What would you do if free of expectations or commitments?

It might feel like a stupid question. After all, none of us is completely free of commitments.  We all have things that clamour for our attention, probably multiple times per day!

But what if you didn’t? Play pretend for a moment. Imagine you were given a free week. Not necessarily a holiday because that comes with a different set of expectations, but a week where you could play with anything you wanted to.

What would you do? Who would you spend time with? What might you create?

Now here’s the thing … as much as yes, you have commitments, if you wanted to, you could probably find a way to get rid of some of them. Delegate or just delete. Postpone for a time, or do it once more but then no more. How you make it happens will depend upon the thing in question and just how much you really don’t want to do it any more.

And it might not even be something you want to stop forever. Pausing for a time is totally valid too.

Today is my children’s last day in school for the summer so this is the last email I’ll send you until September. I’m not stopping because I don’t enjoy writing to you – I love it! I’m pausing because I have three manuscripts I’m itching to finish plus lots of family fun to undertake. Pausing the daily emails for a few weeks will make space for the latter without compromising the former.

You can do anything – but you can’t do everything.

Which leads me back to my initial question to you. What are you itching to create more of? What adventures are calling you? Where would you like to go today?

Having identified what those things are, all you need to do then is find a way to delegate, ditch or postpone some of your commitments. Easy. (And I can’t wait to hear what you get up to!)

Know someone who needs an adventure?

It’s not about the tool …

I think it’s fair to say that I’m pretty impetuous. When we go swimming, I don’t edge in gently allowing myself to get used to the cold. Nope, I’m the one who’ll jump in, feet first (I’m no diver!)

When I decide to create a new thing or offer a new service, you can bet I’ll have designed the book cover or written the sales page within twenty-four hours – maybe forty-eight if one of the children happens to get sick!

And the same is true with technology. Which is why it should come as little surprise that, having discovered the wonder of the Morning Pages iPad and iPhone app, I’m now all over it. It’s brill!

That said, I know it’s not for everyone and last week my dad and I were chatting about alternatives. He had some frustrations with the functionality (or lack of!) and was thinking about what he might use instead. Evernote, a popular choice for many people, came up in conversation.

The funny thing is, I’ve tried really hard to like Evernote. I want to make it a useful part of my routine, there’s so much about it to love, but I’m just not a fan. I can’t even tell you why, I simply never stick with it.

But here’s the conclusion my dad and I came to: It’s not about the tool itself per se. The best tool is the one you’ll use consistently to do the thing you’re trying to do.

Take Morning Pages as the perfect example. Julia Cameron, the lady who gave the name ‘Morning Pages’ to this process of an early morning brain dump in her now classic work The Artist’s Way, is adamant that Morning Pages must be written by hand.

And, logically, I understand her thinking. But if it’s a choice between Morning Pages written using a keyboard or no Morning Pages at all, the keyboard gets my vote – every time!

She cites the example of lots of her author friends who write all their first drafts by hand. Each to their own I say. Personally, I like to type directly into Scrivener because the act of pouring the words out as quickly as possible, without allowing my conscious brain to interfere, makes for a fun process and stops me getting in my own way!

But what works for me won’t necessarily work for you. You have to find your own way, trial and error.

And yes, it’s great to read around, get advice and input from the people who’ve gone before us, but at some point we have to stop reading and start doing. And do so using whatever tool or technique will easiest allow us to do so consistently.

Consistency is queen my friend. It’s never about the tool.

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For those days when you don’t wanna …

No matter how much you love what you do, there are going to be days when it feels like a slog.

I got to my desk this morning, opened Scrivener and the latest manuscript I’m playing with and my head said, “meh!” The sun is shining. Both my daughters left for separate school trips in Europe yesterday. It’s Friday. Insert whichever excuse you like, it’s just hard work!

Ever the pragmatist, knowing I wanted to write to you, I decided to put the book to one side for a few minutes to instead poke at this “I don’t wanna” to see what might come out the other side. After all, I’ve got to believe I’m not the only person on the planet who finds herself distracted from time to time.

What do you do when your brain says “meh” but your goals and commitments say “must”?

Maybe, like me, you have an automatic tendency to rebel against the “must”, even when it’s a must of your own making?

Or maybe you know yourself well enough by now to realise that if you switch to something else for a little while before coming back to it, upon your return it’ll be lovely?

Here’s what I’m starting to realise … when your brain resists it’s usually for a very good reason.

Sometimes it’ll be because the thing you’re stalling on is out of your comfort zone. Your brain, sensing imminent danger, pulls out the big guns and before you can say ‘geronimo!’ you’ve stepped away from the metaphorical cliff edge and back into the safety of ‘same old, same old’. Phew! That was a close one!

