the board every day was helpful. More helpful than I thought it might be.

It was nice to have that constant reminder of the things I was striving for that year. Nice to see the kind, encouraging words I’d left for myself.

And so, of course, I knew that I was going to spend this New Year’s Eve making myself a vision board for 2019.

Because that is just the kind of exciting life I lead.

I spent a few hours on New Year’s Eve flipping through magazines I’d been saving — some were from library, like last year, but most were old magazines I’d saved from going into the bin at work — and cutting out new images that I hoped would carry me through the upcoming year. The sentiments didn’t change much from last year — I focused, again, on travel and encouraging little statements — but I also wanted to focus my board a little more. I got specific.

I want to go back to London this year, so I’ve got a little Big Ben and a red bus (they’re 3D, actually, which is also a nice bit of visual interest) and a little picture of what is actually just a coin purse but it’s got ‘London’ on, and so there she is. I want to go to Los Angeles this year to visit my best friend, and the magazine I brought off the plane home from Iceland delivered with a nice picture of Los Angeles that I’ve pasted on. I also wanted to re-dedicate myself to studying French this year (in preparation for the trip my son and I want to take) and so I just pasted “French” in the top left corner.

Is it a little literal? Yes. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being literal.

I also focused quite a bit on positivity this year’s board — I wanted to remind myself to be open, to believe in myself, to meet others where they are, and to do my best to be kind. I struggle a lot, actually, with this notion of being blandly kind — it’s not something I think I want to get into here because I haven’t thought it through enough just yet and so maybe I shouldn’t have even brought it up — but I do believe, especially in this world that’s negative and divided, that kindness and optimism are important things to prioritise.

Not only does that create a little more light in the world and in the lives of those that you interact with, but it also definitely improves my mood. It can be hard to strike a balance, I think, and sometimes I feel like I’m giving too much of myself, but that’s a balance I want to feel out this year.

I think my favourite little piece of the board, though, is the yellow square nearly in the centre that says ‘I can’t do this but I’m doing it anyway’. It might not sound that uplifting, maybe, but I actually find the sentiment really encouraging. It’s nice to remember that, sometimes, I’m not going to feel like I have any idea what’s going on. Sometimes I’m going to be working on something new or putting myself out there or doing something that is a little terrifying, but the important thing, always, is to push myself to do those things anyway. To remember that not having a clue is just a part of life and that, honestly, those things that are new and make you feel a little unsteady on your feet are the exact things that deserve my time and energy.

It’s okay to feel like I don’t have any idea — I always find my way in the end.

I’ve got the vision board pinned up over my desk — I’m looking at it right now — and I’m already feeling so excited for the things that this year is going to bring.

X Elle

2019 Goals

As I talked about in my 2018 wrap up, I wanted to spend a little more time thinking about the goals I’m setting myself this year and give myself a proper space to talk about those things. So, here we are.

These posts, actually, were going to be videos when I was trying my hand at YouTube about halfway through last year, but having given that up (partially because editing takes forever and partially because I much prefer writing), these are going to live as blog posts instead.

So before we get into the list, let’s get a bit of the method out of the way.

Like last year, I divided my goals into professional and personal ones. I didn’t strive to have a particular number of goals in each category and I wasn’t concerned with balancing professional and personal. I was more or less balanced last year (I had seven professional goals and five personal ones), and I don’t think that having more professional goals really affected anything. That also seemed like a solid number of goals to have in total, but, again, I wasn’t set on forcing myself to write up a certain number of goals.

When deciding what I wanted to work on this year, there were a few things that came immediately to mind, but, for the most part, the goals I ended up setting came more from a bit of quiet soul searching than sudden inspiration. Honestly, I was still sorting a lot of out when I was putting together my vision board for this year (something I’m going to talk about on here tomorrow, actually) and it took me a while before I really felt solid on the kinds of things I want to work towards in 2019.

But the long deliberation was worth it, because I really like where I’ve ended up. So, without delaying it any further, here’s my list for this year:

Professional

  • Get 100 rejections
  • Write most days of the week
  • Teach another class
  • Edit Lucy and Alex and send to my friend
  • Have an edited draft of Poppy and Jack
  • Write five new short stories and submit them

Personal

  • Read 100 books
  • Do another 30 day yoga challenge
  • Reach green level on Nike Run
  • Get 100 crowns in French on Duolingo
  • Go on another holiday
  • Bake something new each month

Some of these goals are repeats from last year — read 100 books, write most days of the week, go on a holiday, and do a 30 day yoga challenge are all things I did last year. I really like setting these goals for myself even though they’re things that I know I want to work towards anyway. Actively choosing to set them at the beginning of each year feels like I’m reiterating their importance for me and making sure that I actually carve out the time to work towards them.

