Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Get Your Head Out Of The Quick Sand

We are all guilty of it. A problem emerges, one that we feel unable to deal with, and we want to avoid it. We want to bury our heads in the sand.

Image from Google
It's a natural reaction. It's self-preservation for us to hide away from the issue until it passes but it doesn't always work like that. Unfortunately, life isn't always that simple.

By hiding away and hoping that the problem will disappear, it will only get worse.

The problem is that once you risk a glance out of the sand, once you take a peek at the world again, you realise that the problem has done nothing but escalate and that you're going to have to deal with the problem anyway.

It's not easy to stand up and face things head on but it's the best way to handle a situation. Yes, it's scary and, yes, all you want to do is stamp your fists and rave about how unfair it is but it doesn't solve the problem. By dealing with it straight away- no matter how little you want to- gets it out of the way.

What's more, by avoiding every little issue you struggle with the big things- you have no idea how to tackle the big challenges that will inevitably come your way.

The trick to dealing with the issue? Make a pathway.

Firstly (and arguably the most difficult of all): Identify the problem.
  • This can be an issue at work, family members not getting on, a mistake that you've made that has major consequences etc. The key thing here is to identify it and accept it.
Secondly, list the possible solutions.
  • Take a deep breath and then literally write down all of the ways to deal with the problem. Be realistic- winning the lottery shouldn't be on there unless you feel the need to cheer yourself up at the end!
  • The list should include all of your options, even the ones that you may not like, so then you can see where you can go.
Thirdly, take action.
  • Choose which option to take and act on it. This may take some time. The best advice I can give you is go with your gut instinct. Take a deep breath and choose.
  • It will be difficult and you will have to grit your teeth and bear it but you will get through it.
What advice would you give to someone trying to deal with a problem? How do you deal with challenges?

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Hope Is Where We Find It

Image from Google
I found this saying on the wall of my sister's room yesterday- it is this phrase, in fact, which inspired me to write this blog post.

When you think of hope, what do you think of? Do you think of a promising future? Or how about something finally falling into place?

If you'd asked me the same question yesterday I would have given a similar answer, that was until I saw that small piece of card with that phrase on.

At first, I didn't understand it. Don't get me wrong- I love tea but how could it give someone hope? Did it refer to the refreshment that it can bring or to the stereotypical relaxation that comes with it?

So I sat and thought about it, trying to work out what it could possibly mean when I suddenly thought about it a different way.

What if it didn't refer to the tea itself but the ritual of sharing tea with others? What if it meant sharing a conversation or sharing a moment of comfort?

What if hope doesn't always have to come in the form of big gestures and life changing moments? What if it's already there right in front of us?

What if hope can come in the form of friends getting together and supporting each other? What if hope can come in the form of an embrace or a kiss?

What if rather than the promise or an incredible future hope is something simpler like the reminder that everything is alright and you're on the right track?

Hope is all around. It can be found in the small gestures that we come across everyday. The beautiful thing about hope is that when you give someone that comfort, when you take part in that hug, you remind people that you're there which spreads that hope onto others. You remind others that there is good in the world, that they're not alone and that maybe the planet isn't so bad after all.

Once you give someone that bit of hope, it spreads and that bit of kindness you showed one person is now making its way around to others.

When was the last time you gave someone hope? What did you do? Let me know!

If you liked this post or think that someone could really benefit from reading it, please make sure to share!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The Three Fastest Ways To Guarantee Burnout

Feeling tired? Achy? Or are you have a persistent headache that is lasting days a at a time? Welcome to the wonderful world of burnout.

Image from Google

Burnout is your body's way of telling you that it's had enough and that it needs rest. It can affect your performance at work, disrupt your home and social life and reek havoc on your health.

Keeping this in mind, let's look at the top three ways to get into this state.

1. Taking on every single job going... and its spouse.
You literally can't stop. Every task or piece of work tat needs doing you've volunteered for to the point that your 'To Do List' has its very own 'To Do List'.

Most recognisable from the following phrase: "Sure I'll type that up for you- right after I've sorted out my finances, called up this guy, watered my Mum's plants, bought a present for my friend who forgot it was her sister's birthday tomorrow..."

2. Giving yourself unrealistic deadli- (timer goes)
This includes such things as having a presentation ready for the next day, projects done in two and everything else in the next hour.

