Tag Archives: Writing

Top 5 books of 2017

Unlike my top 5 blogs of 2017, this post was much easier to do. I set myself a goal of reading a book per week during 2017. It didn’t work out perfectly, but it averaged out at about that rate.

However, despite having almost fifty to choose from, it was really easy to pick the standout ones for me. 

Tools of Titans

I wrote a full review of Tools of Titans earlier in the year because it made such an immediate impact on me. It doesn’t have all the answers, but it certainly will help you ask better questions. If you take nothing else from it, the whole book is a fascinating insight into how top performers in every field think and behave. When it comes to their beliefs, it’s important to remember that correlation does not equal causation, but there are certainly some patterns worth taking note of.

All The President’s Men

Technically this was an audiobook, but that still counts. In the current political world, it was a fascinating insight into the time and effort required to maintain democracy. Being British, I didn’t really know much about Watergate, but reading this did give me hope that ultimately, as long as good people keep doing hard work, there will be a day of reckoning for all those politicians and fat cats who perpetuate lies to benefit their own agendas.

The Year of Living Danishly

I loved this book. It was funny, quirky and a staple in my general mission for 2017 to declutter and strip my life back to the basics of what I really want and need. Given that I love hot weather and the sun, I didn’t think there would be anything about the physical location of this book that would appeal to me. But it’s about more than just daily temperatures and hours of sunlight. It’s about what makes you happy even when conditions are extreme. Simplicity is a great way of working out what gives you joy when many of the distractions are gone.

Black Box Thinking

If you want to learn from your mistakes and actually benefit from them, then Black Box Thinking is a must read. Whether you’re self-employed, a cog in a big machine or at the forefront of any decision making, this book will make you see why you can’t always trust yourself. The examples involved are often extreme and terrifying. Can’t understand why people won’t back down when the facts are so clearly stacked against them? You will after reading this.

Turtles All The Way Down

Whilst the others were all non-fiction, Turtles All The Way Down had to go on the list. Technically a YA book, it’s also wonderful for adults. This book vividly brought to life how the crawling compulsion of OCD feels. It was beautifully written and deserving of all the accolades and positive reviews heaped upon it. It’s great to see John Green publishing again after the phenomenal and crippling success of The Fault In Our Stars.

So there you have it. The best books I discovered in 2017 and why. Feel free to tell me others I really should have read in the comments section below so I can add them to my 2018 list.

Advertisements

Top 5 blogs of 2017 for creatives

I’ve got a few ‘top 5’ posts coming up to round off what has been an unusual and exciting year. One of the first subjects that came to mind was this one, the 5 blogs I have found most useful during 2017.

It was only as I started really thinking about what they were that I realised that actually, I’ve moved away from blogs as a resource. I’m not sure if this is a trend, or whether I’ve just had a change in circumstances. Instead of having favourite sites I return to time and time again, I’ve instead been more likely to search by subject and consume a variety of blogs I find. The chances of me returning to any specific site are slim.

Perhaps, unfortunately, it has something to do with how fake news (actual fake news, which is generally the polar opposite of what is being branded fake news) has got me second guessing everything. Instead of taking any one person or comapany’s view as truth anymore, I find myself always verifying sources. I suspect that 2018 will contain more of the same.

However, I did manage to find 5 blogs that I have returned to more than others. Unsurprisingly, these cover my main interests of writing, travel and how to stay productive and healthy.

 

The Creative Penn

Joanna Penn has quite the enterprise going now. There’s a lot of really useful information on the Creative Penn website and I find myself returning to it frequently. Bridging art and commerce, Joanna’s site is future thinking and always optimistic, no matter what craziness and uncertainty exists in the world. She’s making money from people wanting to be authors, but she’s up front about expecting money in exchange for valuable insights, rather than being a ‘get rich quick on kindle’ scammer.

Goins, Writer

Jeff Goins has made a career from writing about writing. When you look at his work about work it all sort of gets a bit meta, but there’s a lot of important takeaways included. The concept that actually, in today’s world we are moving away from a single-track career progression and into a varied career of diverse options, is something that has really resonated with me this year. As I look towards 2018 this site has been great at reminding me to keep my options open, embrace opportunities and ignore the imposter syndrome.

Chris The Freelancer

Admittedly I tend to watch Chris’s videos on YouTube more frequently than I visit his blog. He’s built quite the channel about working from a laptop while he travels the world. He was one of the first resources I came across while looking at the way the world is gradually turning towards a laptop, gig based economy. Unlike many digital nomad sources, he has a professional approach, steering away from the backpacker with a side-hustle content that forms much of the information out there.

Pick The Brain

The banners at the top of this site cover off all the things near and dear to my heart: motivation, productivity, health, self-improvement. It focuses on doing the things required to move you forward to a dream life, but isn’t all about the hustle. Productivity is great, but not as a way of doing even more so you can burn yourself out. Instead, a healthy momentum is the name of the game. Even when the information isn’t new to me, it always acts as a good reminder to stop and think.

