Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Not Enough Hours in the Day? You'll Live.

When I started painting, one common remark I heard was "when do you find time to do this?" It was a good question. Like most people, I'd always complained about not having enough hours in the day. I still complain about it. In fact, if I stopped complaining about it, I'd probably free up a little more time to paint.

Most of my painting gets done between 8:30 and 10:30pm when the kids are in bed and there's nothing of interest on TV. It's not ideal as the lighting is poor and I have Foxtel, so there's almost always something good on TV. I'm also usually pretty tired by then, so often I stand there staring at my paints for a while and then just slowly and quietly make my way to the lounge.

Sometimes I paint twice a week, sometimes I don't touch it for several weeks - and I hate that. My favourite time to paint is during the day with a fresh mind and the natural light filling the room but with that whole job thing in the way, it's easier said than done.

Apart from the obvious time dedicated to my family and on top of painting, I have several other interests that I squish in whenever possible: writing my book (even more sporadic than painting and usually done in smaller chunks of time), writing my blog, managing my Etsy store (which only includes my art that's unaffected by paint fade!), occasional attempts at maintaining fitness (I use the term maintaining loosely) and of course, fuelling the time sucking social media addictions.

Naturally, I can't ignore the "have-tos" of life: the cooking, cleaning, shopping and peg sorting. (If you read my previous blog, you'll know that I'm joking. I gave up peg sorting years ago.)

So I did a little exercise to calculate, on average, how much time I'm allocating to each part of my life over a given week. The result to what is clearly an amateur piece of analysis is that I am using 15 minutes more each week than what actually exists.

Looking around my house, I think I know where the calculations went wrong and I'd say I'd benefit from a little less tellie-watching and a little more Spray & Wiping. But as I've embarked on this new phase in my life (the one where I actually try to incorporate the stuff I like to do, not just the stuff I have to do), I've become somewhat time greedy. Like a kid with a room full of toys - there's never enough.

I want to paint and write and walk and read and the reality is, I have to ration out my time with precision and great care. Quitting work is not an option and it's not likely to become one while there's still nobody prepared to pay an ex-peggie ten million dollars for a small, faded acrylic painting.

So what do we do when there's not enough time? Get over it. Seriously, if my biggest problem in life is that I have too many interests and not enough time to indulge them all, then I really need to take a good hard look in the mirror before I start complaining. It's a pretty good problem to have.

And whilst I'd love to conclude this blog post with something funny or thought provoking, I can't. I'm out of time.

How much can you squeeze into your day?

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Colour-Coding Pegs. It's a Thing.

I recently had a much needed catch up lunch with my girlfriends. It's been a long time between drinks, so we had a lot to cover in the space of a few hours. There were some very serious and sad topics and girly fluff to touch on as well.

It was also the first time I told my best friends that I'm writing. That was a big event for me because I'd been a closet writer for so long. They were, as I'd expect, excited and supportive.

We got through our information sharing bit by bit and with a lot of digression, over delicious share plates and utterly drinkable wine. And we laughed, the kind of laughter that makes you look around the room apologetically when you come up for air. We laughed the most about pegs and dishwashers.

Yep, that's right. Pegs. You see, colour-coding pegs is a thing. I've been aware of this for a while, because I used to have a problem. I found myself hanging out the washing with pegs that matched the colour of the clothing. Red pegs for red shirts; blue pegs for blue jeans and so on. Mine was the Kikki K of washing lines. Of course, sometimes I didn't have an appropriate coloured peg, so my inner artist would, with a very audible huff, find complimentary or neutral coloured pegs to complete the job. Or I'd shove that rogue item into the dryer and walk away.

When children came along, the amount of washing became unimaginable and when I returned to work, I realised that spending an additional 15 minutes per load on colour-coding HAD TO STOP. So I trained myself out of that Virgo inspired habit.

What I've come to realise in the past week though, is that I was not alone. I was never alone!

Because, I repeat, colour-coding pegs is a thing!

There were 7 of us at lunch but the peg stories were countless. It seems that if you're not a peggie, you once were or you know one. There are peggies who match to the colour of the clothing, there are peggies who store pegs in separate baskets based on their colour AND strength (far out, it's exhausting just thinking about it) and there are peggies who will only use one colour on their line, rendering the remaining pegs in any packet useless, (except for, you know, building long, unstable, unreliable swords).

One girlfriend confessed to being a peggie but admitted that, like me, she quit her habit and has been clean for years now. Another staged an intervention to assist her own mother who's peg-thing was going too far and there was even reports of a known peggie who, if I heard correctly, had a separate peg basket for the grandchildren to play with so as not to interfere with her "real pegs".