The rest of these goals, though, are new.

“Get 100 rejections” was actually the first thing that I knew I wanted to do this year — I’ve been talking about it since October, and I’m really, really excited to get started on this one. I think that it’s going to push me to submit my stuff consistently, to search for new kinds of things that I can apply for/submit to, and it’s going to really help with the normalisation of rejection.

Dedicating more of my time to studying French is something that I started to get a little more serious about towards the end of last year, but I think that by naming it, I’m really going to help myself make gains in that area this year. I’d been using the goal setting thing on Google Calendar (10/10 would recommend, by the way) to help me practise my French my consistently, but I think that if I set a crown quantity I’d like to hit (Duolingo’s version of a fluency level), I might be able to amp up the increased interest I started cultivating at the end of 2018.

I also started running last year and, while I’m certainly no faster than I was at the beginning of the year, I have come to really enjoy running. It’s something else I used Google Calendar’s goal setting function for and it’s something I want to work on in the coming year.

It means I’m going to have to get new shoes, but I think it’ll be worth it.

And, on the opposite end of the spectrum, I also want to bake at least one new thing a month this year. I love to bake — have for quite a long time — and I’ve gotten quite good (if I do say so myself) at baking a few of my signature bakes, but I want to start expanding on my skills and trying new things. I’ve started putting together a list of things I want to bake and, though this won’t count for the list, things I want to go back and practise (like a roulade — I’ve made one semi-successfully, but it did crack while I was rolling it, so I’d like to practise).

If I’m honest, this addition is mostly a “one day I’m going to move to the UK and then I want to be on Bake Off” thing, but does it really matter what my motivation is here?

My writing goals for this year also seem a little ambitious — especially so once I’ve put them on my project calendar, something that I’m going to talk about soon — but I think that the last few years have shown me that I don’t mind having ambitious writing goals. The ones I’ve articulated here are mostly editing goals anyway, and while that’s certainly still difficult, I find it way, way easier than writing something from scratch (though Lucy and Alex is getting a pretty massive revision, so a lot of it is going to be re-written from scratch). 

I love that feeling I get when a new year has just begun — I’ve set out so many plans for myself for the coming year, I feel like things are fresh and new, I’m (usually) just getting started on my 30-day yoga challenge and so I’m starting to feel all stretchy and grounded and open. It’s a combination of things that serves as something of a springboard for me into the rest of the year. I’m looking forward — despite all the horrific things going on in the world — to cultivating a little positivity this year. 

What are you looking to work on this year? What kinds of goals are you setting out? I want to hear about them. 

X Elle

2018 Wrap Up

Last year, I wrote a goal setting/wrap up post for 2017/2018, and I thought that it was a really nice way of closing the previous year and setting out my goals for the year ahead. This was one massive post last year, but this year I decided that I wanted to separate things a bit and think about them more individually (and give the wrap up a little longer to bang around in my head so that I could really evaluate things).

Last year’s post, too, really only talked about my writing goals, but I want to use this space to think more concretely about all the goals that I set for myself this year. When I’m setting goals for myself at the beginning of each year — because, despite my reservations about New Year’s Resolutions, I set goals every year without fail. I set goals in two central categories: professional and personal. The professional category has shifted around a bit in recent years as I started taking my writing more seriously. Where things like ‘submit query letters’ had previously been slotted in personal goals, I thought that by thinking about these kinds of tasks as professional stepping stones, I might change the way that I addressed them and made time for them in my life.

And that isn’t to say that I don’t take my personal goals seriously, because I do. I just think that there’s a different tenor to the work that I do when I’m doing something with a professional goal in mind. I haven’t quite sussed out what that difference is just yet, but it’s something I’d like to talk about at some point in the future because I think that my writing has changed substantially since I made this mental shift.

