To Still a Busy Mind

I was either going to crash and burn and that was not going to be pretty or I was going to pull back and find a better way to live my life. As you will be aware if you have read my earlier blogs on meditation this was something I wanted to do but had yet to perfect how to do it.

Taking lessons from my less than stellar beginning, I decided the sofa in the sitting room would be a better location. I also decided twenty minutes of guided meditation first thing in the morning while the tea was brewing would be a good starting point for the day.

Dandelion
Dandelion by Coen Dijkman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/3GXXg2 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

I also found a better guided meditation. There are hundreds to choose from. It is all a question of what suits you best. I found some talked too much – it is hard to concentrate on your breathing and still your mind when you have someone yabbering away incessantly in your ear. It is also crucial to find a voice that does not get on your nerves – hard to relax if the way they speak is grating on you. All this takes a little experimentation. Eventually I found the perfect meditation for me. A soothing voice, helpful instructions and crucially long periods of quiet when nothing is said at all. Perfect.

Bubbles
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For two weeks I began my day with the same guided meditation session. Did I notice a difference? I had been prepared for a slow burn, signs of improvement but gradually probably over weeks if not months. The change, however, was much more immediate than that. I began sleeping right through the night, every night – not waking up at 2.00 a.m. and struggling to get back to sleep, my mind teeming. Because I was sleeping better, I was also waking up better, refreshed and ready to get up instead of clinging to the duvet. I also noticed that I was so chilled after my morning session that I went about my routine without any stress or rushing about. I lost the habit of checking the clock and yet when I was ready to leave the house and I did glance at the clock I was early. Life seemed so much easier than it had before.

calm
Calm by Ana Sofia Guerreirinho courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/fcVB51 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Like any new habit you need to stick with it long enough that it becomes second nature. That is my next challenge but when the benefits have been so positive, it’s a challenge worth taking on.

If you are any doubt whether meditation is for you give it a go but make sure you give it a go over a long enough period that you have chance to experience the benefits. Twenty minutes a day for two weeks was ideal for me and even the busiest of us can squeeze in an extra twenty minutes can’t we?

 

Procrastination – to do it or not to do it?

I bet you’re like me, there are jobs to be done, there is even time to do them in and yet somehow they always slip down the list of priorities and languish at the bottom while new, more exciting tasks sail in ahead of them.

procastinator
Procrastination by Rachel Fisher courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/9bwvsv https://goo.gl/OOAQfn

I am a procrastinator. I don’t want to be. I’d like to train myself not to be but it is a difficult path to tread as the habit is a long held one and tough to break.

The really annoying thing about being a procrastinator is the fact that the whole time I am steadfastly ignoring the tasks I can never really succeed in forgetting about them. They are always there, catching my attention and reminding me of my inability to get jobs done. A constant, low level, niggle at the back of my mind. So, procrastinating does not make me feel better. It actually makes me feel worse. And yet, I still do it!

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Procrastinators Unite by Andreas Gohr courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/5Zjyu7 https://goo.gl/OOAQfn

Of equal annoyance is the fact that when, finally, I do get around to dealing with the things I have been putting off, most of the time I find they are not that time consuming, nor difficult nor troublesome which leaves me wondering why it was such a struggle for me to get on with them in the first place. And oh the blessed relief I feel when I can tick that irksome job off my stuff to do list. Now that is a good feeling.

We all live such busy lives. We are all overburdened with duties and chores. It’s all too easy to eschew the boring and routine and concentrate instead on the more interesting aspects of our lives but unless we’re wealthy enough to employ others to do our bidding, we are all going to have to tackle those dull tasks some time.

I am going to try to make a concerted effort not to put things off for any longer than absolutely necessary. I am going to start small and work up to the big stuff. I am determined this is the year I am going to GET STUFF DONE. Wish me luck. I will try to let you know how I get on – assuming I get around to writing that particular blog, of course 😉

finish-line
Finish Line by Sean MacEntee courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/82V5JK https://goo.gl/sZ7V7x

 

Never Over Promise

It’s been a funny old year so far what with Brexit and the election in the US of Donald J. Trump. Brexit and Trump both tapped into an electorate that was feeling unappreciated by the status quo and rode similar waves of populism to success but what now?