There I was, nervous about disclosing my secret writing habits and BOOM! We're onto pegs. I so readily admitted my earlier peg matching addiction, without fear of judgement or mockery, that I couldn't help but think how ridiculous I was for not previously having the guts to talk about my writing. And it's all in perspective now: who cares if I'm writing or if I'm any good? I understand pegs. And that's where we're at.

Oh, I almost forgot. Dishwasher-cutlery-basket-arrangement is also a thing.

Do you know a peggie?

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Writing Your First Novel? Avoid this Rookie Mistake.

About two years ago, I opened a new Word document and started writing a book. Just like that. It was simple. I had an idea about how this book would begin and who the protagonist was. So I started typing.

Somewhere along the way, after a few thousand words and realising that I had already changed the direction in which I thought the story would be going, I made a few handwritten notes in my diary about what was happening. This was my attempt at plotting. Ridiculous in hindsight, but it was all I needed at that point to keep me going.

Further down the track, probably around eight thousand words, I decided I needed something a little better to help me keep track of what was happening. I felt a little silly, to be honest. This is my story, with my characters - how can I possibly "lose track" of what's happening? But I was losing track, so I started a file in Microsoft OneNote to list my characters and create a basic outline of where I thought the story was going.

By twenty-thousand words I found myself in quite a quandary. My writing windows were (and continue to be) very small and often sporadic. So when I'd sit down to write, I felt that I really needed something to refer back to (like, I don't know....a plan?) to keep me on track. And just as I'd make the decision to focus on developing my plan (which was, at that point, about 5 or 6 sentences and a crude flowchart), I'd realise that if I put all my time into the plan, I'd have no time to write. So I'd try to write, only to face the unsettling fact that I couldn't confidently remember who was who, where they were or what they looked like.

This in turn meant that I would have to retrace my steps and before I knew it, my window was closed and I'd essentially done nothing. I repeated this fruitless process so many times that I truly questioned why I was bothering.

Knowing something  had to give, I begrudgingly tried to dedicate some time to building my plan. I extended my file in OneNote to develop some character profiles and a timeline. At the time, whilst I knew deep down that I would benefit from more effort here,  it was again enough to get me back on track so I left it at that. I should point out here that my character profiles were embarrassingly brief, inconsistently arranged and simply non-existent in some cases. And don't even start me on the timeline! I continued to struggle through, my writing time often eaten up by the necessary back tracking that came with my poor planning.

At thirty-thousand words I was becoming quite desperate and finally made the effort to plan out each chapter of the book, including those I'd already written. Knowing what I wanted to include in each chapter made each step incredibly easy in comparison to the way I had been working. Having a reference of chapters already written was also a huge help as I could easily refer back to specific scenes when I needed to. But the more detail I included in my OneNote file, the more I wanted to include and the more I wondered if there was a better way to do this.

As it turns out, there is. There are programs you can use specifically designed for this purpose. Who'd have thought it? Everyone else as it turns out! So not only do I feel like a fool for thinking that I should be able to write an eighty thousand word novel without any support strategy (as I now realise that everybody has some sort of method to organise their thoughts when writing), I also feel like a fool for not assuming there would be really good systems available to do it with.

I heard about a program called Scrivener and after a little bit of further research, I'm convinced this is the way forward for me. I'm yet to use it though, despite it's relatively cheap price point and the endless organisational possibilities it offers. Why? Because I'm now at forty-two thousand words! I'm halfway through my first draft and I'm afraid that if I use my time to enter everything into Scrivener, I'll never find time to keep writing. I'm hopelessly stuck!

My advice to you? Invest in such a system before you start - even if you don't know what to put into it! You can add as you go, knowing that you have a far better chance of completing your project with it than without it.

And I have made a promise to myself because I have many stories in my head that I hope to tell. No matter how much I plan to be a pantser in the future, I must also prepare to be a plotter, or risk being neither.

Are you planning to write a book? Do you have a system in place?

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Closet Writers: Why Are We in the Closet?

I recently discovered that the world is full of closet writers. I didn't necessarily think I was alone, I just didn't realise how many of us were crammed into this closet. We're everywhere.

But now I'm stepping out of the closet, so to speak. Just like I did with my paintings, I've decided to come clean about my sneaky little habit of writing when no one is looking. I know, I know, how sneaky is it when I'm blogging for the whole world to see? But I'm not just talking about my blog (which, incidentally, very few friends and family even know about....but I'll get to that!), I'm talking about a few other homes for my words.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I always wanted to write a book; I just never knew what to write about. Back then, I didn't doubt my ability to do it. In fact, it wouldn't have occurred to me that I couldn't do it. I just lacked content.

As the years went by, the desire was still there, but it was pushed dismissively to the side. I had bigger fish to fry. I had a career and a social life for starters. I travelled and I found the one and I got married and I had children and we moved houses and I simply ignored that inner voice calling me to write something. Anything!

