Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with Pinterest beyond being an enthusiastic user. I’m not being paid for any element in this post, nor have I been approached to write about it. I merely wish to share with you a tool that I find invaluable as a writer and believe you’ll find an asset to your writing.
Pinterest was my best source of learning when I decided to commit to writing as a career. I wanted to learn as much as I could to make my writing quality, and worth reading. Trawling the internet was a start, but saving and categorising my learning sources was difficult. I needed to know about plot development, character development, setting description, and eventually how to revise and edit, then how to publish. I can tell you, there is an absolute multitude of information out there, and it pays to keep what speaks to you in a handy place. At this early stage I’d been using Pinterest for teaching ideas and home improvement things, and then it occurred to me that Pinterest would be the perfect platform to collect my learning and preserve it for others who’d like to use it.
When I started out, I found bits and pieces of writing wisdom all over the place. There are several superb websites with a large amount that interested me, but there were also sources with just an article or infographic I was interested in. I spent hours and hours collecting items together, and I wanted to cut out all the searching for quality pins for others, and provide boards that contained quality pins and what really worked for me. So, when looking at my Write boards and Biz boards, what you’re looking at right there is all the research that’s made me the writer I am today. My Pinterest account is a resource I add to daily, and revisit several times a week – it’s a working resource for me, and you too can use my boards to develop your craft and save and/or share what works for you.
Side note: I chose not to do it this way because you can only create sections within a BOARD, not sections within a SECTION, and I felt I needed to be able to separate out, especially in the case of my Character Inspiration boards – each section represents a person with their name and birthdate, so it had to be that way. Incidentally, you can have up to 500 sections within a board (yes, I’ve found that out through creating 500 sections in my character boards and having to start second boards!). Give yourself room to expand and, if you’re keen on building a following, do your best to avoid deleting boards, as this deletes all the followers of that board (whom sometimes don’t follow your whole account, just that board).
So, if you know anyone headed in the writing direction, or anyone else wanting to learn a new craft, let them know about my account and share away. Pinterest isn’t just a ‘save’ space, it can be utilised as a learning space, for marketing, sharing, and so much more!
Now that I’ve freaked you out, let me explain…
As a first-time indie author, I was oblivious to this legislative obligation that applies to all New Zealand authors/publishers (and not just those of books or stories). It’s called Legal Deposit, and if you’re publishing almost any kind of publication in New Zealand (see below for a link to the list), you’re required to send your work to the National Library of New Zealand for preservation as part of New Zealand’s heritage. The potentially scary bit is, if you fail to comply, it’s a punishable offence. You may be liable to a fine not exceeding $5000 under section 39 of the National Library of New Zealand (Te Puna Mātauranga O Aotearoa) Act 2003 (here’s a link to the act if you want to read it).
So how do I make my Legal Deposit and not get fined?
It’s actually easier than you might think, and beyond the cost of a couple of author copies and postage (if you’re publishing in print), it won’t cost you a bomb either. Plus, there is an upside to this Legal Deposit business: your work will be preserved FOREVER within the National Library of New Zealand, and therefore become a permanent, physical part of the heritage of our country. Now that’s cool hey?
What you can access here:
I'm covering Legal Deposit (and a little on ISBN) here. If you'd like to find out more about the other items on this list, head to the Nat Lib website.
So, let's find out how to make your Legal Deposit…
Under legislation, all publishers in New Zealand are required to deposit their publications with the National Librarian. Yep, you read that right. I had no idea about this until I looked at requesting an ISBN for the paperback copy of my debut novel, plus, I nearly made the mistake of purchasing one through Amazon. On top of that, had I continued with digital copies only, I may have unwittingly failed to comply with the legislation and therefore been liable for a fine. Through my research, I was lucky, and by reading this, you will be too!
If you’re not sure if Legal Deposit applies to you, check out the list here, and if you’re still not sure, contact them via the phone number or email address at the above link.
So, you’ve found out you’re on the list. What now?
In short, you need to submit your publication/s, and it’s pretty straight forward.
First, There’s a PDF form to fill in asking for your details, your publisher’s details (if you’re self-publishing, you can create your own publishing name, for example, I use ‘Emily Larkins Publishing,’ but you could be more creative), and details of your publication. QUICK TIP: I keep a copy of this form saved on my computer with my details filled in and only have to add my publication details each time.
