Self-reflective Journaling – a simple but effective tool.
elf-reflective When looking ahead to 2020 back in December, I did some research on THE traits of ‘successful’ people. A point that came up over and over again was that successful people use reflection and journaling to inform their next steps. Now I’m not talking about screeds of writing every day, not at all. I’m going to show you how you can see results in just five to ten minutes per week (though you might choose to go a little further when you see the results!).
I’ve discovered that journaling – reflecting on the past week and looking ahead to the next with specific questions in mind – provides multiple benefits:
I’ve discovered that self-reflective journaling...provides multiple benefits..." - Emily Larkins.
How I use self-reflective journaling to improve my week, and how you can too!
During my research, I came across a set of visuals on Pinterest that have become core to my journaling process. They were sourced from @heyamberrae on Instagram, and are quick, simple, but effective tools for my journaling process.
These ‘check-ins’ are such quick, simple tasks, but they’ve made such a huge difference to my focus and productivity. I must thank @heyamberrae and give credit for her images, and for making such a positive difference to my week. Follow her on Instagram for more great tips, and most importantly, give it self-reflective journaling a go and see great results of your own!
How has this helped you you? Do you want more tips on planning, writing, or productivity? OR do you have any great journaling tips to share? Let me know in the comments below, and keep an eye out for my next Quick Tip!
To reach your destination, you need to plan your route. You also need a format to do that.
Procrastination; it’s in my genes (along with hoarding things with potential future usefulness, and the inability to consistently put things away). It proved my downfall in 2019. I met my single goal, spending a certain number of hours on writing-related activities, but I didn’t get much actual writing or publishing done. I grew my author platform through trial and error, especially on Instagram and Twitter, but as for actual writing? Wa wa, that’s a no from me. After April, I only dabbled and didn’t publish! No, not good enough.
I wish to be capable of regular blog output, I wish to publish short stories regularly, and offer free content, but wishing doesn’t get you anywhere without structure and commitment. You can have all the hopes and dreams in the world, but if you don’t lock yourself in with dedicated time and get that bum in the chair, like 2019 me, you’ll only accomplish a mere fraction of what you’re capable of.
My intention for 2020 is to up my game bigtime. To accomplish that, I’ve spent a considerable number of hours and oodles of energy researching and developing my 2020 prototype planning documents. I’ve run with the excitement of it and come up with a workable plan. You can learn from my hard work and save yourself that graft by using my ideas as a base to build your own.
“Wishing doesn’t get you anywhere without structure and commitment. Make a plan, set dates, and back yourself to smash them.” - Emily Larkins
Here’s how I’ve set myself up for success in planning ahead in 2020.
I started with research, and lots of it. Without conscious thought, over the last year I’ve been pinning to my Business Tools board under the heading Time Management. There were lots of ideas that sparked interest, but it wasn’t until I sat down and really read through closely that I realised lots of the points fit together. I jotted ideas down across multiple sheets of paper, drew up rough ideas for planner pages, timetables, journal pages, and more. I had to find those magic elements that could work for me, and it took a considerable amount of time to work through them – far more than the couple of weeks I set myself. I could have rushed through and started 2020 with a less than perfect plan, but the likelihood of it succeeding would have been quite low. Instead I allowed myself that extra time to get it right, and do you know what? I’m excited about what I’ve come up with. I admit it’s not pretty; it’s practical, a test-run, a bit scrappy, and has correction fluid bits that normally drive me nuts, note paper glued in, and it’ll look worse once I’m through with it. What it looks like doesn’t matter (I’m ignoring my perfectionist side right now!); the point is that four weeks in, it’s working. I’ve never been so productive, not even when the motivational fire burned bright. Seeing my goals on paper every day, splitting them down into manageable chunks, and taking those small steps, man do I get a lot done without realising it. I’m also smashing my new time goal! Part of it has to do with self-review, but you’ll have to wait until next week for my second Quick Tip (out next week) to discover this wee secret!