Brain Pickings

Although it has a very similar title to the one above, it’s very different. With much longer pieces, it’s not full of snappy soundbites. There are no quick wins to take away here. Instead, the posts are more critical and philosophical. More academic, if you don’t mind me using that word. The insights are numerous, but you have to work for them. Honestly, in today’s world of short attention spans and instant gratification, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Moleskine vs Leuchtturm1917 Weekly Planner Review

For years, the Moleskine Planner in its various formats has been the ‘go to’ product for those wanting an analogue calendar/organiser. It was the brand I picked for 2017, because the layout worked great for me. The trade off, of course, came with the paper quality. You can check out the original review of the Moleskine Weekly Planner I did back at the beginning of the year.

Molekine top, Leuchtturm bottom

For 2018 I have chosen to go with the Leuchtturm1917 Weekly Planner instead. As the two are very similar, I thought it would be useful to do a direct comparison for those people who are interested in trying a different brand.*

Paper Quality

There’s no point avoiding the elephant in the room. If you want to write with fountain pens, the battle of Moleskine vs Leuchtturm in the planner selection is no different to the regular notebooks. Leuchtturm1917 paper wins hand down. Even gel pens show through worse on the Moleskine paper:

Moleskine paper

Leuchtturm1917 paper

Year Overview Sections

Moleskine bottom, Leuchtturm top

There is a difference in approach here. The Moleskine overview is closer to the project planner section in the Leuchtturm (more on that below). The ‘by day’ view in the Leuchtturm probably offers similar space, but is visually less useful to me:

Leuchtturm day overview

Weekly View

Both have the same format: days on the week on the left hand side, lined page for notes on the right hand size. Because of the extra width of the Leuchtturm, you get more writing space for both.

Leuchtturm top, Moleskine bottom

Blank Pages

Last year it really annoyed me that my Moleskine planner had four blank pages at the back. For a whole year? Impractical. Leuchtturm, by comparison, has ten. Still not a great number, but much more useful.

Bonus features

Leuchtturm has a project planner view of the month. For high level use, this is something I’m really looking forward to trying out.

My Moleskine planner is from 2017, but it no longer came with an address book. The Leuchtturm1917 planner for 2018 came with a separate address book (with a section at the front for listing birthdays perhaps?), as well as some stickers and a grid guide.

Leuchtturm – 2 bookmarks!

Bookmarks – Moleskine has one, Leuchtturm have two. I think two is significantly more useful, given the project plan feature. However, they are both a good length, rather than being less than an inch longer than the length of the book. Small thing, but it really bugs a lot of people when the bookmark is too short.

Moleskine comes with more information at the front. Flight durations, time zones, measurements and conversions. Useful in their own way perhaps, but I’ve not used them once, even when planning travel for the year.

On balance, I think the Leuchtturm1917 wins as a more functional planner. Better paper, more of it, two bookmarks and a project planner. However, you can’t downplay the form factor and brand recognition that comes with Moleskine.

 

*Not an affiliate link. As I’m in the UK I can get Leuchtturm1917 notebooks from Amazon, but in the US it seems harder. I’ve used Goulet for fountain pens though and they’re a great company to order from.

NaNoWriMo Prep: 30 days of staying healthy

As a significant number of people are about to launch into the writing insanity of National Novel Writing Month, I thought I would do a post not on writing, but on health.

As someone who has been doing NaNoWriMo for a long time (over fifteen years!), I’ve learnt some hard lessons along the way. So I thought I’d wrap them up into a single post so you can learn from my mistakes rather than making them yourselves.

Preparation

 

The best way to have a comfortable and healthy month is to prepare for it. Take the time to plan your novel (if you’re a planner rather than a pantser) but also take the time to prepare your writing environment. Your wrists and neck are going to be under some strain during November, so make your set up as ergonomic as possible. If you’ve only ever written 300 words a day before, then don’t expect to write 3000 and not feel a twinge or two the following day.

Clear your calendar of other events if you can, so you don’t end up with too many competing priorities.

Diet

Writing can be an absorbing pastime. You get lost in the world you’re creating. It can be fun to get to know your characters. So much fun that you look up and it’s a lot later than you realised. Time to grab a coffee and a quick snack and keep going, right?

Wrong.

Eating a proper diet and avoiding quick and easy junk food will give you enough energy to keep going long term. Don’t make November the month of sugar highs and carb crashes. Simple, healthy meals can be planned for in advance so they don’t cut into you writing time.

Hydration

No, I don’t mean drinking endless pots of coffee. Much as I love the stuff, don’t chug it to get you through that all night writing session. Drink plenty of water and other uncaffeinated, sugar-free beverages to stay sufficiently hydrated. I’ve found this is especially important if you’re doing an early morning session as it clears the fog of sleepiness very effectively.