Admittedly, this can't always be avoided but if you have left everything to the last minute, don't ask for an extension on time or have given yourself unrealistic targets burnout is guaranteed.

Most recognisable from the following phrase: "So let me get this straight: I need to have gone through that pile of work, a presentation made up of fifty slides and two policies by tomorrow morning? I'm sure everything will be fine, right? Right?"

3. Neglecting... damn it, what's it called again? Oh yeah, sleep...
Lack of sleep is one of the quickest ways to achieve burnout. We need sleep to function. It helps to keep us focussed and able to think things through properly. It keeps us rational and helps us to handle day-to-day challenges so by missing out on sleep we find it more difficult to look after ourselves.

Most recognisable from the following phrase: "Yeah, I'm exhausted. I didn't get much sleep last night but I've got too much to do."

Burnout is not a warning sign, it's the end result of not taking care of yourself and your body is stepping in. I know it's hard sometimes but take care of yourself. After all, your health needs to come first.

I'll leave you with these final words from the Dalai Lama...

Image from Google

Which of the three above are you most guilty of? Let me know!

Sunday, 18 May 2014

The Fear Of Writing

What is fear of writing? Fear of writing is that anxious feeling that you get in the pit of your stomach when you know that you need to start writing, you know that you need to focus and start to have your fingers move across your keyboard or pick up that pen, but something is holding you back.

You want to write- you enjoy the sensation of words flowing out of your fingertips and onto a blank page- but something is holding you back and you find yourself putting it off.

Image from Google
But why do we have this fear? Why is it that we have this uneasiness every now and then that stops us achieving what it is we want to do? Well, to be honest, there are various reasons.

Firstly, we can be scared to write because we believe that we are not good enough. We worry that the words that we are putting down are childish, unprofessional and for lack of a better word 'cringe-worthy'. We pass off our own writing as embarrassing and so when it comes to sitting down and getting back to it our lack of belief in our ability can make us reluctant.

Secondly, we can worry that the idea that we are working on is too far fetched or unbelievable to worry. We can agonise over our plot and whether it works or if we should be doing something differently- we begin to doubt ourselves.

Thirdly, we can feel intimidated by the story ahead of us. We can feel frustrated over the lack of progress that we seem to have made and all of the work that is ahead of us and we are unwilling to write some more only to find that we have yet to reach the end of a chapter.

Finally, we may be stuck on the story and so anxious over sitting down in front of it again only to once more fail to find the words that we need. The idea is still in knots in your head, the characters won't speak to you, the setting is dull and your stress is replacing the joy of writing.

So what is the solution to all of these? How do we work past this fear and sit down, roll our shoulders and get on with it?

Honestly? Faith. Pure and utter faith.

Every time we sit ourselves down and start to write we are taking a risk. We are having faith in our imaginations and in our ability to find the words- even if it may take us a while. We are having to trust that things will fall into place and that we will get to the end, while all the while knowing in our gut the feeling of dissatisfaction that we will get at the end of the day if we don't even try.

So yes, writing is scary- some days it can be nothing short of terrifying- but the only way of coping with the fear, of being able to cope with it, is to face it everyday.

Yes, you may be terrified that your words are terrible, yes you may be doubting the plot and feel intimidated and anxious over where we'll go next with our writing but you'll never know if you don't even try. As writers we are meant to create, we are meant to share our words with the world and if we let something as basic as fear stop us, we are allowing ourselves to not do what we were meant to do.

Fear, pfft, forget it. We're writers and when we've got a story that needs to be told we let nothing stand in our way.

What is it that gets you to fight past the fear and write? Let me know!

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Finding Inspiration

As writers we can be inspired by the seemingly most insignificant of things. New ideas can pop into our heads at anytime and fill us with fresh new ideas.

So where do we get these ideas from? Where is it that we can find these strikes of inspiration?

Truthfully, they can come from anywhere.

Sometimes images can just come into your head while doing a mundane activity, while others can be prompted by conversations with others.

The trick is to allow yourself to take in the world around you. You have to open your eyes and be willing to absorb all of the chaos around you to find the specks of writing gold.

As with most things, the more you concentrate on it, the less likely it will come to you and so you have to just be ready and waiting for when it does come.