Second, if you’re publishing physical copies (e.g. paperback), you’re required to submit two copies of your publication (there are some exceptions to this that you might want to check out on the form or website) within 20 days of publication (or as soon as practicable thereafter. In my case, it took an absolute age for my first copies to arrive from Amazon in the US and I did get a reminder email from the Nat Lib that my deposit was overdue. If you keep them updated via email, they’re pretty good about it).
For more on Legal Deposit, and to download the most up-to-date forms, head on over here.
Should you have questions or require assistance to at any stage of the process, the contact details for each department are clearly shown on the above website. All my communications with National Library staff have been straightforward, professional, and informative, though there can be a delay between inquiries and replies depending on when you send your emails, so keep this in mind.
And here’s a bonus note on ISBN, ISSN, and ISMNs…
It takes three working days to supply your number/s. If you have an urgent request, you need to call the library directly. Make sure you tick ALL the boxes your publication will come out in as each requires its own specific number. You can apply for your number/s up to eight weeks prior to your proposed date of publication, though you may request your number/s early if you have a specific reason. You can fill in this form on the website.
As a problem shared is a problem halved, so is sharing those vital pieces of information that can save other authors from heartbreak or calamity in the writing world. So, share away, and I’ll add your tips either to this post or to fresh one if they’re biggies, with you as the source included!
Until next post, happy writing and publishing!
Home life: visitors, visiting, and school!
Well, New Zealand has apparently ‘crushed the curve.’ That big old ‘zero new cases’ milestone has happened for us, and we’re looking ahead toward a step down to level one. Another milestone was schools going back mid-month. Along with the excitement of children returning to school (aka, no more home teaching!!!!!!), there was the collywobbles of my girls being out of my care too. We tested out the social thing, first with the electrician coming back to finish off the last bits on our house on the very first day of Level 2. I got to hug my mum in the morning when she came to shift sheep (my children went bonkers having Nana around, even just for a few minutes!), and Dad when he came to help with electrics. I’m now the proud owner of a pantry light (this is momentous!), outside lights front and back, and garage lighting that works!
We also had family visitors out for a Saturday firewood-gathering adventure given we’ve had some proper cold days with the first real frosts. With our four, my husband’s sister and family (another four), and my husband’s Dad over, we pushed toward the maximum ten limit for the first time. The following week we ventured into town as a family for more visiting and birthday celebrating. Fair warning: for those who haven’t ‘done the social’ yet, prepare to be exhausted. I thoroughly recommend small doses of people to begin, especially if you’re an introvert like me.
Along with the shift to Level 2, adults are congregating for pickups again, strangely at the school gate, hand sanitiser and awkward conversation included. My first attempt at proper adult conversation felt like talking with my mouth full, words jumbling and competing for use, and to top it off, I forgot to wear my hearing aids and this only highlighted how my hearing has changed over the last couple of months. Eek! Long story short, if I could press delete on that conversation, I would.
We’re all a bit excited to see each other though. Social distancing on the drive at school hasn’t been the most accurate, but it’s hard with kids. Thankfully we’re a small school and pretty much know every other parent there.
Back to school, for me, means back to looking after my niece and nephew twice a week, though this will only be for a couple of weeks with the ‘big boy’ turning five! It’ll be just me and miss 2.5 from then on. It also means Board of Trustees meetings and getting back into the governing of the school. We were a chatty bunch on our first meeting back, sharing our experiences of lockdown, and particularly what we’ve all taken from the experience. My real sense is that for my household, we needed that enforced slowdown. Whilst it has been an uncertain time, we’ve had a government that has reinforced and explained the need to do what we’re doing clearly, briefing us each day on the telly, and setting out next steps with time to prepare. I can’t thank Jacinda and Ashley (Prime Minister, and Director General of Health) enough for being firm but kind, and reinforcing the fact that we’re a team of five million: all in this together, and we’re jolly lucky to be a tiny group of islands at the bottom of the world.
Writing life: hot, cold, and in between...