Sleep

Talking of sleep, make sure you get some. Finding the time to write 50,000 words means finding a lot more hours during your day. Sacrifice TV and Facebook time, not sleep. Tiredness will make the whole process of writing slower and begin a vicious cycle of struggling to hit your daily word count. Try not to deviate too much from your existing pattern and if you know that’s currently a terrible one, then don’t allow NaNo to make it worse.

Exercise and rest breaks

As well as sleep, make sure to build in some exercise time and rest breaks. Not only will your wrists appreciate it, but your eyes will too. There have also been several studies highlighting the dangers of prolonged sitting, so make sure you get up and walk around. Set a timer or alarm if you have to. It might not seem easy to stop mid-flow, but it’s better than sitting for an extended period and risking blood clots and heart attacks in later life (a bit dramatic, I know).

Mental health

Doing NaNo can be hard on your physical health, but it’s not a walk in the park for your mental health either. The pressure to finish (often self-inflicted) can lead to some serious burn out. This is often exacerbated if you haven’t done the things above to work on your physical well-being. Remember, at the end of the day, NaNoWriMo is meant to be a fun and inspiring writing experience. It’s not meant to be soul destroying. Don’t win the month, only to never want to write again.

If you start to feel upset, frustrated or unhappy, then step away from the computer. Take a break. You can come back tomorrow, the next day or not at all. It doesn’t matter. Life is too short to be made miserable by an internet competition where the only prize is to be able to say you’ve done it…

Books for writers: Shadows Beneath (Writing Excuses Anthology) review

With NaNoWriMo only a week away, instead of my usual ‘book for entrepreneurs’ review, I thought I would focus specifically on a book for writers.

Most writers (aspiring and published) have read Stephen King’s On Writing. I love that book, but most of the engaging content is the autobiographical stuff, rather than the writing parts. So I thought I would take a look at a much more hands on, practical book: Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology.

The book was released in 2014 and often gets overlooked as being a short story anthology, rather than a practical guide to writing. It follows the writing process of the four main Writing Excuses hosts from story concept to finished work. Side note, if you’re a writer and haven’t checked out the Writing Excuses Podcast then go there now. It’s one of the best ‘craft’ podcasts out there in a realm of marketing ones.

The first part of the book contains the completed short stories. This means that those who aren’t interested in the writing process can just enjoy reading some quality fiction. For writers, it is the second part that is interesting: the ‘making of’ section.

For each of the stories, we can read a transcript of the Writing Excuses episode where they brainstormed ideas. For people who wonder where ideas come from, this is gold in itself. Then there is the first draft of the story, transcripts of workshopping discussions and intermittent drafts and commentaries from the authors. Finally, there is a version showing all the edits from the first draft to the published edition, full of cuts and additions.

So why read this book?

During NaNoWriMo, the idea is to take an idea and write. Write each day and get 50,000 words down by the end of the month. Editing has no place here. Often at the end, we are left with 50,000 words that need some pretty serious work. Shadows Beneath is a great way to see that even without these crazy time pressures, the first draft is never perfect. It can be hard to imagine that our favourite, successful authors struggle to write a first draft and that it often doesn’t work. It can be hard to believe they reach out to others and say ‘hey, I’m struggling with this and could use some help’. This book will teach lessons in craft and development, but it also shows the spirit of community and encouragement.

Which, when you think about it, has always been at the heart of NaNoWriMo.

You can buy Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology here. If you can, I’d recommend getting the print edition, as it allows you to flip back and forth much easier when following the revision process.

Writer Tools: Field Notes Dime Edition Review

One of the most difficult parts of being self-employed is constant self-motivation. As a writer, the easiest way for me to do this is to use tools that inspire me to pick them up. I’ve done some of my best work when I’m having the most fun just playing with my toys.

Field Notes Dime Novel Edition

The Field Notes Dime Novel Edition is a perfect, quirky writer’s tool. Inspired by the American Dime Novel (much like the British Penny Dreadfuls back in the day), it is a departure from the standard pocket notebook Field Notes is known for. I love that, despite being iconic in the notebook world, they continue to mix it up with their quarterly releases and not play it safe.

Instead of the usual 48 pages, there are 72 plain pages bound as three signatures. This creates a completely different look and feel to the standard ones, as well as giving more space to write:

Interestingly, the Dime Novel Edition has numbered pages, another departure from the usual Field Notes functionality:

Given the explosion of Bullet Journaling, more and more companies are incorporating the numbered pages into their notebooks. Even though I’ve been using a modified bullet journal method for years and would normally be super excited about this feature, for once it isn’t important because…

What will I be doing with mine?

