New habits – It’s all about consistency

It’s hard to believe that we are almost halfway through January, and only a couple of weeks away from the boys going back to school. While Simon has been working long hours, I’ve fortunately been able to work flexibly and the boys and I have been taking things very slowly.

This has meant that most days, I’ve been able to focus on my 30-minute goals of writing, reading, moving and learning. In the first 13 days of the year, there have only been two days that I haven’t written. Given that becoming more consistent with my writing was the reason I initially decided to set these goals, I’m pretty happy.

Three of those writing sessions were spent working on blog posts, and one was writing notes and chapter outlines for my book (after a night of poor sleep thanks to ALL the ideas wanting to come out) but otherwise I have added more words and more depth to my current book. One of those sessions ended up being over an hour and I added 1500 words and took the plot in what I believe is a really strong direction. I learned that once I get into a writing groove, I really need to write every day otherwise I’m likely to be kept awake with ideas. It’s obviously much easier to pick up the thread of the story if I’m writing every day.

The other goal that I met most days was reading. Given we are in holiday mode, and it’s been too hot to do too much, it’s probably not surprising that I have only missed reading on one day. I’ve finished 2 novels and a short non-fiction – the fabulous Failed It!: How to turn mistakes into ideas and other advice for successfully screwing up. I’m two-thirds of the way through another book (Suitcase of Dreams by Tania Blanchard) which I have been looking forward since I read her debut novel The Girl from Munich in late 2017.

I also started listening to The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper yesterday on my morning walk. I put the call out for recommendations of ‘page turner’ audio books that would entice me to get out of bed for a walk – and walk longer. This was definitely a good one to start with, although given the heatwave forecast this week, hearing about bushfires and arsonists is probably not a great idea.

As I said in my post last week, 30 minutes of reading was almost a ‘free kick’ because in the last few years at least, I have been reading a lot, it meant that I didn’t forgo my reading just to meet my other goals. Last year I read 52 books. They were mainly commercial fiction with the odd literary work thrown in, but I decided that life was too short (and my to be read pile too tall) to trudge through books I wasn’t enjoying, just because they were award winners. I read quite a few books by authors who write the sort of novels I am trying to write –with dual historical timelines and with lots of family secrets and dramas. I’ll include a list of my favourite books of 2018 and some of the books on my list for 2019, below. and you can also follow me on Goodreads to see what I’m reading.

I had really hoped that my movement goal would work well, but late nights (reading or playing the new family favourite board game – Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle), hot weather and seven days of swimming lessons for the boys made that a bit tricker. I have done three parkruns (including on New Year’s Day) which I am excited about as I do have a goal to get quicker and run the whole 5km. A few of those sessions have been walks with the boys and even with the heat, I think we’ll do more walks together now they have been introduced to geocaching. Our Crossfit benchmark this month includes deadlifts which is my favourite lift and double-unders (skipping) which I can’t do but I’m excited to practice. The heatwave this week does mean I’ll need to be disciplined about getting up early and getting my workout done.

Sunday morning walk in the sunshine

I thought having a learning goal would be good but it has been the hardest to fulfil, in part because trying to listen to training videos when the boys are around has been hard. The only positive I will take from this is that I have been looking for learning opportunities each day which is a good mindset shift.

Keeping a record each day on the monthly page of my planner has been good, and I have made a point of leaving the things I don’t do blank, rather than making a cross because I want to focus on what I have done rather than what I haven’t done. Having an achievable, measurable, timed goal each day feels like a good way to cement some good habits, so I’ll definitely continue for the rest of month. I haven’t decided on my goals for February, but I may well continue to focus on these four things until they become a part of my daily routine.

We’re off to join some friends at a local caravan park and water park tonight (a local mini-break is better than nothing) and we’ll be trying to keep cool.

I’ll be back here on Thursday to share some of my favourite books about Hanoi and Vietnam.

I’d love to hear how you are going with your writing goals for 2019.

What’s on your reading wish list for the year ahead?