Now they have to live up to the expectations they have set. Only time will tell if the Brexiteers and Trump can actually deliver to the satisfaction of their supporters.

So far as the rest of us are concerned, there are lessons we can all take from this. The crucial one being you should never over promise in life whether that be to your family, your friends, your boss or your work colleagues. It is all too easy to get caught up in the moment and promise the earth but people who consistently fail to deliver on their promises get an unenviable reputation.

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Promises by Christian Ditaputretama courtesy of Flick Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

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However well meaning your intentions were, however genuine your plans to deliver, you don’t want to be that person who lets everyone down on a regular basis.

hope-for-the-best
Promise? by Carmella Fernando courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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We all fail occasionally and that’s fine – no one is perfect but for some people over promising and under delivering is a way of life. Often these are people who just want to please others. The irony is when they cannot follow a promise through it is much worse than if they had never promised in the first place.

Far better to scale back and not over commit. If the things you have promised to do are more modest you will have a far better chance to follow those promises through and actually deliver.

present
Present Original by Wendy Cope courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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No one wants to be known as a person who lets others down. Better to be known as a person who keeps their word and get things done, don’t you think?

 

Refill the well

So here’s the thing, I’m an introvert. You may be one as well. Chances are if you’re not you are probably sitting near one right now. There are a lot of us about. More than you think, probably because a lot of the time we hide our introverted natures behind a carefully constructed extroverted mask.

Mask2
Mask by Muffinn courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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Why do we feel the need to do that? Probably because we fear judgment. We fear being singled out as being a bit odd. You want to leave the party early and be home in your jim jams on the sofa? Why, are you sick? No, I’m an introvert and I need a break from all these people. Okay?

Quiet time
How not to manage an introvert? By Nguyen Hung Vu courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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Being introverted is a bit like being a geek (and there are a lot of those out there too!). We’re a source of wry amusement to those who think and feel differently.

I happen to believe being a geek is cool and so it being an introvert. I have accepted that if I am going to be going to a social event, even one I am looking forward to, I am going to find it draining and I am going to need some serious down time afterwards to refill the well. I have learnt the hard way that scheduling too many social commitments in too short a time period is going to lead to last minute cancellations on my part (which is something I hate doing) or exhaustion.

I can be as bright and bubbly in company as the next person if my energy levels are up. If not, forget it. So, over the years I have learned to pace myself. Whenever I take on a social engagement I always weigh up how long I’m going to be there for and schedule down time immediately afterwards and perhaps even the next day too if the social event is lengthy and particularly taxing.

Introverts
Introverts by Seaternity courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

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Extroverts will struggle to understand this. Extroverts thrive off the social interaction. To them attending party after party is like plugging themselves into the grid and firing up. With introverts it is the polar opposite. Situations that fire up the extroverts will nine times out of ten drain the introverts.

If you are, like me, an introvert then embrace it. Don’ try to be something you are not. Trying to keep up with the extroverts in your life will not end well. Trust me, I know!

Listen to your body and if you need to refill the well then do so – without apology. We all love time in our PJs on the sofa watching bad TV or in solitude reading a good book. As introverts we just need more of it, that’s all.

Introvets unitejpg
Introverts unite by Joe Wolf courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

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The cover of The Flower Seller is taking part in Author Shout’s Cover Wars during the week of 24th July 2016 – 30th July 2016. If you like the cover I would be thrilled if you would show your support by voting for it. To vote you need to click on the link below, click to like the Author Shout facebook page, tweet, or link through Google+   You can vote once every 24 hours. Thank you!

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The Flower Seller Cover and Blurb
Have love and loyalty gone out of fashion? The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes available from Amazon now https://goo.gl/KFi7kw

 

Don’t fence yourself in

Fence
Fence by Arnel courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

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Bravery takes a lot of forms. To step up and put yourself forward to do something for your local community is brave, to defend someone who is being bullied when they are too beaten down to defend themselves is brave, to return to the hospital for your next bout of chemo even though you know you are going to spend the next twenty-four hours being sick is brave.