And then I became aware of a really big change that had taken place inside my own head. I no longer lacked content. I realised that I had content, I had ideas. Heavens above, I even had some time. What I didn't have now was confidence. How could I write a book? I've never written a book before. I'm not even a writer! Somewhere, somehow, over the space of 15 - 20 years, I taught myself that I couldn't do it. And for me, that was a much bigger hurdle to overcome than not knowing where to start.

After years of discussion (procrastinating) with my husband, I finally took the first step and completed a course at The Australian Writers' Centre called Writing for Children and Young Adults. It was such a great experience and it kick-started my first project, a children's novel. Of course, that was nearly three years ago and that unfinished project has been on hold for at least two years, but hey, I started it!

The reason it's on hold though (apart from hitting a major flaw in my plot that stopped me in my tracks) is that I started a different project, this one aimed at young adults. I was really enjoying the early stages of this book when I became overcome by the need to start yet another project. When will it end?!

So now, with two unfinished books on the back burner, I am well and truly embedded in a chick-lit novel that I have been writing for around 2 years. Given that my writing is squished into sporadic, tiny snippets of free time, I often go weeks, months even without looking at it. And reflecting on that, I'm quite happy knowing that I've churned out over 42,000 words of this story and really enjoyed doing so.

Why is it, then, that my fellow closet writers and I are so secretive about this business? I think there are a few reasons. Some people purely want to write and have no desire at all to share their writing. Some are afraid of the pressure that will follow as well-meaning friends and family ask how their book is coming along. There may be an element of shyness or embarrassment or a preference to keep it under wraps until there's something tangible to show for it. For me, I think it's been a combination of all of those things but I admit that fear is probably the biggest. What if I never finish a book? What if I do and it's just plain awful?

What if? What. If. These two words have severely interfered with my life. For a long time. And stepping back and looking at my fears logically, I can answer my what-if questions. If I never finish a book, my life will simply remain as it is. If I finish a book and it's awful, I can rewrite it or rejoice in the fact that I wrote a freaking book! That's it. That's the fallout from my seriously consuming what-if paranoia. I may as well be scared of broccoli.

Do you have a secret hobby?

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

The Biggest Painting Mistake You Can Make

Unwrapping my Christmas gifts a couple of years ago was like....well, it was like Christmas! My husband had decided to set me up with a large selection of art supplies and one by one, he and my children presented me with beautifully wrapped gifts of canvases, paints, brushes, sketch pads, pencils and an easel.

Art supplies are expensive and disposable income barely exists in our household. So it didn't phase me that my new stuff was cheap. In fact, I embraced the quantity versus quality concept knowing that my alternative was to get 2 out of 3 of the canvas, paint, brush combination. Despite knowing these weren't the best products available, I still had the same awestruck feeling I get when I walk into Kikki K, everything new and shiny; I spent hours just looking at it all, not daring to open the items for fear of them losing their intrigue.

Once I finally took the plunge some weeks later and began using my collection of goodies, I never looked back. That is, until recently.

You see, as it turns out, you get what you pay for. Well we know that, I've said it many times to my children when they've insisted on buying a $3 bow and arrow set or a 10-pack of water pistols for $4. But I was blinded by the desire to paint, so much so that I didn't stop to consider that this paint might simply disappear with time. With little snippets of time.

My second painting was quite ambitious. I set out all guns blazing, then fell quite quickly into a weird, resentful, self punishing shame when I realised how difficult this painting was going to be. I was painful to live with. But I pushed through it and, after many hours, I signed it and considered it finished.

My  Second Painting - Bronte Beach in Sydney.
Now, ignoring the difference in photography (the first picture taken at night on a Blackberry (pfft), the second in natural light on an iPhone), have a look at the difference in colour within each painting. Specifically, look at the grass area on the right hand side. And the ocean. It's as if the blue didn't want a part of it anymore and just  moved on out, leaving the yellow to hold the fort. Luckily none of the beach goers were wearing blue swimmers or they'd now be stranded there naked.

Curious as to how much time has lapsed here? 10 months. 10 bloody months. But wait, it gets worse.

The next painting I did was even more ambitious, with a new endeavour into rock pools and sunrises. I worked for a long time on this painting and I was really quite proud of it.

The finished painting back in 2013

 Now check out this little blue paint dummy spit.

The now unfinished painting in 2014

The water colour now resembles that of the babies' wading pool. Even the sunset has changed and although it might be difficult to tell in this photo, the actual horizon now looks like it was drawn freehand by a 3 year old.

I can't tell you how bitterly disappointing this process has been for me. But I can tell you that I've re-learnt a very valuable lesson. It's highly irritating that I knew this one already, I just didn't give it any credence: You get what you bloody-well pay for!

What about you? Have you learnt something the hard way?