I’m proud to say I’ve written a lot this month. I’ve had a good go at The Weight of Expectation (though there’s still 95% of the marathon left to run), and whacked out a great new flash fiction to share free on Free Flash Fiction Fridays. I hit my time goal on 30/31 days (woohoo), really challenged myself with an attempt at a new genre – Western – and looked closely at my social media data to see where I can make changes and improvements to give viewers a better experience with me.
Joseph’s Gold is my June Free Flash Fiction Friday release, the Western(ish) tale of hardship and gold. You can read more about my writing process for this story in my behind-the-scenes blog, and keep an eye out for the story coming up free, which it will from time to time over the rest of the year.
I’ve made a slightly annoying discovery, though, with the ambitious goals I set for myself this year: I won’t be able to keep it all up next year if I hope to get The Weight of Expectation out anytime soon! Between weekly blogging, new flash fiction monthly, short stories every two months, and the demands of family, school, and other opportunities, my novel-writing time tends to be the sacrifice. Something’s got to give, but I’m not sure just what yet.
Whilst I’ve been refining my planning and journaling systems (I’m looking forward to my bright and beautiful new journal for next year), and have discovered a bunch of great ideas for keeping track of where I’m at. It’s a bit of a shame I haven’t managed to keep it all going as much in the last weeks of the month, but of course, the kids are back at school, I’ve got my little people keeping me busy, and social commitments are back underway. I’d better get my bum into gear and work it all out as this month has been productive and busy in a great way.
So what will this writer's life look like now?
And so, we’re back into ‘close to normal’ life and the time I had my husband and girls home was far more productive than I thought it’d be. The work/life balance felt nourishing, and while I thought I’d be driven spare by having so much going on at the same time as my writing time, it actually was good. How I’ll return to that balance is as yet unclear. As for deciding which of my projects gets culled next year, or, how I’ll modify my current workload to balance novel writing more effectively is another mystery. If you’ve got any ideas, please let me know in the comments. In the meantime, I’ll keep searching for a solution!
I think my revelations for this month is that I’ve just got to go with it. Times have been hard, unsettled, scary, sad, fun, distracting, productive, frustrating, and everything else in the spectrum. Not meeting the mark or hitting my goals is an utter frustration, but why waste my energy and bring myself down grumbling over it? I’ve just got to acknowledge it, balance it with what’s happening in my non-writing life, and breathe it through. Like the rest of the world, I need to find my new normal. Let’s hope I find it sooner, not later!
Until next month,
Happy reading and writing!
Flash Fiction; fast and fabulous!
I started writing Flash Fiction for two main reasons: one, to feel that sense of accomplishment in finishing and publishing pieces more frequently; and two, to give back to my readers.
Many writers long for that ‘I’m done!’ feeling, that sense of accomplishment, completion, and having works out there in the world being read! I appreciate that feeling, and it helps me carry on with longer projects, providing little reminders of what finishing a full-blown novel feels like. Through writing Flash Fiction, I discovered benefits I hadn’t thought of: 1. Practicing and polishing my writing skills, 2. I can draft a piece in an hour or so, so I can write a whole story whilst my kids are occupied with a movie or drawing, 3. I can write, edit, and publish a piece in a week (a great and productive gap-filler between larger projects), 4. Readers get a taste of my writing in different genres, 5. I can push my boundaries by trying different genres, characters, and settings, therefore stretching my writing muscle. And boy does Flash stretch that muscle! You’ve got such a short window to get that story across, and every single word needs to count!
I’ve challenged myself to write at least one Flash Fiction piece for publishing each month in 2020 (this is my year for big goals, after all!). I felt the need to up my count of published pieces on Amazon, and to give back to readers. At the same time, I wanted to provide an incentive for my audience to read more of what I’ve written: the hope being that if a reader enjoys a historical fiction Flash I’ve written, they might then choose to read a historical fiction short, or if they liked my contemporary Flash, they may then go on to read my novel. Essentially, my Free Flash Fiction Friday pieces are a ‘lead magnet’ of sorts, but not the main reason I write them.
So, how do I do this Flash thing?
First of all, keep in mind that Flash Fiction is like a glimpse through a window; you’re not entering the whole house, just catching a view. In other words, Flash Fic is short and to the point; you just don’t have the word count to go into depth, so must convey your idea succinctly.