Some bravery is obvious to anyone looking on. Most bravery, however, is a subtle, very personal thing. The person silently coping with depression, the person moving slowly through the grieving process for someone dear to them, the single person battling loneliness. Getting up to face another day is an act of bravery for people like this, a supreme effort where the only satisfaction comes from challenging themselves and not giving in.

I try
I try I fail I never give up by Julie Jordan Scott courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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We all have different boundaries. What may seem easy to one person could be a mountain to climb for another. A while ago I was listening to a drive time show on my home. They had been running a call in for people to ring in with stories of a ‘first’ that they wished to achieve. The idea being the show would run a follow up in a couple of weeks’ time to see how they had all got on. There was one story that captured my attention.

A quietly spoken man rang in (an act of bravery in itself). I cannot recall now if he had been suffering from agoraphobia (a fear of open spaces) or something similar but the first he wished to achieve was catching the bus from the end of his road, riding the bus to his nearby town, getting off the bus and going to a café for a cup of tea and then making the journey home again.

There was something about his softly spoken but determined manner that made you listen. He told us how he had been practicing by walking up to the bus stop and then going home again, how he had studied the bus route so he would know which stop to get off at, how he had been rehearsing ordering his tea at the café. He then admitted the trip was something he had been trying to do for a while now and had always failed often getting to the bus stop but simply being unable to bring himself to board the bus.

But he had decided he couldn’t continue like this and needed to challenge his fears and by publicly declaring his intention it was almost a dare to himself. His story moved me and I thought about him often in the intervening two weeks, wondering how he was getting on. I pictured him clutching his timetable nervously, counting out his change to the driver, alighting at the café (or so I hoped).

Keep trying
Keep trying by Damian Gadal courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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I eagerly awaited an update. The radio show ran the follow up piece and covered many of the other ‘firsts’ but there was no mention of the man undertaking the bus journey. ‘Oh no!’ I thought ‘He’s failed to do it. How devastating for him.’ But I was wrong. Such had been the overwhelming interest in the man’s story, so many hearts had he touched with his modest tale, that they were giving him his own follow up slot the next day.

I tuned in and the man slowly began to recount what, for him, had been a momentous journey. He described his nervousness on the walk to the bus stop, his anxiety that the bus wouldn’t turn up or if it did he would not be able to summon up the courage to board it (as had happened so many times before). As a listener I lived and breathed every part of that journey with him. When he made it to the café and ordered his tea I was punching the air in triumph for him and when he laughed and said it was the best cup of tea he had ever drunk I had tears in my eyes.

Success
Fireworks by Jdmoar courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by Public Domain Mark 1.0

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It was a simple tale of one man’s struggle, one man’s sheer determination to overcome a barrier to him living the kind of life he wanted to lead but it touched a nerve with a lot of other people. He joked that his next goal was to go away on holiday. I hope he achieved that aim. I like to think he did.

There are enough boundaries put on our lives by circumstance, social convention or lifestyle. It’s so important that wherever possible we don’t let fear hold us back or fence us in. We mustn’t settle. We must be like that man on the bus and take our courage in our hands and be brave. He was glad he did it and we will be too.

Broken fencejpg
Trail view with broken fence by Buddha Dog courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

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The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes is available from Amazon now http://goo.gl/g4L7oY

9780993446306
The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes

 

 

Writing with the handbrake off

Editing a rough draft is a skill that is learned over time, knowing how much to add, what to take away, what to work on so that each scene begins to sing. Trial and error are a writer’s constant companions and that is why writers should never be afraid. Okay, it’s fine to be a little fearful some of the time, we are human after all but writers should take chances.