Simple things can trigger inspiration, from a walk in the countryside to a day out with friends. You don't even need to be anywhere new, familiar places can be filled with old memories which can inspire new thoughts.

Sometimes, the world is just waiting for you to stumble across them.

One of Banksy's creations
So open your ears, eyes and heart and just take in this crazy thing called life because it's waiting to give you some ideas.

What's the most bizarre thing to have inspired you? For me it was the printed coupon on the back of a bus ticket!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Recognising Strengths As Well As Weaknesses

We seem to live in a culture of two extremes- one where people are too cocky to admit their faults, the other too self conscious to admit their strengths. There are various reasons for this, one of which is the belief that it is the way that we are brought up- that we are taught to be modest and, while we should celebrate our achievement, we shouldn't 'flaunt them' to others.

It can also be argued that some people had their achievements celebrated so much that they have become over confident and blinded to areas that they need to improve on. Whatever the reason, a lot of people cannot get the balance right leading to either arrogance or 'conditional pride' which mostly takes on the form of, "I'm good at _____, nowhere near as good as ________ but OK." or "I guess I'm kind of__________________ but I'm not sure."

In regards to people who are self conscious, they- unfortunately- have no such conditions when it comes to pointing out areas where they may be lacking. How many times have you heard people say (including ourselves!) "I'm rubbish at _____________." or "I'm really bad at_________."?

Unfortunately, we tend to hear these sentences a lot more, which brings us nothing but pessimism and an unhealthy perspective of ourselves.

I'm writing this post with the focus on those of us who are quick to put ourselves down and to brush off compliments.

What is so bad about admitting that we're good at something or that there is something about ourselves that we like? The world will not end, we will not be struck down by lightening by accepting that there are aspects of ourselves that we think are pretty damn good. To admit our strengths- to hold our hands up and say, 'You know what? I am pretty good at this.' isn't bad. It's not arrogant, in fact it's a sign of confidence and self awareness.

Image from Google
OK, so here's a little exercise for us all to try- where ever you may be, whatever time it is, do it right this minute! (I'll be doing it as well!)

List three qualities about yourself that you really like. This can be anything from personality traits to appearance to any particular skills or talents that you may have. Now out loud- yes out loud (whisper it if you have to) repeat after me, filling in the blanks as you go:
  • I am good at __________________.
  • One thing I like about myself is___________________.
  • As a person, I am really ______________________.
Now, admittedly, when you do it at first it can feel a little uncomfortable and awkward (trust me, when I first started doing this I felt it too) but the more you say it to ourselves- the more time you take to get used to these phrases and wrap your heads around them, the words will start to sink in and you'll actually start to believe them.

Notice how things are exactly the same as they were before? After saying those words, the weather is still dreary as always here in Britain, I'm still typing and nothing dreadful has happened. In fact, the only thing that I would say has changed is the fact that I have acknowledged three things about myself that I can feel good about. In case you're wondering I went for:
  • I am good at writing.
  • One thing I like about myself is that I am approachable.
  • As a person, I am really friendly.
Some people are bound to argue that these things are subjective but a lot of how we perceive ourselves is anyway, the only difference is when choosing these phrases there will be something in the back of our minds that will make us choose certain words to fill in the blanks. Why? Because someone somewhere along the line has recognised this aspect of us and voiced it making it stick with us. If anything that should make us feel even better about ourselves because someone agrees with us!

What three things did you choose? Get in touch and let me know!

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Things That I Wish I'd Known When I First Started Writing

There are a lot of things that I've learnt in the past year. I've learnt how to be more self- aware, in both myself and my writing, as well as to give my writing more meaning and depth.

Some of the things that I've learnt have not only made me a better writer but also a better person. That doesn't stop me occasionally wishing that someone had sat down and had a cup of tea with me and explained a few things to help me on the journey, though!

While I am far from an expert in writing, I've learnt a few key pointers along the way which I feel it's important to share- especially with anyone who has just begun to 'tip their toe' into writing.

