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Be positive or be quiet!

It’s easy to fall into the negative trap, especially when we’re feeling overwhelmed, tired or stressed. Over the past couple of weeks I have been all of these things.  Trying to sell your house and relocating will do that to you! LOL!  The negatives will come and up and yell in your face, the positives tend to be more reserved, harder to find. So as I find myself creeping back to sanity (thank goodness) I have decided to use the above phrase as much as possible this week.  I’m not going to give the negatives air-time at all – they’ll be around I’m sure but I’m not going to give them a voice.  I’m going to: “be positive or be quiet!’ and see how that works for me! 🙂 

Anyone else have a positive tip to offer? A favourite phrase/quote perhaps, that helps you get back to a happy place? I’m all ears! 🙂

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Stay-At-Home Mom Confession: I Want A Job!

I’ve been a stay-at-home Mom for twelve years. When I read that sentence back it absolutely shocks me to the core because it was never my plan. Before I had children, before I met my husband, I had always believed that it was important for a woman to keep working alongside starting a family. I had a theory that working part-time was ideal because that way a mother was keeping her own identity while also being there to nurture her children. To add to this the children would benefit from socializing with others. 

So when I became pregnant with my first child, I made plans to redirect my career. I managed to secure a part-time job and began scouting around child-care options in London (pricey but essential). Then everything changed: my husband got a job transfer to Belgium and before I knew it, we were moving house to live in another country and all of a sudden…I no longer had a job.

Six years in Belgium were spent settling in and having another child. We were speaking another language and adapting to a new community. These, I believed, were good reasons not to go back to work and I became a full-time Mom. 

Then we moved to the States. And until recently, when we got the illusive Green Card, I couldn’t work because my visa wouldn’t allow it.  I was officially just “a spouse.” We had another child.

I love my kids. They amaze me, I look at them and am in disbelief that these three wonderful human beings are my children.  I’m not going to admit to your face (obviously that would be rude and tactless) but secretly I think, no I know, my children are the best in the world! 😉

But … I want a job. I still feel the way I did years ago when I was single and childless. In fact I believe it even more strongly. I meet women like me who are happy to be full-time mothers, they thrive on it and they are fullfilled.  And I’m jealous.  Because no matter how hard I try, I can’t make myself feel that way. Somehow it’s not enough. And in the back of my mind I feel that it would be healthier for me and my children if I went back to work.

I don’t want to live through my children, I want to live alongside my children. (Almost thought I’d be struck down by lightening for saying that but no … I’m still here.)

Does that make me selfish? What do you think? Are you a stay-at-home Mom who yearns to go back to work? Or did you give up work so that you could be a full-time Mom?  Maybe you’re a working Mom who has to work and would prefer not to? Or a Mom who never considered giving up her career to have children?  

I would love to hear from you! 🙂

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TOMS GIVEWAY – it’s here people!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

A while ago I had the opportunity to take part in the TOMS Blog Giveaway which was FAB because I love TOMS!  They sent me two copies of TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie’s book Start Something That Matters and my job was simply to read and keep one copy, review it on my blog and then give one copy away.  It sounded simple and it was…and I should have done it already but for some reason, whatever reason, life got in the way!  However as the old adage goes: better late than never!  And quite frankly the message in Start Something That Matters can never get old or out of date. So here goes…

I’m an advocate of TOMS model. I was desperate to get hold of a pair of TOMS shoes the moment I found out about them.  Mycoskie had me at “one for one!” 🙂   This way of giving back really appealed to me. Practical not only because it helps those in need and puts shoes on feet but also because TOMS is a successful business which gives back to our economy and creates jobs. Additionally the shoes look great so it was win/win really!

Start Something that Matters is easy to read, perfect for a cozy Sunday afternoon, curled up on the couch with a mug of coffee. It’s also pretty good for dipping in and out if you’re stuck on a commuter train somewhere because Mycoskie’s positivity and enthusiasm come through quite clearly in his writing.  And it’s surprisingly addictive and this is where I think Start Something That Matters really has some clout because you can’t stop thinking about it. 