I tend to follow a formula that I’ve developed through reading short stories, blog posts, and articles on short stories and flash fiction, combining what works for me into my own formula. This process is ever-evolving, and I have a base document that I plan and write from that I regularly update with new (and often simplified) ideas. On occasion, I’ve been known to ‘pants’ Flash Fiction (writing without planning first), straight from a prompt if it grabs me strongly enough.
Most of my flash fic starts from writing prompts. A prompt that’s strong enough to capture my imagination will provide an image to start from, and often a character, setting, or problem. There are so many prompts available on the internet, and I’ve collated many of my favouites into a Pinterest board (see them here). I also write prompts and add to them every week which you can see and pin for yourself here.
The following are extended explanations of the steps included in the downloadable document I’ve included in this post for your use.
Hey all you readers and writers out there,
Do you have any tips or tricks to writing great Flash Fiction? Do you want to help other writers get the best out of their 1500 words? Please comment on this post!
Better yet, pop on over to my 'contact' page and drop me a line. I'd love to include a section on this post with tips and tricks from all of you! Please include your name so I can credit you in the post!
I’m stuck, I don’t want to. Is this the end for me as a writer?
So, lockdown has killed my writing groove. What can I do to reignite the spark? If, like me, you’re feeling a bit lacklustre, less than inspired, tired, or frustrated, but you want to keep in the groove of writing without actually putting pen to paper or fingers to keys, what can we do to keep the fire burning? I find if I step back for too long, I lose the urge completely and won’t write for several months – hardly ideal when I’ve chosen to pursue writing as my career. Allowing such a gap, even in these unusual times, could spell the end, the implosion of my goals, and I’m determined not to let that happen.
After a spell of musing, I’ve come up with plenty of activities you and I can get on with to support our writing and authorship without feeling forced. In fact, this is a great time to concentrate on growing your knowledge and expertise of your craft, and to do small things now to get ahead. I’ve put together a list of ideas (feel free to add yours in the comments) that are sure to spark interest, some of which may surprise you. I’m sure there’s something here to keep your passion alive.
Taking a break is important, but stopping completely could be detrimental. It’s possible to take a writing holiday without losing touch by shifting focus for a bit."
A change is as good as a holiday, even if you’re stuck at home.
At this unsettled time, keeping your mind focused on the singular task of writing may be a challenge, but there are plenty of tasks you can apply yourself to that will support you as a writer, and help you get prepared for when you’re ready to tackle the manuscript again.
My (small and gentle) goals during this time are to:
I've really only set goals for this time so I can ensure I do a bit of each. It's totally up to you if you want to work this way.
Here are some ideas to support each goal:
1. Immerse in story…
2. Grow meaningful social media…
3. Learn your craft…
4. Prepare for the future…
These ideas are just the beginning. I’ve caught a few other blog posts out there with more, so hunt them out if you haven’t found something that takes your fancy on mine.
Do take a rest if you need it. We can’t be totally enthralled with what we do all the time, but we can maintain forward motion. Even when we’re feeling lost or completely anti, there are small actions we can take to get through the hard spots. There’s inspiration to be found in the work of others, and through other mediums. Every little step you take now will help you get through and come out the other side in a better position to restart your writing passion.
In the meantime, stay safe, wash your hands, take those little steps.
P.S. Do you have ideas that others might find useful? Please add them to the comments to help your fellow authors through.
Building an author platform isn’t as scary as you might think…
Starting out back in 2018 I had no clue of what an Author Platform was. None. I had accounts on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram, and was keen to get my book out into the world, but had a sticking point: it’s scary. To start, following complete strangers on the internet goes against the grain of inviting strangers into our lives, and as for direct messages, well you never know what’s going to pop up in there! To be frank, it scared me, but I had no idea how important a social media following is for an independently published author or for a newbie looking to get a foot in the traditionally published door! I needed direction, so, like for most things I have no idea about, I decided to do some research.