Another great strategy I came across during research is Time Blocking. I found this great tip on Pinterest, sourced from productiveflourishing.com (you can read about it for yourself here… https://www.pinterest.nz/pin/590604938619194355/). The essentials are that you break your time into four blocks: Focus Blocks (for when you’re in the zone, and at your best), Social Blocks (when you’re in the right mind-set to meet other people), Admin Blocks (work you can do when you’re not at your best, but can still work productively), and Recovery Blocks (recharging time such as exercise, meditation, reading…). I’ve set myself up a chart that I can refer to throughout the day with task ideas under each. If I feel my self slipping from Focus to Admin, I can switch over and pick a task. When I plan each day, I try to include something from each area so I can switch when I need to. It helps, too, to think of the Recovery Block as part of a productive work day (so long as the whole day isn’t recovery block!). Reading, for me, is an essential part of my recovery time as reading feeds writing. When I’m reading, I’m learning more of my craft, analysing how other writers develop their stories, and what I do and don’t like about the way they tell stories. It removes some of that guilt that I get when I feel I’m being unproductive. It’s about changing that mind-set and being kinder to myself.
I have to admit, though, that setting up my new system has been fun; time-consuming, but fun.
In my former life as a primary school teacher, planner books were an essential element referred to throughout the day. They are about accountability and a visual record of what my class worked through over the school year. At the beginning of the year and each term, as a team, the whole school staff looked at overarching themes for the year, set-date events, etc. That staff was also split into three groups, (syndicates covering a few year-groups each – junior classes, middle classes, and senior classes), and looked ahead term by term together, roughly three monthly, but also down to weeks at a time. So, I’m used to a year calendar, for the broad stuff, term plans for looking closer at each subject area, and weekly plan pages for the day to day and routine stuff.
Now you’ll note that I said former teacher. It was the paperwork side of teaching that overcooked me in the end, and much of that came down to the depth of forward planning required, followed by mountains of testing, assessment, and reports. The stakes were incredibly high, along with the pressure to be perfect. While I like a timetable and a daily plan, I struggle to produce such things too far ahead of time because I love to break the pattern. I love the ‘teachable moment,’ running with a student’s question, but in the current teaching climate in New Zealand, that leads to essentials missing their required time. Oh, and I HATE it when I fall behind and my future plan suddenly looks very different to what I’m actually doing. It feels like doing the work twice as I’d have to change that long-term plan to reflect what I actually did. I also like to do things differently each day, to run with ideas, and largely to please myself, which isn’t exactly embraced in a school setting. That’s why I’ve got a planner that looks as it does. It’s about what works for ME and how I like to do things.
That’s the bare bones of it. I’ve got scraps of memo cube tucked in reminding me of things, for example, the fact that December and early January were so heavily loaded up with family and school things for my children that I was exhausted and hardly did anything productive (except create my new planner format). I’ve noted to allow myself more time before then. And, if I want to make a pretty journal, I’ll have to start planning ahead in November. I’ll let you know about some extra elements of my planning book in coming weeks too.
Here are the key things I need to point out to make this work for you:
And that’s it. Planning and time management don’t have to be massive ordeals. Even setting those goals and keeping a visual track of where you’re up to will help with productivity. It doesn’t have to be expensive, terribly time-consuming, or even that pretty. It’s what’s inside my 1B5 that’s invaluable to me. It’s my ‘stunt journal’ if you like; I intend to create myself a gorgeous book for next year!
So, if you want to increase your productivity, keep better track of goals, and feel better about the way you work, give my Time Management strategies a go.
Do you think this could help you become more productive? Do you like the idea of Time Blocking, or breaking your goals down? Let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to look out for my quick tips, out now, and coming soon!
Post 1 in the Quick Tips series for 2020.
What is a goal, and why do I need one?