Fearless
Be Fearless torbakhopper courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

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Writers should experiment. Writers who play it safe may produce a competent piece of work but it is also likely to be firmly middle of the road and unable to grab or hold a reader’s attention. On the flip side we can’t all be outliers writing experimental novels and breaking every rule just because we can. We have to find a balance.

Balance
Balance by Natalie Lucier courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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Writers should push themselves. They should experiment to find their voice, their genre, their style. You may think a particular genre suits your skillset but until you experiment how will you know if there is another genre out there that fits you like a hand in a glove? Finding your creative home is very different from dwelling in your comfort zone. It is perfectly possible to challenge yourself even if you are writing a familiar concept in a genre you have written in before.

Just as we all know when we are playing it safe, so too I believe we all know when we have let our imaginations take free flight because we start to produce work that is edgier, sharper and more arresting. I think of it as writing with the handbrake off and I believe it is what we should all strive for. If you’re a little bit scared you’re probably doing it right.

Damsel in distress face downm
Damsel in Distress Face Down by Britt-knee courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

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So next time you catch yourself playing it safe, think about ways you can take your writing up a gear, take a chance, let yourself go without the shackles of overthinking each sentence or constantly referring to your notes which tell you character B has to do X by chapter Y and don’t whatever you do try to edit as you write.

Trust in your skill as a writer, write with the handbrake off and enjoy the ride.

Today’s blog is the latest in my Flower Seller Thursday collection of writing related blogs leading up to publication day of my first novel The Flower Seller on Thursday 2nd June #FlowerSellerThursday

9780993446306
The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes

 

Post used to take 38 hours to arrive now we’re inbox junkies

On the 6th of May 1840 the Penny Black stamp went on sale for the first time. “…A bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash” was how Rowland Hill first described the Penny Black stamp.

Until the introduction of the Penny Black postal rates across the country were high and usually based on distance travelled. The recipients were often expected to pay the cost of the postage although some items were free.

Penny blackjpg
Penny by Kevin Walsh courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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The image of Queen Victoria which appears on the stamp was based on a sculpture by William Wyon. This came from a sketch of the young queen at 15 and was to remain the image on the stamp until the end of her reign. Hopefully this made up for the fact that Queen Victoria’s free privileges where the post was concerned were withdrawn with the introduction of the new postal rates and the Penny Black.

What began in 1635 with young boys carrying letters between ‘posts’ evolved to include the first mail coach which ran on 2nd August 1784 between Bristol and London. The journey took 16 hours. Before mail coaches it would have taken up to 38 hours.

Mail coach
Royal Mail Coach by The Postal Museum courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

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The mail coaches themselves eventually gave way in the 1840s and 1850s to the ever expanding railway.

Progress never stands still.

Nowadays we send the majority of our ‘post’ by email. With the tap of a button our email can arrive in someone’s inbox on the other side of the world within seconds of us pressing send. We can even receive their response straight back. The speed of email would have amazed our ancestors but it probably would have alarmed them too.

Email is wonderful in so many ways but it comes at a cost and I am not talking about your internet service provider. We have all experienced the stress of a full inbox, a rising sense of panic that we are never going to get on top of all the messages especially as new ones pile in.

Inbox
Mr. Popular by Jason Rogers courtesy of Flickr licensed by CC BY 2.0

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Clearing the inbox becomes a matter of pride for some people. You feel better once it has been decluttered and messages in response fired off. Deleting emails which are of no interest can feel cathartic.

It takes skill to be in charge of your inbox rather than your inbox being in charge of you. It is however a skill we should all acquire. Don’t leap to open the inbox the second you hear the telltale sound of another message arriving. Instead try to have planned times of the day when you look at your emails. If you respond every time the message symbol appears you’ll be forever pulled away from the things you should be doing and only giving half your attention to them whilst you wait for the next message to appear.

Files
Mounting Bills Project 365(2) Day 142 by Keith Williamson courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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The days of waiting 38 hours for the post to arrive are thankfully long gone. But don’t go to the other extreme and be an inbox junkie. Checking it once every few hours will be enough to keep on top of the urgent stuff and, crucially, give you the head space to get the more important things done.