For the love of Autumn

The mornings are chillier now and the trees are starting to lose their leaves. In the evenings, the darkness that once crept across the garden stealthily now drops in with all the subtlety of a hammer on a nail.

Spring and summer may be my favourite seasons but once I have adjusted to saying goodbye to summer, there’s plenty about autumn I love too.

The Beauty of Pie

There’s the food for a start. No more light lunches and healthy salads. Now is the time to bring out the casserole dish and let a tasty stew simmer in the oven for a couple of hours, the delicious smells permeating the kitchen and whetting my appetite or batch cooking some pies with beautiful flaky pastry.

Pie
Pie by Darren Foreman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/7H5RfV https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Autumn Leaves

Taking Willow for a walk is always a favourite past time but at this time of year it’s fun to scrunch our way through fallen leaves, then watch as Willow snuffles her way underneath them as more leaves pirouette down around us borne on the breeze.

Autumn leaves
Autumn Leaves by Liz West courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/gAuFeK https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

For me there is nothing better than a bracing walk in a fresh wind and then home to a brimming mug of hot chocolate or tomato soup to warm me up.

Reading Time

But there’s something even better about the change of seasons. Now that the dark nights are here, I’m always gripped by the desire to snuggle down on a comfy sofa, wrapped in a soft throw and indulge in my love of reading without feeling guilty.

Of course I still read when the sun is shining and the days are blissfully long but when the weather is fine I’m usually out and about or pottering in the garden. Reading takes a back seat to doing in the summer time.

Reading nook
Reading Nook by Wicker Paradise courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/f6QBtA https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

When the autumn comes, it’s time for a change. I give myself permission to slow down. It is a sort of hibernation, I suppose. I look forward to my nights snuggled up cosy with a good book. I welcome the ritual of choosing a group of books to read between now and Christmas. Then studying the covers and the blurbs and deciding which book will be first, which second and then third. With an eclectic taste, I often choose different genres. I usually have a couple of bankers, I know I’ll enjoy with perhaps the odd wildcard thrown in for good measure. New or old, you can’t beat the smell, feel and experience of a real book.

So that’s what I’ll be doing between now and Christmas. How about you?

white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

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Digital Detox

digital detox
Digital Detox by David Lytle courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/fsCwQ2 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

So I started with the best of intentions on my digital detox. My expectations were not set unrealistically high. I would take a week out – seven days but it would not be a complete shut down so far as my devices were concerned. There were still urgent emails to deal with regarding my next book release that could not be ignored and a couple of other deadlines that were immovable. Beyond that, however, freedom lay.

freedom
Freedom by Lauren McKinnon courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/pNL5v5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Interesting choice of word freedom and yet it had been on my mind a lot. Because I was feeling burnt out I was also feeling trapped – imprisoned by my commitments. An ailment of modern life given that most of the commitments were generated by my own fair hand and things I had entered into willingly.

It was therefore definitely time to step back. The first morning when I would normally be checking social media and scheduling blogs I removed myself from all my electronic devices and went and sat in the sun lounge. I had breakfast overlooking the garden and enjoying the birdsong and the sunshine.

In the background I could hear my iPad chirruping away with updates and alerts. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs I could feel my attention being pulled back to the world of social media which was merrily tweeting and facebooking away without me. What if the notification was not a standard one but an important one? Shouldn’t I check just to make sure?

I resisted the temptation – recognising it for what it was – a craving for my usual fix. Instead I struck a deal with myself that I would check the various platforms and emails during the lunch hour but would only respond if it was absolutely necessary. For one week, the world could do without me.

For once, I got ready for the day without the burden of buzzing thoughts. I arrived at work early and relaxed. At lunch, I limited myself to a few minutes of checking the platforms and emails. With my new mindset, I decided nothing there could be classed as important. With some satisfaction, I shut them down and read a book. The evening was more of the same. One quick check then freedom. That word again. Suddenly I had an open space mentally and physically to do other things.