During research into publishing I came across the term ‘platform.’ Having not long built a house, all I could imagine was bare earth all smoothed out and ready to build on, and this image actually isn’t far from the truth. Your platform is the foundation of followers, fellow writers and creatives, friends, viewers…anyone who could be considered a potential reader. It pays not to be a hermit (that’s a bit tough! I hear you introverts cry), but it’s a fact of publication that having a followership really helps. I utterly get the reluctance to venture into the public world with your book baby, or to create a public image of yourself, I’ve been there! I’d not long come through a period of depression when I decided to go the whole hog with my writing. I was in a space of wanting to hide, I mean, why would anyone want to know about me? Why would they care about my stories? How would they even see my one tiny text in a gigantic world library of books? Well, at the start they didn’t, and that’s the point of starting early.
Deciding on how you want to portray yourself can take some time, and so does building the confidence to take that step into the public domain in your newly claimed role. I’ve done it all in little caterpillar steps (to date, two years), and as time has gone on I’ve built myself a platform. I started with family and Facebook friends. I researched platforms and social media (you can find the blogs etc. I used on my Pinterest board here… [insert link]), I created accounts, and I waited, and very little happened. What was I doing wrong? Read on to find out.
Where on earth do I start and why?
The biggest mistake I made in the beginning with social media, was assuming that people would come to me.
I still consider myself a newbie at platform building, and for me it’s been two years of mostly research, trial, and error. I’ll tell you that it takes time and a certain amount of guts (or just close your eyes and go for it, like me) to start making those connections. But the sooner you start, the better, and almost every author I’ve come across will tell you to start before you publish. That felt wrong to me, and so I waited. I didn’t have anything to share, did I? Actually, I did, and so do you. Had I joined the #writingcommunity on Twitter sooner, I could have tapped into a wealth of experience in planning and writing books. There are literally thousands of authors out there who are willing to share their expertise. I could have asked about publishing, advertising, how to beat writer’s block, or what the heck a platform was in the first place! So, I’ll tell you now, it’s never too early to begin, and baby steps are better than no steps.
The one secret I’ve got that can really help you isn’t such a secret really: if you want people to find you, you’ve got to get out there and amongst it by following others. You’ll find that many people you follow, particularly on Twitter and Instagram, will follow you back, and add you to their #writerslift (a way of sharing people to follow), and then you’ve got your foot in the door! Hooray!
But what social media apps should we as writers/creatives be using? How many? What should I post? There’s no easy answer there, sorry, it’s up to you. All I can do is share what I use, and urge you to have fun with it!
I use four main apps – Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. I’ve listed them in the order I find them most beneficial to me as a writer and I’ll tell you why below.
Pinterest – ultimately a search engine with effective methods for saving what you find. Once you’ve joined (I thoroughly recommend choosing the free business account), start pinning. Begin by pinning other people’s pins that you like. I started with ‘how to’ type stuff, searching, ‘how to write a novel.’ Once you’ve saved a bunch of other people’s pins, you can begin creating your own. The bonus of Pinterest is that you can create boards (like a file folder) with any title you like, and you can divide these boards into sections with their own headings (like divider inserts). I have created title images for each kind of board I have – business boards (for how to build your author empire), reading boards (with inspiration boards for each of my stories), and writing boards (educational tools for myself and other writers to use). I also have a few private boards that are visible to me only. One of these is for saving pins I haven’t gotten around to reading yet. If I like them after reading, I’ll shift them into one of my public boards. I also start new story inspiration boards as secret boards and only make them public when I’m ready. Pinterest helps with my learning, sharing, and marketing of my work, and the business account gives you access to analytics (I can find out how many impressions my pins have made, how many saves, and how many link clicks pins have generated, which of my boards are most popular, and so much more!).
To see how my Pinterest account can help you on your journey to a writing career, click here:
Twitter – it’s all about the interaction. I was terrified of joining twitter in the beginning and saved it until last (silly me!). The potential audience is massive, and I didn’t know what I could possibly have to say that anyone would want to interact with. It’s daunting in the beginning, but if all you do to start is follow a few people (hint, use the hashtag #writingcommunity or #amwriting), you’ll be able to look at what others are posting, and who knows, you might have an answer to someone’s question, or you might ask one of your own. You’ll start getting followers quickly, and you can follow them back (but you don’t have to if you don’t like the look of their bio/account). The key to building your platform on Twitter is to follow people, and participate. Use the above hashtags, and jump on #followfriday and #writerslift tweets so people can follow you. Interact, ask questions, or try setting up a poll. Don’t be freaked out by people with enormous follower numbers – pretty soon you’ll be up there amongst them and wonder what you were afraid of! They’re just normal people too, though they seem like Twitter gods to begin with! Twitter is my newest app, but my fastest growing, and most interactive, and I wish I’d gone for it sooner!