I also put together a vision board this last year (see below) — I used to be really sceptical about those sorts of things, but I honestly think that it helped a lot. It was nice seeing the little reminder of the things that I wanted to work towards this year — it helped me refocus when I felt like I was losing myself a little bit (usually to depression) and it was also just… comforting.

vision board
My 2018 vision board

But anyway — before we carry on and get too distracted, let me get into what my goals were this year:

Professional

  • Decide if I’m going to pursue another MA/PhD/graduate certificate
  • Submit query letters
  • Edit Lucy and Alex
  • Submit Lucy and Alex to agents
  • Submit five pieces to journals/magazines
  • Get draft of Poppy and Jack
  • Decide if I want to work Eligible for publication

Personal

  • Read 100 books
  • 30 day yoga challenge
  • Write most days every week
  • Maintain regular presence on the blog
  • Travel for fun at least once

Looking back through this list, I managed to hit most of these goals and, honestly, I’m shook about that. ‘Maintain regular presence on the blog’ is something that I’ve been better about recently, but by no means had I managed to figure that out this year and ‘Get draft of Poppy and Jack’ is still a little dicey because while I technically have a draft, I know that I was thinking I’d have an edited draft by the end of 2018 instead of a draft that is ready to be very, very seriously edited.

But I’m not counting those things as failures — even if I’d been looking at this list and I hadn’t gotten any of it done, this year wouldn’t have been a failure. It would have meant that I have to think about how I set my goals and how I spend my time and all of that, but by no means would this year have been an outright waste of time.

No matter how many goals I achieve or don’t achieve, there is always something that I can take away from these sorts of exercises.

Some other things have changed here, too — at the beginning of the year, I figured that I was pretty much deadset on not going back to graduate school but, now at the end of the year, I’ve found myself thinking about it a little bit again. It isn’t something that I’m invested in pursuing right now because I think that my time is better spent developing my practical skills at work and working on my writing at home, but I have a much better idea of what kind of education I’d need and a better sense of where to look should I decide to go back.

Looking through my successes this year though — I love how I left this discussion until the end, it’s so classically me — I am proud of what I managed to work through this year. My personal goals — the yoga in particular — really helped me tap into a better headspace that I don’t think I could’ve gotten through the rest of this year without. I’ve also read some amazing books this year — I read The Hating Game like nine times (literally) because of course I did, but some other amazing books I read include: Circe by Madeline Miller, The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli, The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, the Charlotte Holmes series by Brittany Cavallaro, Dead Girls and Other Stories by Emily Geminder, Lethal White by Robert Galbraith, Twist by Martha Collison, and If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi by Neel Patel. That is by no means an exhaustive list, but those are some of the titles that stand out in my head when I think back through my last year of reading.

This year I also decided that I wanted to make travel a priority again. I booked in a trip to Iceland this November and, though I didn’t see the Northern Lights, I did see a lot of really amazing things (like a glacier that started a whole climate change discussion with my seven year old). I was also able to get out to Idaho to visit family and up to Philadelphia to see one of my very lovely friends. I’m planning on carrying this focus on travel into the coming years because, after a lot of soul searching and financial reckoning, I realised that this is always something I’m willing to prioritise in my budget. I have a trip to Mexico coming up this year (luckily I’m not paying for that), but my son and I have talked about getting back to London next year (mostly because I’m feeling terribly homesick for it in the weirdest way) and I want to get out to Los Angeles to see my best friend, so I’m putting good vibes out into the universe because I need those trips to happen in 2019.

I really, really miss my best friend and I’m feeling homesick for London in the weirdest way.

I think where I’m most pleased, though, is when I look back over the professional list I set out for myself. I was determined to take my writing more seriously this year and I really found ways to prioritise that in the everyday scheduling of my life (something that I also think I’ll talk about in the future). Submitting agent queries is draining — the constant rejectionnnnn — but I’ve managed to carry on through the process without getting too discouraged. Sometimes I can feel myself start to say ‘well, if your writing was better, maybe someone would have picked it up by now,’ but then I remind myself to breathe. People have read this story, people have liked it, and people have liked the idea when I’ve talked about it. I believe in these stories and I believe in these characters — they just need to find a home.