Other times your brain puts the brakes on because it hasn’t got enough information. This is where I’m at today with this book. The fiction is coming along brilliantly. Charlie’s having an absolute blast in this latest (although her poor mother is being put through the ringer this time) and I’m excited to share it with you later this summer.

Nope, it’s the non-fiction that’s causing me a few headaches, simply because it’s a new format for me. Sure, I write these little offerings every day, that’s easy, but I’ve never published long form non-fiction before and the structure is killing me! Okay, I’m being over-dramatic, but it’s definitely been a learning curve.

Other times, your brain calls for a time out, simply because it needs the space to breathe. And it’s this third option that we all too often resist and try to push through. You cannot do all of the things all of the time. It’s not healthy, it’s not fun, and it definitely doesn’t make for a joyful journey.

The trick is being honest enough with ourselves to recognise what it is our delightful brain is trying to tell us when we get that “meh” feeling.

I’d love to tell you my brain is telling me it needs to down tools and do something fun in order to rest and breathe but that would be a big, fat lie! I’m resisting because it’s a little out of my comfort zone and I need some better structure for the content. To kick back and binge watch Game of Thrones would be doing both myself and the words a disservice.

How about you? If you’ve been going at break-neck speed all week, that “meh” feeling is a reminder to slow the pace down a little, be kind to yourself, and allow space for some fun into your day. For the rest of us, it’s time to face the fear and get on with it! ?

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On the best laid plans …

“Fail to plan, plan to fail!” – Benjamin Franklin

“A goal without a plan is just a wish!” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” Winston Churchill

I could go on but I’ll spare us both! You’ve undoubtedly heard all the usual maxims about planning and sure, it’s important, kind of, but as my dad reminded me a couple of weeks ago in church “no plan survives enemy contact!”

A couple of days ago I was complaining to myself in my morning pages that the non-fiction book was pretty tough going. I decided I needed a plan. (Or a better plan than the one I had at least!) The structure of the book is based on thirty days of content so I wondered if maybe I should organise what each day would cover before I wrote any more. That sounded like a very fine and sensible plan I decided.

But then in the very next sentence I realised something. Since I’m writing one every day and editing the whole lot before publication, what’s to stop me writing what pops in my head each day and then jiggling the order around to suit the structure after all 30 are written? Surely that would be much more in keeping with my process and, since no-one would read any of it until I was done, it wouldn’t harm the reading experience.

Boom! Immediately all the pressure I’d been feeling was gone. (Well, mostly. I still have to write the darn thing – more on that tomorrow!) But by creating in a way that matched who I am, it was much easier than trying to fit it into the ‘correct’ way of doing it as prescribed by an expert.

And that’s when it struck me … This doesn’t only apply to writing a book, it totally applies to how we do life.

How often do we plan and prepare and brainstorm our way through situations when, ultimately, we simply have to go with it, recognising who we are and the way we personally operate?

We do things the very best we can, within the remit of us being us.

You and I don’t have to play this game the same way as everyone else. When it comes to playing at life, who says we can’t improvise and play the tune in our heads? After all, it’s the differences in the harmony that have the power to make really beautiful music.

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If you’re ready to quit, read this …

There’s a plant in our house which, until last year, lived in my daughter’s bedroom. It was looking a bit sad and neglected so some time last year she moved it to the dining room where everyone could be responsible for remembering to water it. Earlier this year,  I noticed “everyone” actually meant “no-one” and the poor thing was dead.

Never one to admit defeat, I moved the plant to the window sill in the kitchen. My record with house plants is fairly terrible but I decided that at least if it was in the kitchen, it was so close to the tap, it at least had a chance.

Every few days, off and on, whenever I happened to think of it, I watered this dead plant. It looked terrible. It’s leaves were brown and falling off. I didn’t hold out much hope for it and when I looked at it last week, it appeared to be little more than decayed, dried up mud. After feeling guilty for forgetting to water it (again!) I gave it more water and thought no more about it.

Until last night when I watered it again and, to my utter astonishment, I saw it had grown baby leaves …

To say I was delighted would be an understatement!

You can’t easily tell from the photo but these little shoots are tiny, the biggest ones are smaller than the fingernail on my little finger, they’re really cute.

And yes, I was happy for the plant but more than that, they’re new life, evidence that, despite appearances, things are never as over as they might appear to be.

If this plant could speak, it would probably complain about what’s happened to it. “Look what you did to all my luscious leaves. What has become of me?!? I’m ruined!”

And yes, compared to eighteen months ago, that conclusion would be correct. Compared to what it was back then, it’s nothing but compared to what it was two weeks ago, it’s a miracle!

Logically, that dead looking plant should have been thrown away weeks ago. There was no reason to keep on watering it, it was dead. There was nothing that could be done to save it. But you know what? Never say never.

Life has a way of surprising you and so today, if you’re on the brink of giving up, take this as your encouragement to give it one more day. And then maybe the day after that, and the day after that.