The rest of the week continued in the same vein. I felt better almost instantly and that feeling multiplied as the days went by. It was as close to going cold turkey as I am ever likely to get. And I learnt two important lessons during my digital detox week:-

  1. I didn’t miss the whirl of social media
  2. The wheels did not come off my career by taking a few days out

So, if you are struggling with burn out, give yourself as complete a break as it is possible to have. You will feel better for it.

Freedom2
Freedom by Josef Grunig courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/3D7Ztx https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

You cannot however dwell in a digital free cave in the long term unless you are happy to ditch the writing career. Nowadays I do not realistically think you can have one without the other. You also do not want to end up back where you started in burnoutsville so what to do?

At the end of the week and with the headspace to actually sit and think I devised a fresh approach which I will share in a blog soon.

In the meantime, if you have been suffering with burn out please get in touch and let me know what worked for you.

the-flower-seller-cover-small
http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

Adventures in Meditation – Part Two

Meditation2
Meditation by Luckey_Sun courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/bxK3mR https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

As I recounted in Adventures in Meditation – Who Has The Time?! (see below) I knew the tangible benefits of meditation and that they could specifically help me. Mind buzzing all the time? Finding it hard to let go? Want to concentrate on something more important than a Facebook post? Yes please!

https://ellieholmesauthor.wordpress.com/2017/05/07/adventures-in-meditation-who-has-the-time/

So now that I had made the decision to give it a go, how did I actually begin? Before I got into the heavy stuff of scheduling where and when on a daily or even weekly basis I thought it would be a good idea to have a trial run.

For my first session, I chose a sunny Sunday morning when I was fairly sure I would not be interrupted by the outside world. I had already got a load of washing underway in the machine and I had taken my dog Willow for a long walk.

First dilemma – where should the meditation take place? Chair? Bed? Floor? I have tried practicing meditation on the bed in the past – I would usually fall asleep and then wake up cold so I discounted that idea. I decided to compromise and lay down on the sofa in the conservatory which was toasty warm from the early summer sun. This I thought also had the added benefit of the birdsong coming in through the open back door and the gentle fluttering of the blinds in the breeze. All an aid to relaxation, surely?

Relax
Relax by Dave Doe courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/o18eto https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The next question was how was I actually going to do it. I decided twenty minutes was long enough to give it a good go but not so long that I would start panicking about my to do list. That length of time also seemed doable on a daily basis which was my ultimate goal.

Should I set the timer on my phone and go it alone or should I choose one of the many guided meditations that are available on the internet which, helpfully, have their timings included and a little about what the guided meditation will entail.

I thought as a novice I should accept a little help – a bit like a kid with stabilisers on their bicycle.   I choose a guided meditation that did not look too worthy or daunting. I plugged my headphones into my iPad and settled down.

Except I could not hear a thing. I fiddled with the iPad but could not figure out how to increase the volume on the app. I abandoned the iPad and reached for the iPhone. Searched for the same guided meditation, plugged in my headphones and settled down. Again. This time I had sound. Hurrah!

It all started well enough. With a little squirming around and the re-arranging of cushions I managed to get comfortable, retrieved the earbud that fell out in the process and settled down. Again. I started to concentrate on my breathing. I let the voice soothe me. I began to relax. And then…the dog started barking. I remembered I had left the back door open thinking the birdsong would help. I got up, brought the dog in, closed the door.

I settled down, put the earbuds back in and picked up where I had left off. I got a little further with the relaxation exercise. I could feel it starting to work when my washing machine when into its spin cycle and sounded as though it was readying itself for liftoff. I made the effort to block it out.

Now my whole body was relaxed and it was time to start counting backwards from 10 and go to my ‘special place’. I hadn’t been warned I needed a ‘special place’. I quickly cobbled something together in my mind and began to descend. I had just arrived when Willow, my dog, decided to jump on my chest and settle down for a spot of meditation of her own. I was back in the present with a bang, one earbud forlornly dangling and my special place ripped away without any count back. I was just debating whether to start over when the washing machine beeped to indicate it had finished. I took it as a sign and went to hang out the washing.