This book has the power to change the way you think about giving and change the way we are living!  The TOMS one for one approach frees individuals from the burden of financial giving, which in a time of economic stress is tough on everyone.  Instead the premise is this: what can you give back to society for FREE? What skills do you have that you can offer to others for FREE?  I love that idea! It’s not just about money, it’s about using your skills and so it seems more personal, more genuine – to me anyway.  

As I finished the book I knew I wanted to find a way to give back like this too.  Eventually it dawned on me that I could put my acting training to use (finally) and get involved in reading books for free. I found a fantastic organisation locally called the Reading Resource which does just that. Here’s their link: http://www.readingresource.org/   They are responsible for producing hundreds of audio books a year which cover just about every subject and style you can think of! I was thrilled to get involved and chuffed to bits to be giving back in a way that wasn’t just handing over my credit card details.

The importance of this book is not how original it’s message is. In fact it’s not original at all really, philanthropy in business has been around for a long time.  The importance of this book really is the timing: Start Something That Matters serves as necessary reminder.  We’re a society which is being consumed by social media, we can make friends, purchases and even give online. Blake Mycoskie puts the “human” back into “humanitarian.” Giving is personal again and I think that’s a good thing.

Even if this book was useless and badly written (which is isn’t) everyone should buy a copy if only for the fact that with every purchase of Start Something That Matters, a children’s book will be provided to First Book and given to a child in need in the United States. So every home should have a copy gracing their bookshelves, virtual or otherwise!

And I have a copy to give away to one lucky person! 🙂 All you have to do is tell me who said this: “One person can make a difference and every person should try”  (clue: assassinated US President – I’m making this easy for you guys!) and share one way that you think you could give back in the one for one spirit! I would LOVE to hear your ideas – hopefully we can all inspire each other! 🙂

To find a random winner, I will probably ask my four year old son to pick a number (unless I can work out how to do that electronic random picker thing) and then happily mail Start Something That Matters to anywhere in the world! Yes ANYWHERE! So come on everyone let’s do this! 🙂

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My new friend…

…is a lizard! Well I’m not actually sure it’s a lizard, could be a gecko but the fact is he/she turned up on the wall of my hallway yesterday evening and since then it keeps disappearing and popping up all over the place. 

Now I’m happily going to admit, that the first time it ran across the wall I shrieked and the dog went crazy!  I grabbed a plastic container and made a rather wimpy attempt to catch it.  My children were watching and I was trying to do the whole “I’m your mother, I can handle it” act (actually not sure why I bother with that because my kids see right through me. Kids have a habit of doing that don’t they?)  So I’m there waving Tupperware, which used to hold cookies and is now poised to hold gecko and all I’m thinking is that I have to get this reptile out of my house because…well because it’s not normal to let geckos, and the like, roam wild in your home is it?

But then he hid behind a mirror and I didn’t want to take it down to get it, because,first of all, the mirror is this spiky, arty thing made of brass so it’s quite heavy and, secondly, we are just about to put our house up for sale and I didn’t want to risk marking the paintwork!

So,much to the horror of my children, I left him there and when my husband went to look, the gecko was gone.  Later we spotted him high up, hanging out on a window ledge and then after that he scuttled across the wall again.  I haven’t seen it since…but I know it’s here somewhere. 

And actually (by the way I’m surprising myself here) I find that I quite like it. I quite like the fact that my little lizard friend is hanging out somewhere, just chillin’ up there on my wall. I got to thinking that Leonard The Lizard (eek! – I’ve named him now) is a metaphor for the twist and turns of life itself. Just like my new scaly chum (hmm…do reptiles have scales? Not sure…I’ll google it in a mo but for let’s go with it for now) the passing of time is always there in the background, it’s a presence you can put on a back-burner but never fully ignore. But just like Len (we’re so close now I’m comfortable abbreviating his name) an opportunity might race in front of you and show itself and your job then, is not to try and catch it so you can remove it, but to run with it, to watch it, to learn from it and use it. We get the most from life when we’re open, when we shift our perspective.  I mean I didn’t necessarily want a gecko scaling the walls of my house but at the moment I do happen to have one and … I’m ok with it!

So the question is…how have you shifted your perspective recently? Are you letting the Len in your life roam free? Share your story and tell us about an opportunity, or gecko, you ran with recently! 🙂

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The Wonder of a Writing Retreat!