Sometimes giving up is the kindest thing we can do, but for everything else, there’s always one more day.

Know someone who needs some encouragement?

Are you waiting for the perfect time?

You know what I’m going to say. There is no perfect time.

If all the wannabe parents waited for the perfect time to have children for example, the world would soon cease to exist (either that or all children would be the product of one too many glasses of vino!)

If my youngest had waited for the perfect time to learn to ride his bike he’d still be sitting on the sidelines watching everyone else cycle round the school. With hindsight, the closest thing to ‘perfect’ timing was probably about three years ago but going back isn’t an option. All we have is this moment. There is no rewind button. ‘Coulda, shoulda, woulda’ isn’t going to help.

And yet, as much as I know it and you know it, how often to we find ourselves pausing (procrastinating?) because it doesn’t feel like quite the perfect time?

There’s something to be said for considered reflection of course. I’m not suggesting we rush thoughtlessly into every and any situation. It may have taken until my 40th year but even I’ve learned the beauty of pausing and thinking before reacting to circumstances (some of the time at least. I can’t promise to get it right all of the time!)

But if we’re honest with ourselves, how often do we spend time ‘reflecting’ and ‘considering’ in a bid to ward off the fear?

I do it myself, in that space of time between publishing a novel and getting stuck into the next one. I spend days, sometimes weeks, tweaking my outline, playing with character development and all manner of very important worthwhile ‘busy’ activities. And sure, that stuff is useful and needed but there comes a point where the bum has to get in the seat, no more ‘busy’.

There is no perfect time. You’re always going to have lots of other things calling for your attention. But all you have is this moment. What are you going to do with it?

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Asking isn’t the scary bit …

Asking, it goes without saying that it’s a good idea. We might resist it until we’re really desperate, simply because it’s mildly terrifying to put yourself out there, but eventually there comes a time when all of us learn, first hand, the power of the ask.

You’ve probably got examples of times when you asked something of someone and the results were terrific. Whether it was a simple little ask, like the time you asked a member of your family to do something for you, or something bigger, like that really cool gig you didn’t expect to get but put yourself forward for, just in case.

We know good stuff comes from asking but still we resist it. I got to thinking about what it is we’re actually afraid of. Is it the fear of rejection or the idea of making ourselves vulnerable? By asking for help we’re proving to the askee that we’re not wonder woman and cannot in fact do all of the things unaided.

Or maybe we’re afraid of what might happen if they say “yes”?

I was forced to confront this head on this week when a friend replied to one of these emails to tell me how much it had helped, and that she’d forwarded it on to several friends.

Brilliant! I have a special page for this very purpose. Having stepped away from social media for the near foreseeable future, such sharing is exactly what I could have asked for – and I didn’t even have to ask!

“But what if they don’t like me as much as she does? What if they think my words are silly and trite? What if, what it, what if?!?”

Actually no, that’s not what I’m really afraid of. Those are superficial vanity fears. Here’s what it really comes down to …

What if they read the email, say ‘yes’ to signing up for it for themselves, love it, tell all their friends who tell all their friends, and suddenly, without warning, this little daily missive goes out to hundreds and hundreds of people?!?

But that would be brilliant, wouldn’t it? Well yes, but …

And in that “but” lies the real reason asking is terrifying.

That “but” masks the myriad of sub-conscious doubts and fears, about who I am as a person and what it would really be like to have a message that impacted thousands of people each day. I’d love it but …

And I know I can’t be alone. Whatever the ask is for you personally, what will happen when someone says yes? And what’s your “but”?

Find your “but”, force yourself to confront it head on, and immediately it starts to lose its power. Magic!

P.S. In the interest of facing that “but” head on, if you know someone who needs these daily missives, would you introduce us please? And yes, you can even use the snazzy special page! ?  Thank you! ?

What if the game really is won or lost in your head?

If you’re sat there thinking, “Well duh! Of course the game’s all in our heads” then you’re about where I was about two hours ago. But there’s a difference between knowing something, logically, and it actually impacting us at a deeper level. Sometimes the distance between heart and head is huge!

Bit of context: I watched a video this morning of a group of people jumping (or trying to jump!) off a ten metre diving tower. At a little over fifteen minutes, it was longer than your standard YouTube offering but uttering compelling.

One of my favourite bits was when one lady decided she couldn’t do it and started climbing back down the tower, only to change her mind and jump.

Then there was the friend who climbed back up the tower after jumping to encourage his friend who was struggling. You need to watch it for yourself really (yes, that’s the link to click to do so!) but there was something fascinating about how quickly the scared friend started resenting the one who had already jumped.

It was like watching little snippets of human nature play out in front of your eyes.

But it reminded me that this game really is won or lost in our heads.

What if you didn’t doubt yourself? What if you knew that that thing you’re considering jumping into couldn’t fail? What if it wasn’t too late or you weren’t too old or too, whatever excuse your brain keeps whispering to try and keep you safe?