Image from www.theguardian.com
  • You will have days where writing is your worst enemy
Just because you're a writer doesn't mean that you're going to automatically skip to your computer everyday with a big old smile on your face eager to write. Unfortunately, there are days where you don't want to write, in fact doing anything but writing seems like an amazing idea! Washing- fantastic! Cleaning- brilliant! Writing- eh, maybe tomorrow...
Just remember that, if you're like almost every other writer, you'll feel the compulsion to write which will soon drag you back.

  • There is more than one kind of writing
When you think of typical 'writing' you tend to think of fiction but there are a lot more options out there. Blogging, for one, is a great way to practice writing about different topics as well as working with a different layout. Others write non-fiction, screenplays along with business writing and articles. With writing, the world is your oyster.

  • You need to write everyday
This is a big one. Now, I'm not saying that you have to write a novel a day but if you set yourself a minimum word count, you will see real progress as well as improve your skill. If you're just starting than a reasonable amount of 150 words a day is a good start before slowly building it up to 300 then 500 and to an amount that really gives you a sense of gratification.

  • Planning is incredibly important- you won't get very far without it
For more on this click here
When a new idea springs to mind the first thing you want to do is run with it. You're filled with excitement and are eager to get the words on the page but without proper fuel, you'll soon run out of steam.

  • Take a notepad with you everywhere.
Seriously, everywhere- even to the supermarket. Inspiration can strike at any time and it's important to be prepared. Many ideas can come to you in the middle of the night just as you're trying to go to sleep and won't leave you until you write it down.

These are just a few points of the many that I have learnt but the biggest of them all:

You are already a writer!

You're not an 'aspiring' writer, you're not a 'wannabe' writer- if you make the effort to sit down, put your hands on the keyboard or put your pen in your hand and actually write then you're already a writer.

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If you could sit your younger self down and give yourself some writing advice, what would you say? let me know!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Plot Problems

When it comes to writing, plans are important. They help to map out the story and to keep track of where the plot is going. However, they can both help and hinder.

Image from Google

For some people they get an idea and bam! they want to get started. Their hands start flying across the keyboard, their fingers can't go fast enough while the words pour out of them. This can be fantastic, the enthusiasm is high, the idea is exciting and you know you're onto something good... that is until the steam runs out.

It's inevitable unfortunately, usually it's three chapters in- if you're lucky you'll get to chapter five- and then, ahh, now what?

This is the part where the plan comes in. It gives us a visual guide of where we're going and what to prepare for. It helps you to work out each twist of the plot, each challenge the characters face as well as the route to the conclusion.

However, believe it or not, you can overdo the planning of the story. If you map out every nook and cranny of the story you can make writing nothing more than a regurgitation of words, making all of the fun of writing suddenly become nothing more than putting together a jigsaw. Using this method can also stop fresh new ideas emerging and taking the plot in an exciting new direction.

The thing to remember is that each writer works differently. For some, as soon as an idea emerges they will sit down and plan the entire thing before even beginning the first chapter. For some others, they plan as they go.

Personally, I have two different kinds of plans: I have a chapter plan and an ongoing plan. My chapter plan is a summary of my story which lists all of the chapters as well as what I want to have happened at the end of all of them. It looks a little something like this:

Chapter 1- Character X meets character Y
Chapter 2- Character Y moves into the new place and realises character X is her neighbour
Chapter 3- Character Y ends up in hospital
Chapter 4- Character X agrees to stay with her for a while

It doesn't make much sense on it's own does it? But when combined with an ongoing plot it makes more sense:
  • Character X is in a café, bumps into woman (CHARACTER Y), he apologises and he goes to sit, woman leaves
  • Character X leaves the café and heads home to see a moving van outside next door
  • He is curious but goes inside and hear an answerphone message from his sister.
  • He calls his sister and they talk about her mother, they finish, he hangs up and hearing a knock on the door goes to answer it to find character Y. They talk.
When they are combined, they give a wider perspective of what should be happening while not being too constrictive- chapters can be added or moved or additions can be made to each chapter eg the conversation with character X's sister can be larger, the walk home can be distracting or he could stop in somewhere.

However, each writer will have their own method. In the words of Stephen King:
"I won't try to convince you that I've never plotted any more than I'd try to convince you that I've never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible. I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren't compatible."
Or, to see other alternatives look here.

The trick is to use what works best for you.

What method do you tend to use? Do you jump straight in or are you a meticulous planner? Which one do you think works better and why? Let me know!