And that mentality is the same one that carried me through submitting my short stories/creative non-fiction to journals and magazines this year, too. I submitted eight pieces to 74 different places this year. THAT’S A LOT OF FUCKING MAGAZINES! I’ve mostly been rejected, but I had two pieces accepted this year: “Why I Didn’t Report” ran in Litro Magazine Online in October and “Images” ran in Sheepshead Review‘s Fall issue. The ROI isn’t great, I’ll admit, but if there’s one thing that this year (and this process) taught me, it’s that you just have to keep grinding. My Litro piece in particular got me thinking, too, that I’d like to write more essays moving forward. I’m not sure what that would look like or how much attention I’d want to direct to those pieces, but I think, right now, I’d direct my energy there when I felt that I really had something that needed to be said.

Needless to say, I’ve got a few essays in the pipe for 2019.

And, finally, my writing this year — I did manage, as I’d hoped in January, to write most days this year. There were times when I didn’t write much (like in November when I was travelling or in July when Camp NaNo was literally trying to kill me) but I made sure to find time almost every day to sit down at my computer (or open Google Docs on my phone) and at least write a sentence or two. All told, I ended up writing 544508 words (290838 fanfiction, 250327 original fiction, and 3343 essays) this year — an average of 1483 words a day. Honestly, I am still so surprised at what I managed to produce this year because it never feels like that much when I’m in the moment. And that doesn’t even count the other kinds of things I’m writing — like blog posts here or on my tumblr. I’ve posted a number of longer pieces online, especially on my tumblr this year, and so I’m sure I could add (conservatively) another 15k to this writing total.

It feels like a whole hell of a lot of work, certainly, but quantifying it like this puts everything in a new light.

All in all, I’m really, really happy with how 2018 went, both in terms of my own personal growth and progress towards my goals. From a more global perspective, obviously, the year was an utter shit show, it feels important to set that out. I’m not sure that the political situation will be any neater (or kinder) in 2019, but I hope that my personal life, at least, continues in a 2018 sort of fashion. I’m still setting out just what I want 2019 to look like goals wise, but I’ll be back on here with that update as soon as I have it! Until then —

X Elle

Self Publishing?

About a month ago, I was talking to one of my friends — I’m sure she wouldn’t mind my sharing her name here but, in the interest of protecting her privacy anyway, I won’t mention it — about the first novel I have laying around in my Google Drive.

‘It’s never going to see the light of day,’ I’d grumbled into a Snapchat message. ‘I’ll just keep sending it off forever and ever and then, one day, I’ll die.’

I was mostly being dramatic — I’m usually just being dramatic, especially on Snapchat — but it is a spiral I find myself getting caught in from time to time. I’m generally okay with rejection — I know that things like fiction writing are very subjective, I know I have an audience of people who enjoy my writing, and I believe in my work — but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love to drag myself from time to time for failing to place my full manuscripts.

This friend, and all my friends, really, are particularly good at snapping me out of my feelings whenever I find myself falling prey to them again (I am so, so grateful for them), and on this particular day, my friend suggested I stop my whining already and just look into self-publishing.

She didn’t word it like that, obviously, because she loves me, but it’s easier for me to remember it like that than to remember what she actually said which was along the lines of “your writing is wonderful and I know people who have been successful doing this and you should do this already because you deserve to be successful”.

I’ve never spent much time thinking seriously about self-publishing. I knew it was a thing, obviously, but when I was thinking about my own writing, I always thought that I would try and go the traditional route. And I still have my second manuscript moving through those channels, but now that my first manuscript has been kicked back….

Well, there’s nothing stopping me from at least looking into it.

I spent an hour of so online this week googling this process, because, before I really started to think about it one way or the other, I wanted to know what kind of thing I was getting into. Amazon, I think, is the biggest name in this business and, as that’s where I think I’d pursue this, that was where I looked.

I should probably do a little more googling to really do my due diligence, but we’ll get there.

It doesn’t seem like it’s too difficult, honestly (which I’m sure is one of the big selling points for Amazon). I’d have to figure out how to properly summarise my work (one of my biggest weaknesses is figuring out how to succinctly summarise… and also titling things) and make a cover, but Amazon has a cover maker application on their Kindle portal and I can just struggle through a summary and have all my friends read it to make sure it isn’t awful.

I could do it.

And I think that self-publishing could be a way to get this first manuscript out into the world. It could be a really, really good way to get it out there. I don’t expect massive success — I don’t expect anything really. I’d do it because I think that it’s a good option, a way to get my writing out into the world where more people can read it because, ultimately, that’s what I want. I write because I want people to read my stories. I want people to have them and enjoy them and, if I’m really, really lucky, I want the stories I write to become a part of someone’s life, even if it’s just in some small way.