Put simply, a goal is something you aim for; a dream you want to achieve, that you can tick off when you’ve done it. They give us something to work toward, and a sense of achievement when complete them.
Whatever your dream, you either won’t get there, or it’ll take much longer to if you don’t set a firm goal with a date to achieve it by. How do I know this? I’m the Queen of Trial, Error, and Procrastination, or at least I was in the past. I struggled to even think one up, and if I did, I failed to set a date, and I didn’t write it down. Long story short, I pretty much pushed myself out to sea in a small boat with no way of steering toward where I wanted to go, if you get my drift.
This year I’ve changed my errant ways. Read on to see how I intend to correct the error of my 2019 ways in 2020.
“It’s no good dreaming about something if you’re not prepared to commit to it. Setting goals with dates, and writing them down is the key first step toward success.”
So how do I choose a goal, and what’s the first step to achieving it?
So how does one ‘set a goal?’ I won’t profess to be an expert on this, but I can offer advice and tips from what I’ve done. I’m not the first to write on this, so if you’re not convinced, do some research. Here’s my method:
Did you find this tip helpful? Would you like to find out more? Do you have ideas to add that have worked for you? If so, please comment. I’d love to hear what you think.
OUT WITH THE OLD: IT'S TIME TO GET REAL!
Times are changing at home!
Alright, I know, you know, the whole world may as well know, I didn’t post news in November. I wrote a whole blog, twice. I revised and edited, I chopped and changed, I wrote it, and I hated it, so, no blog, damn it, but more on my failures in a bit.
It’s hard to believe we’ve entered 2020. Not only has a new decade begun, but this year brings big things in the Larkins household – first and foremost, a fifth birthday. I’ll officially have two school girls, thus, hopefully, more time of the useful kind for writing. There will also be a fortieth (not mine yet!) in my house, and then there are the significant family birthdays that somehow stack up into the perfect storm for this year! Three 65ths, a 60th, a 30th, a 16th, and more. Lord help this introvert!
The end of 2019 also saw the change of hands of the original farmhouse on the family farm. We’ve cleared out much of my grandparents’ things, and my grandmother allocated family treasures. I’m a bit of a family-tree nerd, so I know a little about my grandmother’s grandmother and I’m thrilled to inherit some of the treasures she brought over from Ireland to New Zealand many decades ago. My grandparents were also unintentional collectors of local history had never threw out anything that might have a later purpose. Beyond the family heirlooms, we found many treasures of interest to the local museum, including my grandfather’s Peninsula Borough Driver Licence, and memorabilia from the long-since closed Hoopers Inlet School. It was a long, dusty, and fascinating task that has made room for the next generation of farmers, my sister and her family. It’s been a lesson in adaptation for all of us. My grandfather’s grandfather built the house, and each generation of farmer has lived in it at some time or other. We’ve had to put aside the strangeness of touching things that we weren’t allowed to as children, such as the arrangements of artificial flowers and treasures on the sideboard, and let go of it being my grandparents’ home, to allow space for the future.
Christmas brought the usual – over-stuffed-with-sweetness children, shopping, gatherings, gifts, and honouring the reason for the season. What I hadn’t realised in the past was just how much time it demands. Last year I set a goal (a very loose resolution) of working on my author business for a certain length of time per day. That meant recording my hours daily, and I can say truthfully, that in December I did not meet that goal. With Little Miss finishing up at Kindy, picnics, final school assemblies, shopping, wrapping, cooking, gatherings, having children home, and then a husband on holiday, my use of time tipped wildly in favour of family rather than work. I’ve enjoyed it though, and found that I naturally needed to step back from many of my work duties over the holidays. I’ll have to factor that in for this year too, now that I have a new schedule, but I’ll write about that in a bit.