I’ve been on a couple of writing retreats and they have been so useful, in fact I would say they were irreplaceable and I would definitely jump at the opportunity to go on another one. 

I’ve got used to writing just about anywhere: I can jot down notes in the doctor’s waiting room, tap away on my laptop in the car while my kids are doing their various after-school activities, I even work on character developments while having my teeth cleaned.  I’m not unique of course, most writers are used to cramming their writing into the most unlikely places.  But the beauty of a retreat is that it provides guaranteed uninterrupted writing time to focus on a manuscript which can be vital in helping develop plot-lines or work through sticky areas.

What makes a writing retreat successful depends on many things and I think that every writer probably has their own personal list of Writing Retreat Must Haves but are a couple of points which for me, contribute to making a writing retreat a wonderful haven where I can truly immerse myself in my writing and let my creative juices flow!

Know your fellow retreaters – I am part of a small but challenging writing group and there are usually just four of us on a retreat.  We’ve been working together as writers for a long time and have a successful working relationship. This is vital during a retreat because we are able to leave each other to work and set our own personal writing rhythms while also arranging group critique times and breaks so that we can pool our thoughts, egg each other on or seek each other’s advice.  If  I was with a group of people I didn’t know, I think I would feel that I’d have to be polite, look presentable and get caught up in small-talk which would take away from necessary writing time.  There is something wonderful about typing away on your laptop all day wearing pyjamas and tatty old slippers!

Choose a dull venue – every time we’ve organized a retreat, we have picked a B&B which is in a relatively uninteresting, isolated area. This is so important because it vastly cuts down on distractions that could take us away from our work, like shops, cinemas or restaurants.  (The only view I need on a writing retreat is the screen of my laptop!)  We usually bring our own snacks, cereals, soups and sandwich stuff so that we always have food on hand (this saves money but also prevents us from having to pop out for supplies all the time).   Sometimes we order take-out but we tend not to shower and we always make sure there is a plentiful supply of coffee!

Set goals – I think this is really important (well for me at least) because it means I’m much more efficient with my special writing retreat time.  For each retreat, I give myself a personal goal and I try to stick to it.  Whether I actually do or not, is not necessarily important, the key is to have something to work towards so that no precious time is wasted.  The retreats I’ve been on have only lasted three days ( we all have young families so it’s hard to justify more time away) so from the time we arrive, to the time we leave, we work non-stop.  We usually write well into the night and get up early to crack on.  It is so wonderfully satisfying to drive home exhausted but knowing that we have achieved so much. 

I consider the writing retreats I’ve attended to be absolute gems in my writing career so far and I hope I continue to be lucky enough to keep going on them!  What about you?  Have you ever been on a writing retreat? Was it successful? Would you do it again? Have you got any writing retreat tips to share?

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Too good to pass up…

I saw this quote a couple of days a go and it’s been on my mind ever since.  It’s just good to pass up so I thought I’d share it on my blog.

“Try and fail but do not fail to try.”

I love it because that’s exactly the theory I apply to my writing…or at least I try to anyway!  The fact is that when you’re working away alone on a computer, typing (or not, as is often the case) it’s hard to keep the negative thoughts from floating to the surface and getting in the way.  It’s far too easy to find a reason not to write, a distraction to keep you from sitting at your desk. 

I’ve been procrastinating recently.  It’s been an age since I had a good solid couple of hours to write.  And I’ve been getting frustrated but tomorrow is the day.  I will not answer the phone, I will not drive out in the car, go to the supermarket, write emails or do the washing.  I am going to hole up in front of my computer, make a pot of tea and eat toast all day. I don’t know if I’m going to produce anything worthwhile but I’m going to TRY! 🙂

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The thing about writing…

Life is all about extending your comfort zones right? Well in December I plonked myself bang in the middle of a new comfort zone and it made me edgy and excited all at the same time!  In July I published my debut novel High-Heels And Slippers, first as an ebook and then in paperback too.  That  in itself was a huge learning curve but then in December I took part in a book blog tour during which my book was reviewed by fifteen people.  I had no idea what they would think of my book but whatever they thought was made public in blogosphere for all to see – eek!   I must have been crazy, I mean no one made me do it; I signed up for it voluntarily!