 

My top reads of 2018 (in no particular order)

The Sister’s Song – Louise Allan

The Passengers – Eleanor Limprecht

The Opal Dragonfly – Julian Leatherdale

Three Gold Coins – Josephine Moon

The Paris Seamstress – Natasha Lester

The Jade Lily – Kirsty Manning

The Greater Good – Tim Ayliffe

The Last of the Bonegilla Girls – Victoria Purman

Anatomy of a Scandal – Sarah Vaughan

The Peacock Summer – Hannah Richell

Boy Swallows Universe – Trent Dalton

The Lost Peal – Emily Madden

Tilly Maguire and the Royal Wedding Mess – Emma Grey

The Lost Man – Jane Harper

My top non-fiction for 2018

A Certain Light – Cynthia Banham

Any Ordinary Day – Leigh Sales

One Hundred Years of Dirt – Rick Morton

And a couple of great audio books

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis -J.D Vance

Reckoning – Magda Szubanski

Bridge Burning and other hobbies – Kitty Flanagan

On my to be read pile for 2019

Unfettered and Alive – Anne Summers

Essentialism – Greg McKeown

Boys will be boys – Clementine Ford

Cedar Valley – Holly Throsby

Becoming – Michelle Obama

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New writing habits for 2019

This year I have decided not to get caught up in making any big resolutions. I am excited about 2019 but I know that resolutions and year-long plans are not the solution for me.

2018 was a frustrating year, to say the least. I didn’t make the progress I would have liked to in my writing and as a family, I felt like we were all on a treadmill of busy. The end of the year threw us some curveballs, with Simon’s surgeon deciding he would need to replace the prosthetic bone that had been fitted in March 2016 when a cancerous tumour was removed, and in November Simon’s Mum died after a long illness.

Throughout December, I read so many posts about setting goals and making resolutions. I could have gone with my standard get fit and healthy, write more and be more organised but I knew that wouldn’t work, even if I made them into SMART goals. I also knew from the experience of 2018 that life changes from month to month.

In 2018, I struggled to consistently set aside time to work on my novel and my copywriting. In late October, I eventually finished the first draft of the novel I started during Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) in November 2017. The novel tells the modern-day story of a young woman moving to the Barossa. As she re-creates a new life for her and her daughters, she uncovers her Aunt’s life story and the family’s history. It is now ‘sitting’ quietly and when I am ready, I’ll print all 90,000 words and start working on a second draft. The story definitely needs more fleshing out and I have a lot of historical research to do, but I am really happy with my first attempt at a first draft. If I can take anything out of 2018, it is the fact I now believe that I can write a book. I started a second book, based in Hanoi, in Nanowrimo 2018.

As I was being bombarded with posts about New Year’s Resolutions, I was trying to find the motivation to return to my writing.  I had lost both the enthusiasm and interest to write – and yet there was so much I wanted to work on – blog posts, my novel, and building up my copywriting work.

I put the call out in a few writing groups asking whether people preferred a word goal or a time goal. There were many different approaches and when I explained the reason behind my writing slump, I was surprised by how many people suggested I should just take it easy and perhaps let my writing go for a while. While there was no clear-cut solution to breaking my writing drought, the suggestions and the encouragement had just the right effect and I found myself deciding to go with a time goal of a 30 minutes a day of writing. I started then and there and ended up adding 800 words to my novel.

As New Year’s Day arrived and I started the year with a 5km parkrun, I decided to set a fitness goal for the month. Moving 30 minutes every day. And because I like a list, I decided that I should complement my 30 minutes of writing and moving with 30 minutes each of learning and reading. Two hours a day to start making some small steps towards some big goals. It is probably no surprise that reading for 30 minutes a day is almost a given but by adding it to my goals, I’m not feeling guilty about taking the time out to do it.

The learning goal was something I decided to add when I looked at how many courses I had signed up to during 2018 and not completed. Writing them all down was a bit daunting and I wasn’t sure where to start. There were courses on copywriting, SEO (search engine optimisation) and feature writing that I knew I needed to work through to progress my copywriting and fiction writing and so far, dedicating 30 minutes a day to learning something new has felt good.

But a plan on its own doesn’t mean much and even recording it in my gorgeous Emma Kate Co planner isn’t going to help. As Timehop reminded me this week, I also started 2018 with the goal of writing and moving for 30 minutes a day. Given I had completely forgotten about those goals, it obviously didn’t last long.

So far, the enthusiasm is still there and I’m enjoying ticking each task off my list but when this starts to wane, I’ll be calling on friends and family to keep me honest. I already have some good fitness buddies and I’ve joined Running Mums Australia for some extra encouragement to get my running back on track. My network of writing and blogging friends is growing which I know will provide both encouragement and accountability.