The only other thing of note I’ll share for the end of 2019 was something that gave us a bit of a shock, literally! Between Christmas and New Year, we had a few stormy days with hail, thunder, and lightning. It’s not a common thing on the Otago Peninsula – more of an every-few- years kind of thing. Well! We had two days of storms in a row, and the second day absolutely hammered the Dunedin area with over three-hundred recorded bolts. It was absolutely relentless and ended up right on top of us. There were multiple emergency services callouts to homes and power poles hit in the city, and we got the fright of our five years in the home we built when one of the large Macrocarpa trees just thirty metres away got hit. It was an instantaneous flash and bang, so bright and loud. It scared us good and proper and unsettled the children right on bedtime. After the storm I went investigating and found that not one but two trees had been struck, looking much like an enormous bear had raked it’s claws down the trunks. No doubt I’ll end up using it in my writing – it’s too good not to, but I’m in no hurry experience that again!
I met a goal, but...
Last year as a writer surprised me for two reasons – one good, one surprisingly not so. I set a time goal for each day (and ultimately an average for the year to beat), and hit it (yay)! On the other hand, I didn’t accomplish nearly as much as I thought I would. I expected to publish a novel and several shorts, write a fairly regular blog, and keep up with my news. One of those things I managed, and I got a few shorts out, but failed dramatically in the publishing stakes. Now that I’ve been prepping for this year, I understand a lack of concrete goals being at the core, and failure to implement a regular routine. Upon reflection, I set a goal and achieved it, but it wasn’t enough. I had ideas of what I wanted to get done, and foolishly expected to do it. Yes, things changed up on me with childcare, but I could and should have done better. So clearly, for this year, I need to step up my game and make changes. Big ones.
Time to step it up.
Believe it or not, I need to think bigger, not so much in terms of wants, but in goals and planning. I’ve already started, perhaps a bit later than I should have (I’ll need to factor in thinking about 2021 much earlier, perhaps in November), but I’ve put a bit of research and thought into all of it and come up with a plan. I’ve got goals, too. They might be a bit of a stretch, but I won’t know until I try, and I’ll consider this a trial year for goals (last year was for time). They include some pretty exciting freebies, more regularly published short stories, and getting my novel, The Weight of Expectation, published (I will, I really will!). I’ll still have two little charges at home a couple of days a week, but with both of my own children at school I’ll have a dedicated number of days to work just on writing. I’ve got lists of things I can do with kids at home too (like planning and idea gathering), and looking ahead, I can factor in days that’ll be high-load days, and low-load (like December!). I’ve got the opportunity to create balance, now I’ve just got to execute it. Beyond looking at the year, I’ve researched deeper on productivity and discovered the importance of journaling, reflection, and breaking the year into months, weeks…and so on, looking at the long-term, but also breaking up goals. I intend to blog about this in deeper detail, but I’ll hint at MANAGEABLE CHUNKS.
I’ve also got to balance family and work – like all parents do. It’s slightly tricky, given that I work from home. As an independent author, I’m not working to other people’s deadlines, and I have the opportunity to dedicate my time as I see fit, but less work means less productivity, so… I’ve got to find the best balance. I’m confident I can do that more efficiently than I did last year.
In short, from last year I learned:
Measuring time isn’t everything – goals are important – and to go along with that, big goals need to be broken down into steps, as does time. Rewarding myself with things that feed my writing is a sensible idea – like reading and making the most of the mobile library (because I avoid going to town wherever possible).
Making the most of the dedicated writing time I have (like JK says, protect your writing days!), will be essential. Knowing what to do with those grabbed moments (like when the toddler’s sleeping), will be useful too – visuals will help me. Rewards might too. I’ve activated my awareness, now I’ve got to follow through.
So, in short, the lady that ‘doesn’t do New Year Resolutions,’ has made some (cringe), but I’ve only ever avoided such things because I struggle with the idea of failure. It’s time to toss that silliness out and lift my working game. If I want to succeed as an author, I need to step up and do it otherwise the dream will be lost. What will keep me going is just that: The Dream.