But that’s the thing about writing: it makes me want to push my personal boundaries.

I began to write consistently about five years ago when I had some ideas for children’s books. I joined the SBCWI, attended a regular critique group and went to a children’s writing conference inNew York. 

A couple of members of my writing group were writing YA novels.  They had reams and reams of work and I was completely in awe of their ability to produce such large amounts. How did they do that?  How did they have so much to say?  Their word counts were in the thousands and it was completely daunting to me. 

 I kept on revising my five hundred word picture book manuscripts, trying to perfect each line and all the time wondering what it must be like to write a full length novel.  I was tempted but lacked the confidence to give it a go. 

Then one evening, I decided to try it.  I sat down with a blank Microsoft document and began to type. That’s when Josie Jenkins, the heroine of my novel, first came alive.  For the next few months her story just poured out of me.  I would stay up until three in the morning pounding away on the keys of my laptop.  Before I knew it I had written several chapters. 

I wanted to bring this new work to my critique group, after all I relied on their good sense and perceptive critiques, but I lacked the courage.  Meeting after meeting, I chickened out, and kept the printed sheets hidden in my bag. 

But although it’s tempting to hide away and succumb to one’s hermit tendencies, a writer cannot afford to be reclusive for long, because receiving and being receptive to feedback is essential for a writer’s growth and eventual success.  Or at least that’s what I’ve come to believe. For it seems to me, that all feedback, even the negative, hard-to-take stuff, is valuable.

Most people have a fear of rejection, and I’m certainly no exception, but the thing about writing is that makes me confront my fears.  So I drew a deep breath and finally took the papers out of my bag.  Before I began to read, I apologized: “This is probably going to be useless…” I muttered as I passed out copies to everyone.  “It’s just something I’m working on…so you know…it’s pretty rough…”  The group smiled knowingly back at me.  They knew the feeling of course, the feeling of putting your creative self on the line.

When I began to read my palms went clammy and my voice stuck in my dry mouth.  I was utterly nervous; it felt pretty much as if I had just stripped naked in the middle of Barnes & Noble. 

Yes it was nerve-wracking but it was also exhilarating.  And I have come to the conclusion that it was also addictive.  Because that was over three years ago and I have continued write and to learn so much since then. It has been a series of highs and lows which have been taken me to depths of despair one minute and soaring on a crest of a confidence-wave the next.  And I’m still learning and I’m still trying to navigate through the ups and downs.  The thing about writing is that it’s fluid; I never know where it’s going to take me and let’s face it, that’s part of the buzz!

In the beginning, I have to admit, I rejected the idea of self-publishing.  And when aNew Yorkagent showed an interest in my work I thought I was on the road to finding a publisher (and a guest spot on the Oprah show; well we writers do like to dream!) But after six months I still had no contract and I was struggling with an overwhelming sense of failure.  For a while I couldn’t bear to go near my manuscript, I couldn’t handle the thought of sending out more query letters and waiting again for another six months, time after time, only to find that years may pass and I could still be in the same situation.  Life’s too short to wait around, twiddling your thumbs.

There’s a latin proverb which goes something like this: “If the wind fails, take to the oars.” And that’s exactly what I decided to do.  There had been an explosion in epublishing, more and more authors were choosing to publish their work this way. I decided to have a rethink about self-publishing and give it a try because by doing that I could get Josie’s story out there, I could get the feedback I needed from the people that really mattered: the reading public.  I knew nothing about epublishing world and so I embarked on a massive fact finding mission.  And even though it was perplexing at times, I was happy to do it because the thing about writing is that it makes me want to take on a challenge.

Part of that challenge, for me, is accepting that High-Heels And Slippers isn’t perfect and not berating myself to bits for that.  I have tried and tried to make sure it was typo-free and well-edited but there’s always room for improvement.  And the thing about writing is that I want to get better and better. 

So I will take everything I have learned from this and feed it into my next book.  And while I’m working on that, I’m sure I will learn a whole bunch more because that’s the thing about writing: no matter how much you write and how long you do it for, there’s always more to learn.

I would love to learn from your writing experiences!  What are the things about writing that give you a buzz?  What challenges you?

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