When all else fails, I am also looking at this as a set of goals just for January. In February, we’ll be back at work and school, so I might need to set some different goals. But for now, I am hoping that spending 30 minutes on each of those activities with make them more of a daily habit rather than a chore.

When it comes to making the most of 3.5 hours of dedicated writing time a week, I won’t just be working on my novel. Thanks to some great discussions with Emma from A Simple Living Journey, I’m planning to blog more about my novel writing process and the inspirations for these stories.

I’m looking forward to sharing more of my writing during the year and I hope you enjoy it.

Do you have any resolutions or goals for this year? What are you writing in 2019?

New year, new approach

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Beach walks in my hometown Wollongong

2017 was the year I started to write more. I started the Australian Writers Centre Make Time to Write course which I’d discovered during our visit to Vietnam in July 2016 when I decided to write a book about our time there. The 30 day boot-camp was a great kick start, and helped me add about 12,000 words to the 8000 I’d written during Nanowrimo 2016. I got back into a routine with my blog, especially when the post I wrote about a photo-shopped school photo went viral. Once I decided to wind up my consulting business, I started a 5 week online course with the Australian Writers Centre, joining the Freelance Masterclass program when I finished. I did Nanowrimo for third time and finally succeeded in writing for the whole month of November, putting down 50,000 words and making a good start on a book I’m looking at returning to in 2018.

But as I focused on my writing, my fitness went downhill and as we emerged from the long winter, I could no longer ignore that too much chocolate and wine as rewards for writing had resulted in me feeling unfit, fat and unmotivated. I needed to commit to moving every day – even if just for a 30 minute walk.

So while the idea of making New Year’s resolutions doesn’t really appeal to me, I decided that commiting to 30 minutes of exercise – alongside 30 minutes of writing every day seemed like a reasonable goal. I also know that its long enough to be of benefit but short enough to fit it in around everything else I need to do. I know that putting on my exercise gear or sitting down to write is half the battle. I never regret a walk or a workout and some of my best writing sessions have been when I have told myself I’ll just write for 10-15 minutes before school pick-up. Often I’ve had to leave with ideas still flowing which might once have been frustrating but I now know means I’m much more likely to be excited and inspired the next time I sit down to write.

While 30 minutes of exercise or writing in and of itself is worthwhile, I do have some goals in mind. I want to lose about 15-20 kilos (which I did 6 years ago when we were first in Hanoi) and run a half-marathon non-stop. I’d also like to conquer some fears and reach some goals in the gym. When it comes to writing, the goals are simple – get my first freelance piece published, build a successful side-career (1-2 articles a fortnight) and finish my manuscript.

In 2014 I left a career, in 2015 I started a business and wound it up in 2017. 2016 was about starting a new job and then dealing with my husband’s cancer diagnosis and recovery – and buying a house. So many big changes and challenges.

A great quote from surfer Layne Beachley at the Australian Museum’s 200 Treasures exhibition

2018 is about taking the resources and tools I already have to achieve the goals I have set. I have a couple of great writing communities including the support and advice offered through the Freelance Masterclass program. I have a great gym, trainer and community. I know how to eat well. 2018 is not about finding “shiny new things”. Instead it is about commiting – on a daily basis – to doing what I know works and applying the skills and knowledge I already have.

As a mother and wife, I know that I’ll never be able to carve out all the time I want to do “my” things. The mental load is real and the reality is, we all have the same 24 hours. Sure I’d love to not get up before 6am, but I know I need to if I want to get healthy again and have the energy I need to reach the goals I have set. I’d love a whole uninterrupted day to write, but that is probably not going to happen this year, so I just need to make the most of the snippets of time I have. Nanowrimo taught me this and I’ve also been loving Nat Newman’s messenger bot that sends me a message at an allocated time reminding me to write – which then lets me set a timer for however long I have.

The focus of this post might have been my writing and fitness but I’d remiss if I forgot to mention my reading goals. I have no doubt my enthusiasm for writing has been improved by the goal I set to read more in 2017. Using Goodreads, I set a challenge to read 25 books, that I kept increasing until it reached 40.  I read 38 books – which is probably the total of all the books I’d read in the 2-3 years previously. So this year, I’ve upped the ante and I’m aiming to read 45 books and because I like to make life “interesting”, I’ve also decided to cook at least one new recipe a week from one of my many cookbooks!

It has taken me a few years to get into the groove of part-time work, a side-gig and school pick-ups and after-school activities, I really feel like this might just be the year that it all comes together.