Meditation speaks
Except maybe not in my house! Meditation Speaks by Tejvan Pettinger courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/9tARE8 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

My first attempt at meditation had not been a complete disaster. I had learnt a lot. Mostly what not to do but at least I would be better prepared for next time and I was determined there would be a next time….

Don’t forget to enjoy it

Enjoy
Enjoy by Elizabeth M courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/aAMBVR https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Sometimes as life sweeps us along it’s all too easy to get lost in the day to day grind. We have so many things to tick off our stuff to do lists, so many obligations and commitments to honour and people to please we forget about making time for ourselves and for the people in our lives who really matter.

So next time you are working out your schedule for another busy week, remember to schedule some fun stuff too.

  1. Take five minutes out with a cup of tea or coffee first thing in the morning when the house is quiet to count your blessings.
  2. Factor in some fun time with the kids and the pets.
  3. Book a date night with your partner.
  4. Give your Mum and Dad a call or better yet a visit.
  5. Don’t feel guilty about watching your favourite TV show while the ironing pile gets higher.
  6. Meet your friends for a coffee and a chat.
  7. Run a bubble bath, light some candles and switch off from the world for a while.
  8. Buy some fresh flowers for your home or if money is tight take a walk in the park at lunch time – just being near beautiful things will lift your soul.
  9. Cut toxic people out of your life.
  10. Smile more – it’s infectious.

Daydreamer

Nowadays there seems to be a compunction that we all have to be doing something all of the time. Even if we are waiting in line for something the ubiquitous mobile phone will be scanned and checked. Down time is a concept that seems to be frowned upon by modern society but I believe it is essential.

daydream
Daydream by Jonas Tegnerud courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/8hNAco   https://goo.gl/2xv8Lz

Bombarded by constant stimulation when do we have chance to recalibrate? As our bodies need sleep to repair and regenerate so our minds need quiet time to re-energise. Giving ourselves the opportunity to stare into space and drift off wherever our minds might take us should not be seen as a waste of time. We should think of it instead as essential maintenance for the soul.

dreamingjpg

https://flic.kr/p/kR9kG6   https://goo.gl/TOd8tJ

Opening our minds up can lead to some interesting outcomes – Memories can bring people and places back to our attention after a long absence, solutions to problems can sometimes present themselves to us even though we weren’t directly focusing on them, ideas occur that would make life easier or better. But freeing our minds needn’t be so productive it can also lead to aimlessly drifting from one inconsequential thought to another and that’s all right too.   Sometimes it’s not about doing, it’s about being.

If your life is normally busy and full make time for a few daydreaming sessions here and there. Turn off all your devices and give yourself permission to step back and do nothing for a while. The busier you are, the more beneficial time out will be.

Tuning out the white noise of modern life and letting yourself drift is a great stressbuster and best of all it’s free.

jaguar-relaxing
Jaguar relaxing by Zyggy32 courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/68ydh8   https://goo.gl/TOd8tJ

 

Walking by the sea

What is it about walking by the sea? Now that my puppy is old enough to go for longer walks it is my new-old favourite thing to do. I had forgotten just how much I enjoy it.

footsteps
Footsteps on the Sand by Paula J. Andrews courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/bWL5QY  https://goo.gl/Dv0zaN

There is something about being faced by a large expanse of uninterrupted water that puts everything else into perspective, something calming about the way the muscle of the sea ripples back and forth.