I still find myself, though, really resistant to this idea of self-publishing the first piece. I’m not sure what the feeling is, but I suspect that it’s a few things (it’s always a few things). I’m afraid that it isn’t just right, that I’ll need to spend more and more hours editing it until it’s ready to see the world. I’m afraid, in a smaller part of myself, that it’s secretly crap because wouldn’t it have been picked up by someone by now if it weren’t terrible? I’m nervous, as you’re always nervous before doing such things, of putting something I wrote out into the world on that scale.

I know full well that it probably won’t attract any serious attention, but there’s always those nerves there.

But the nervousness about sharing alone isn’t enough to stop me — I’m a big believer, as I think I’ve said on here before, in doing things that scare you — but it’s harder to resist the urge to carry on editing this story to death. It felt rounded, complete when I finished editing it earlier this year, and so why, now, am I starting to question it again? What is different now that I’m thinking about this story again?

Part of it is probably that I’ve gotten better as the year went on. I wrote more — I wrote almost every day — and I built plots and honed my skills and so I, as a writer, got better. It’s also been a while since I’ve read this story, and so I’m not sure that I’m carrying an accurate picture of it in my mind anymore.

I’m going to re-read this story again before I hit publish on it — it’s irresponsible not to — and I’m sure that little bits of it will change or be re-written (especially because I’ve had a few thoughts recently that I want to make sure are incorporated), but I still believe in this story. I believe in the characters and the plot and the writing and so… I mean, honestly, what’s holding me back if it isn’t my own reservations?

I think I’ve found my project for early 2019.

x Elle

NaNoWriMo 2018 – Final Update

How is it that time already? I cannot believe, I seriously cannot believe, that we’ve already made it through November. I feel that every year and yet, somehow, the feeling never changes.

My writing numbers for this week are really, really low —

Words: 2823
Time: 1hr 13min

— but once I cracked 50k on Tuesday (I finished the month with 50073 words), I basically just… stopped writing.

I didn’t intend to stop writing — I was thinking that I could get at least 55k or so if I kept writing through the week — but on Monday afternoon, I started writing this fanfiction project that I’d been putting off because someone came into my Tumblr ask box and complimented my writing and then I literally just could. not. stop. writing. it.

And the feeling of being caught up in a story, of having it just flow out of me in that super exciting way that writing does when it’s clicking, was just too good to resist. 

And, ultimately, I think that that was the right decision. I’ve written nearly 12k on that project this week.

Despite the fact that I totally gave up in the middle of last week, I do think that NaNo was successful this year. 

I hit the word count, obviously, and so I “won” from a numbers perspective, but more than anything else, this month allowed me to work through this project that has been giving me a lot of trouble for the last, like. What, year? I was having so many issues with what this project was — the timeline changed, the genre has been confusing, the plot has felt completely absent at times — and having to sit and work on it for a month made me have to work through some of these issues.

There was still a lot of time spent agonising this month — especially about the middle because it still feels like something of a plotless wonder — but I’ve managed to come back around to the original, more romance novel direction that this project started with. I’m going to have to do a good bit of re-writing, but hey — it’s a first draft. When don’t you have to do a lot of re-writing?

All in all, I’m really happy with how the month went, but I’m even happier that I’m going to take December off. I have a few fanfiction projects I want to work on (like that huge story I’m in the middle of right now), and I’m just going to let myself focus on that in December. I’m also going to work on pulling together my plans for the new year — I have to set my goals for 2019, make my vision board (yes, I am one of those people), and I have to figure out how I want to structure my months in terms of writing for the next year.  I don’t like to set them too firmly, but I like to have a general idea of when I’m going to be working on what, instead of just letting myself sort of figure it out as I go. 

I don’t mind a bit of looseness to the schedule — sometimes I’ll move months around or just say ‘short stories’ and then I figure out what I’m going to work on depending on what my current set of stories/inspiration is — but I find that I get so much more done when I have at least a general idea of what I’m going to be working on.

But I’ll be talking more about that in a future post on here.

Before I sign off, I want to thank you for reading and staying with me as I’ve been posting up about this story this month (and for staying with my blog in general). It’s so nice having somewhere to think about these things on the internet and it’s even nicer having even just a few people reading.

I hope you all have a lovely holiday season and that the end of your year is everything you want it to be.

x Elle