Instagram – is an image sharing platform. There are literally millions of images shared here each day. I use it to share visuals of my work, but also to share snapshots of my life. I started on a private account, but converted to a free business account when I turned my focus to writing. With a business account you get free analytics, and down the track you’ll find these really useful. My viewers get to see a bit of my personality, what I get up to, what I like, and how I live. I don’t have a visually stunning account like some of the pros out there, but I’m learning and evolving all the time. The key to getting noticed on Instagram is to use the right hashtags, for instance #authorlife, or #amwriting.
My Instagram following has been slow but steady to build. My top tips are a catchy bio that has a bit of your personality in it, and images that give a sense of you and your interests. I try to give equally of myself and my work. It’s never advisable to ‘sell, sell, sell.’ People will get annoyed/bored and unfollow you. Another great feature of Instagram is that (once you’ve linked your accounts) you can share straight from your Instagram account to Facebook and Twitter with a couple of clicks.
Facebook – it’s where most people start because we’ve been using it for so long to interact with family and friends. The trick, when you go public, is to create a business page. I’ll be honest right now and tell you that Facebook, whilst I thought it was golden in the beginning, has been my hardest platform to grow, and compared to the platforms I mentioned earlier, it’s a bit of a let-down. Sure you can get some great page views through advertising, but it for me, it hasn’t led so much to anything useful. And be careful with advertising. I put a bit of cash into advertising early on. It got my page plenty of single views, and sold a few copies, but ultimately I haven’t made that cash back yet (not from Facebook interaction anyway). You might have more luck than me, or better yet, do your research to make it work for you.
Beyond my ‘big four’ above, I also have connections in other places:
a website, which is my gathering page for everything – all roads lead to it, and I redirect to other places from there. I’ll blog more on websites in the future.
I have a Goodreads author page but am still working out how to make it work for me.
Potentially the most useful of my author pages as an independently published author is my Amazon Author Page. This is where your face and bio pop up with your works in one place, so it’s important.
There are plenty of ‘how to’ blogs out there with step by step instructions to setting up accounts on any of the afore-mentioned apps. All instructions to accounts I have can be found here – to be clear, these are bloggers I’ve used and collected into one easy place, not my own. You can use them too by clicking here:
I’ll give you my three top tips for Social Media here now (more to follow in my Quick Tips coming soon):
DON’T sign up for everything out there – you’ll spread yourself too thin and won’t have time left for writing! Start small and add things in as you go. Stick to two or three and work your way up from there, otherwise you’ll be spending all your time on social media instead of creating!
DO write a bio on each platform. I, and many others, won’t follow you without a clue as to who you are. It’s way too easy to scroll over you. Even ‘writer,’ or ‘#writingcommunity,’ is better than nothing! The idea is to lead us to your account so we can follow you.
DO treat direct messages with caution, in both opening them, and sending them. Seriously, you’ll be surprised what some people think is acceptable to fling at you without invitation (including unmentionable images of body parts, spammy advertising, and ‘if you’d like to increase your follower numbers…’). Likewise, nobody likes the incessant message box spammer that pings you daily with ‘buy my book.’ Just don’t do it. I know it can be tempting when you’ve got a new book and you’re just beginning to build your following, but JUST DON’T. Save it for your public feed unless someone messages to ask you for more information. I don’t even have an automated ‘thanks for the follow,’ because it annoys me to receive them. I’d rather drop a gif or quick thanks on someone’s main feed. My general way of dealing with my direct message inbox is to ignore it, so please don’t be offended if I don’t answer you there. I find it more trouble than it’s worth.
Has this blog helped you? Do you feel more confident in putting yourself out there for having read this post? Do you have questions about platform building on social media? Let me know in the comments section!
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,
Hi, I'm Emily,