I’ll be doing exactly what it says on the tin. There’s not quite enough space for a novel, but I intend to write out a short story in each of them. In one, I intend to use my coveted Blackwing 24 (The Steinbeck Edition). In the other, I plan to use one of my fountain pens loaded with J. Herbin Lie De Thé – a beautiful sepia toned ink that fits the aged theme perfectly.

As much as I appreciate the opportunities that the world of self-publishing has given me, it’s nice to be reminded that writing doesn’t always need to have an audience. It doesn’t have to be a book churn efficiency. Writing can be – and should be – fun first. I can’t wait to pen these stories for myself, written by hand in the cold winter mornings.

Main images in the post are courtesy of Field Notes Brand. Check them out.

How to create a successful morning routine

Why set up a morning routine?

These are a few benefits I’ve found from my own routine over the years.

For many years, a corporate job took most of my time and energy. I would come home from work and have nothing left to give for things that were important to me. I wanted to be a writer, but I never actually wrote anything. This all changed when I dedicated just an hour every morning to my writing. Having a morning routine allows you to dedicate time to the things that matter to you most.

Precious alone time. In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with interruptions, whether in real life, social media or any other online input. A successful morning routine, one that was clearly defined, gave me a definite course of action, so I always knew what to do next. That removed ‘check twitter’ from my list of options. That space gave me time to think about what was important and also sheltered me from negative bombardment from the moment I woke up.

There are many other benefits, but those two give the biggest returns for a happier and more fulfilling life.

So how do you set up a morning routine?

It’s easier than you think.

Firstly, ask yourself what you hope to achieve from doing this. Everyone will have different objectives. Is it to make time for your creative projects? Is it to make sure you get in a good workout each day? Or perhaps it is to read or work on personal development. What matters most to you will make up the core of the routine.

Secondly, decide how much time you want to devote to this activity. Be realistic. If you want to do a thirty minute workout but have to go to the gym, then include the travel time and showering afterwards. No one will thank you if you run out of time for that. The amount of time required will impact on how early you need to get up in order to complete the routine before beginning your existing obligations.

Thirdly, don’t start too big. Habits take time to become routines and the more you add in, the more likely you are to become overwhelmed and give up. My morning routine started out with a simple, single task: write 1000 words before breakfast. Over time, that has developed into a multi-step routine, but I needed to get used to doing that single but significant task first.

Be in it for the long haul

So what does my routine look like now? It combines several elements that I have seen successful authors, businesspeople and entrepreneurs confirm as being instrumental for them.

1) Begin with a pint of water. I used to go straight to coffee, but never underestimate the power of rehydrating after 7 hours of sleeping.

2) Write 1000 words. That’s still my big goal after 6 years of doing this.

3) Morning Pages – adapted from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. You’re really supposed to do them before anything else, but for me they have actually always been more effective after my half-asleep writing session. The last page always contains three things I am grateful for that morning.

4) 20 Pushups. Really not many, but it makes me feel like I’ve at least done something physical and makes me more likely to do other activity throughout the day.

5) Affirmations and visualisations. Yes, I still feel like an idiot sometimes saying these things out loud, but they do work. I’m shy and introverted by nature, so this gives me the confidence to step outside my comfort zone when I need to.

6) Goals review. Don’t work hard to climb that ladder just to discover it’s up against the wrong tree. Work out what you want and remind yourself every day to stay focused on what matters, rather than what simply feels urgent.

7) Calendar review. It doesn’t matter what grand goals you have for that day if your calendar says you have back-to-back meetings. Again, be realistic.

8) Task list review. By the time I’ve reviewed what matters (goals) and what’s immovable (calendar), it makes it much easier to delete, delegate or defer tasks on my list. What remains still needs to get done, but this way I don’t waste my energy on unnecessary tasks before I get to them.

The power of a morning routine means that these tasks take less time as you repeat them. The whole process above now takes somewhere between 90 minutes and 2 hours. That’s from 6-8am at the latest. That gives me a whole hour to have breakfast, get showered and be at my desk by 9am.

I’ve already achieved things that matter to me and mentally prepared for my day by the point most people are just thinking about booting up the laptop.

None of this will work unless…

A meticulously planned morning routine with all the best intentions and activities will still fail unless you actively set yourself up for success the night before. Unless you have the luxury of being beholden to no-one, you’re going to have to sacrifice some morning sleep to get this done.

A successful morning routine means ensuring you go to bed early enough to get the quality sleep you need. If there are any objects/spaces that are essential to your routine, then these should be found or made clear the night before to remove as much friction as possible and ensure you can make every minute of your morning routine count.

Hopefully this has given you some ideas about how to set up a morning routine and how to grow it into something that makes a huge difference in the level of success and satisfaction you get from your day. If you have any questions or thoughts then drop them in the comments section below, or you can get in touch with me by email at realist@sherrinicholds.com.