A couple of weekends ago the sun was shining and sheltered from the wind Willow and I found a piece of leftover summer on a deserted beach. The sea was gentle that day, whispering back and forth across virgin sand and my puppy had her first paddle in the water. The sea wall was a sun trap on which to sit and while away time day dreaming, the sun casting a million jewels upon the water to dazzle our eyes.

lapping-waves
Lapping Waves by goatsgreetings courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/rnnqfL   https://goo.gl/1uq4L6

The next weekend was very different. Stormy and cold with a raging wind, autumn had arrived with a vengeance. Willow and I loved it just the same. Confined to the promenade because the tide was so far in, it was exhilarating to be buffeted by the gusty wind. The onrushing waves were high and angry, battering the beach and sending foaming spray up on to the promenade to land at our feet. It was easy to lose myself in thought as I watched the peaks and troughs of the restless sea, the swells concealing hidden depths and dangers. It was a world away from the summer of the previous weekend.

splash
Splash by Simon Turkas courtesy of flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/oB6vZF    https://goo.gl/QkpDKw

Walking by the sea is good for our souls. Our problems seem to diminish in relation to the vastness of the water. It puts us back in touch with nature, the cycles of the seasons and the heartbeat of the world. It reminds us how small and inconsequential we are. And that is a good thing.

 

Refilling the Well Part Two

Earlier this week I blogged about the need to refill the well without apology if you are an introvert i.e. factoring in down time after every social engagement to allow yourself a chance to recover. From a writing perspective this is crucial too. A lot of writers are introverts. We spend the majority of our days in solitude typing away on our keyboards living in fantasy worlds of our own construction. It is important to have some interaction with the outside world, of course, but we don’t feel as though we are missing out if we are not at every party or social gathering.

Party
Party by Eric McGregor courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/atSC6  https://goo.gl/hxPV0h

That’s all well and good but what happens when your book is written and it’s time to get the word out? Suddenly the introvert has to become, to a greater or lesser degree, an extrovert whether they like it or not.

I have found myself in that situation a lot this summer as I have been hand selling my book at various craft fairs or summer fetes. It is not something I would choose to do for fun. But this year for me (my first of publication) is all about trying different things and seeing what works.

The idea of being ‘up’ for a social engagement of several hours, interacting with the public throughout and basically being ‘on duty’ does not exactly gladden my heart. Leaving aside the practicalities of whether the event is a success from a selling point of view (a mixed bag on that front) or whether spending the time in my study writing would have been more productive (quite possibly), the simple act of being ‘on duty’ for any length of time in a social situation is exhausting for an introvert like me.

Exhaustion
Exhaustion by Jessica Cross courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/7eCcj9   https://goo.gl/hxPV0h

As writers who wish to sell books we have to be prepared to push ourselves out there. No one else is going to do it for us. Even the superstars have to do their fair share of marketing, the only difference is they have a team to organise it, the writer still has to do it. For the rest of us, we are our own teams.

The internet and social media have allowed introverts to project themselves into the wider world from the comfort of home but not everything can be done through a computer screen. Sometimes, showing up in person is the only way. Writers who are introverts need to work out how much face to face contact they can take on. Be realistic. Just because you should be doing all these things because someone else who is successful told you you should does not mean that you will be able to handle it. We are all different. Know your limitations and work within them. If you attempt to suppress your nature by trying to be all things to all people you will crash and burn, it’s a question of when not if.

Burn out
Burn out by Paul Sableman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/fA2N95   https://goo.gl/hxPV0h

The world won’t stop turning if you attend three events instead of four but taking your introverted nature into account when planning your marketing strategy may make all the difference between success and failure. Better to succeed on your own terms and enjoy the experience than spread yourself too thinly. If you go for the full on option and pretend like you are an extrovert you may still achieve success but at what cost? My guess is you’ll be miserable and exhausted and that, for me, is too high a price to pay.

 

As you will be aware if you read my post from earlier this week the cover of my book The Flower Seller is taking part in Author Shout’s Cover Wars this week 24th July – 30th July. As I type this I am currently in the lead but only by 7 votes! If you like the cover and would like to vote you can do so by visiting the Author Shout site http://authorshout.com/cover-wars/ You will need to like their Facebook page, tweet or G+ them and then you are able to vote for your favourite cover BUT you must only vote once in every 24 hour period of your vote will not count.

If you are already voting for the cover of The Flower Seller – and I know a lot of you are – thank you so much! #goteamellie!

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