What might that look like?

Know someone who needs to hear this?

The fifteen minute play thing that’ll unlock your best ideas …

When it comes to tech, I tend to think of myself as an early adopter. I had my first iPhone nearly a decade ago, before it became the norm for high school students up and down the land, our first DVD player cost at least ten times more than a basic model today (and it worked fractionally worse too!) and I’m eagerly awaiting the “paper tablet” from reMarkable. (Mine’s due to land late August. I cannot wait!)

But I realised this week that I can also be incredibly slow!

Because this week, for the first time ever, I started writing ‘morning pages’. (Okay, the very first one was ‘afternoon pages’ but eh, details!) You’ve probably come across this before but, just in case not, the idea is to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys if you prefer. The die hard fans might suggest otherwise but I’m more of the ‘whatever method means you’ll actually do it’ kind of girl) ideally first thing in the morning before you start your day proper, and just write whatever comes to mind. No editing, no censoring – and no need to show it to anyone else.

And that last bit was why it took me until now to play with this.

The idea of putting words on a page that would never see light of day sounded totally crazy to me. Why would I waste even just fifteen minutes every day writing something that I’ll never use?!? That’s madness! On a good day I can write half a chapter in fifteen minutes. Repeat that process every day  for a year and that’s one hundred and eighty two chapters gone to waste. That’s nearly three full novels! See? Total lunacy!

Total lunacy yes, until I actually tried it.

In just three days and a little over 1500 words I’ve somehow found myself having problems I didn’t even know were properly bugging me. I was vaguely aware of them yes, niggles and itches, but that was all. Better than that, contained within those 1500 words are some solutions. Sweet!

I still need to take those half-formed solutions and play with them a little, yes there’s work to be done, but the sense of clarity and enthusiasm is crazy. (Good crazy!)

And so I wanted to take a moment today to encourage you to consider those things you might have, until now, rejected or discounted as not being right for you.

(And yes, if you, like me, thought ‘morning pages’ was a total waste of time, a self-indulgent practice for people with too much time on their hands maybe, I’d challenge you to face that head on by giving it a try for a week.)

You might be right in your initial assessment but you might find yourself stunned by the difference and wondering why you never tried it before. But here’s the thing – you won’t know unless you try! ?

Know someone who needs this?

What if we embraced the itch?

I don’t know if it’s simply because of a change in the weather, with the promise of summer serving as a physical reminder of the pace at which 2017 is running, or just because life’s feeling pretty steady so my brain decides it’s time for a shake up to keep things interesting, but I’m starting to get that itch.

Maybe you’ve felt it too? That niggle you get from time to time, calling you to take a look at what you’re doing on this planet and if it’s everything you hoped it would be. And it feels a bit like picking at a scab – you know you really shouldn’t but you just can’t help yourself.

What if we changed the dialogue around that niggle?

What if, instead of seeing it as something to be wary of, a flaw in our makeup, proof that we simply can’t stick to one single thing, what if we embraced the itch?

It’s a bit of a running joke between me and some of my closest friends. Spirally spiral we call it. (I don’t keep a running calendar of how often it happens but a quick search tells me May , June and October last year were all spiral months! That I’ve gone a whole nine months before getting niggly again must count as something of a record! ? )

What if, instead of beating ourselves up, we took the itch as our cue to spend some time reflecting on where we are and where we want to be?

If you’re a list maker, you might like to start by listing out all the things you’re delighted with in your day to day life right now. What things are you already doing every day or most days that light you up, help you feel at peace with the world, feel like they’re exactly what you’d like more of?

On the other side of the page (and this is the fun bit!) list out any things in your day to day life that you’re ready to do less (or none!) of.

(And in case you like printables, I’ve made you a handy dandy little PDF. Print it out or, if you prefer playing with these things on your computer, you’ll see I’ve made it editable so you can type and save it directly on your machine. Click here to download it.)

The first time I tried this I was surprised by how much longer the left hand column was.

Left unchecked, my itch had me believing that everything in my life right now was directly at odds with how I wanted it to be. In my head it was all about the things I didn’t want to do any more and I was miles away from doing the work that lights me up.

The reality is yes, there are things I want to bring more of into the world, there’s an impact I want to make that I’m not making yet, a message to share that’s not being spoken, but it’s definitely not all doom and gloom and certainly nothing that a few tweaks wouldn’t fix!

And maybe that’s true for you too. If so, great! ?

But even if the list on the right is huge and there’s what feels like a massive chasm between where you are and where you want to be, getting clear on paper what that looks like is the very first step towards making a change. (And yes, you really do need to write it down. Doing it in your head does not count – just in case you were wondering! ? )

Are you ready? Great! Choose ten minutes when you can play with this uninterrupted and see what comes up.

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