Time to go out there and get on with it.
Coming up in 2020...
New short tips blog posts monthly.
Free Flash Fiction Fridays - a new quick read every month, and best of all, they're FREE!
Short Story Sunday - every second month I’ll endeavour to publish a new short story (starting in February).
New-look prompts - on stunning new backgrounds, and searchable chronologically or by genre. The first are already up on Pinterest with five new prompts weekly.
Have you set goals for 2020? Do you want to learn about the discoveries I’ve made around goal setting and time management, follow Emily Larkins, Author on social media.
Please share your ideas and discoveries in comments.
Have a great month,
Great news! You can recognise your Thing too!
What are writing prompts?
Writing prompts (or story starters) are sentences or short paragraphs, snippets of dialogue, character or setting ideas, or even images, that kick-start the creative process.
The purpose of the prompt is to inspire ideas in the mind from which you can start writing. There are literally thousands on the internet (Pinterest is a quick and easy place to find and save them for future reference) and you can take or leave what you like.
Not all prompts work for all people. What sparks you to pick one up might be a non-starter for me, just as what I’m excited about might be bland to you. It all depends on our different life-experiences, interests, and sometimes just the time of day or frame of mind we’re in at that particular moment. Images might be a stronger inspiration for you, or text might be your thing. Give both a go and use what really lights you up.
An effective prompt will give just enough to ignite your imagination without leading all those who use it down too narrow a path. There should be a multitude of avenues open for exploration so we don't all end up writing subtle variations of essentially the same story.
In short, a writing prompt is the spark that ignites an inspirational fire for your creative process.
How I use writing prompts.
In the beginning (when I was young and just developing a taste for writing), I thought prompts were just for getting started on a story. That's how they were used in my high school writing class after all. Now I've discovered different ways my writing can benefit from prompts:
The main use for a prompt is to either begin a story (like a first line) or drive the idea for a story (perhaps a dramatic event), but over my years of writing, I’ve discovered they come in handy in other ways as I mentioned above. Writing prompts can lead in a myriad of directions, and it’s all driven by you. You may choose to write a poem from a prompt, a piece of flash fiction, a short story, or a full-blown 100,000 word epic. Just choose something that really grabs you.
If you’re stuck, try a prompt exercise. I like to challenge myself with ‘close your eyes and point,’ set a timer for say fifteen or thirty minutes, and push hard to create a captivating piece. Whatever prompt on screen that I've pointed to is the one I use. This is a fantastic exercise to challenge your creative mind and may even lead to a publishable piece (it has for me).
I'm a big fan of Pinterest, and not just for writing. I'll talk about this more in another post, but there are a few resource boards I've put together that will be of great use to you when looking for great writing prompts. Feel free to use my Pinterest boards Write! Prompts By Emily, or Write! Prompts (collected prompts sourced from across the internet) for this. You can find links to them both below). Write! Images for Inspiration contains thousands of images separated into useful sections to help you narrow down where you want to go. The beauty of Prompts By Emily is that they’re all numbered, so you can use a random number generator or pick a random number yourself before you open the board and let the universe decide!
So what next?
Now it’s time to go hunting for yourself. I’ve added 34 of my most popular prompts to this post as an exclusive printable PDF. Feel free to save it, share it, and use it as you like. Also, pop on over to Pinterest to see more fantastic prompts. My original prompts are on my Write! Prompts By Emily board. At the time of publishing this post it contains 245 little gems. The found prompts I love and have collected over time are filed under Write! Prompts. There are over 650 story starters there from a wide range of sources and covering a myriad of genres. Write! Imagery contains hundreds of inspiring images that are sure to capture the imagination.
Most importantly, have fun, be inspired, and get writing!
Click the file download below to claim your FREE printable pdf. It contains 34 of my most popular original prompts. This resource can't be found anywhere else, it's available exclusively for my wonderful readers!
If you’d like to know more about writing prompts, or if you’d like some more ideas for using them, let me know in the comments below. If you have favourite prompts that you think I’d like, or other ways of using prompts, please send them on through too. Pop on over to my Resources page for thousands of useful writing tools on a range of topics from getting started in writing, right through to publishing and marketing yourself. I’m all about sharing and helping other writers with their creative process, so please get in touch!
Wishing you all an inspired writing day!
Three quick examples using different prompt types...
A found prompt (from Pinterest):
I struggled up through the fog of sleep, thicker than usual, and with an unusually bitter taste in my mouth. When I sat up on the edge of the bare mattress my head spun like I'd been on the teacups ride at a themepark. I needed a drink, badly. An old sink with rusted taps hung against the wall. I splashed water on my face and started at the feel of short stubble on my cheeks. The hairs on my arms rose, a chill shot down my spine as I gazed down. These were the blunt-nailed, rough-skinned hands of a man, not my soft, immaculately manicured, genetically female
hands. I gripped the sink for balance. I looked into the mirror and I didn't see me. I saw a young man...
A dialogue prompt of my own creation:
I'd only been at the bar a matter of minutes before I turned down the first offer of a drink. The next followed close after, an older man taking the empty stool on my other side. He ordered himself a beer and another lemon, lime and vodka for me. He didn't ask if I wanted it; he created obligation by placing it next to my still half-full glass. As he leaned close his hand brushed my arm. Moist breath tainted with hops and onion foud my ear. I leaned away and slid the full glass toward him; a clear message.
"Oh, don't be like that, Love, it's a free drink! I'd be all over a free drink," a brow raised as his fingertips found my thigh, just below the hem of my skirt.
"As you can see, I'm perfectly capable of buying my own drink, and I don't plan to be 'all over' anything to do with you." I pushed his hand away.
"Sweetheart, I think you need to work on your manners," the hand slithered back.
I turned my face slowly toward him, my jaw set hard, fists balled in my lap to prevent his upward creep.
"I didn't think I was in the mood to kick anyone's arse tonight. All I wanted was a nice, quiet drink at the bar, but I swear, if you touch my leg one more time, I'm going to surprise myself, and you."
"Woah, hey now, Darlin, don't get your knickers in a knot, I'm just being friendly, offering my services..."
"Friendly? Try a sleazy, unwanted advance I've already rejected twice."
He opened his mouth to contradict me and I snapped. I whipped off my stool and grasped his hand, the thumb bent back hard toward his wrist...
From an image found on Pinterest:
Somewhere ahead I heard running water. Not the trickle of a stream, but the open echo of a larger source flowing with intent. The close tunnel of bush cracked open ahead of us, the light harsh after the dappled dimness of the trees. When I reached that opening I stopped dead in my tracks.
"You can't possibly expect me to cross that? You know I don't do bridges, any bridges, let alone that death-trap!"
My boyfriend leaned close, his warm hand on my shoulder. "It's perfectly safe. I scouted this walk out last week and had a good jump on it. Look, I'll show you now," he strode onto the planks with supreme trust and confidence. I could hardly even look at him when he bounced and swayed and held out a hand toward me. The vines creaked and twisted, matching the feel in my stomach. I no longer cared about the proposal I suspected he'd planned. He wouldn't get me to step on that bridge for anything, not even if my life depended on it.
Click the images below to access these awesome Pinterest boards for writing inspiration galore:
Hi, I'm Emily,
I'm an indie-published author and busy mum working hard to make my dreams come true.
I'm passionate about helping other beginner writers find confidence and get motivated to give their writing dreams a shot with help along the way.
Join me for mini adventures to see what works for me and learn how to make your writing dream a reality!
Author Self Care
Coping With Change
Developing A Routine
Find Your Passion
Free Flash Fiction
Free Resources Included
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Self Reflective Journaling
Story Inspiration Board
Words Of Motivation
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