Update  – Editing ‘A Thief & a Gentlewoman’ – 4 Lessons Learned



Fab editing image credit: Nic McPhee, Flickr.

Just a quick update on progress with my own mountain (of words).


I only have 14 scenes left to edit for A Thief & a Gentlewoman.  Fourteen!  That’s so close to single digits, I can taste it.  I might actually hit my (self-imposed) deadline of 9th October.

I’ll admit I’ve found self-editing a bit of a slog – I finished draft one back in May 2015, so it’s taken quite some time to get to this point.  (Albeit with other things going on in there, like NaNoWriMo.)

I’ll also admit, I had been kind of beating myself up about that.  But then I realised – this is the first time I’ve edited a whole novel.  I’m still learning how to do it, while I’m doing it.

Over the past couple of months I’ve finally started making a dent, thanks to some things I’ve worked out:

  • Use pomodoros. I had already learnt this lesson in my drafting, but somehow I only thought to apply it to editing recently.  I know, I know – silly, but I’m thankful I did finally try it out.  I also bought this cute tomato timer to remind myself to try out the Pomodoro technique whenever I’m struggling with a task:



From Amazon.


  • Editing is about making the story awesome. This is kind of obvious, but when you’re slogging through 70 scenes working out what to change and how to change it, it’s easy to forget.  Seeing how much a scene, a character, a plotline has been improved by the edits I’m making is actually kind of exciting.
  • Make use of snippets of time. I’ve already mentioned this in the Pursue Your Passion series, but it has helped me keep moving forward, even during busy weeks.  Taking my laptop to work, so I can edit in my lunch break, has allowed me to get two or three extra scenes done in a day compared to if I only worked at home.
  • Zone out. With my earphones in and my GwT playlist on, I can zone out the world and focus on my work.

So, when these edits are finished the next step is to get the manuscript out to my beta readers and see what they think.  That’s a whole other area of excitement and terror, but hey, we’ll worry about that then …


Pursue Your Passion – Part 5 – Go and Live!

This is perhaps the simplest post in this series, but maybe the hardest to do, because it boils down to this:

Go and live it.

Go out there, try these tips and the ones you find in books and see which work, which can be tweaked, and which just aren’t suited to you.

If you suddenly realise you’ve gone off track, just gently steer yourself back onto the path.  No one’s perfect, no one’s going to be able to always do everything right.  Keep working at it and you will get better and you will get closer to your mountain.


Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

And while you’re out there, remember that you can ask for help.  In fact, if you need it, please do ask.  Tweet me, email me (clarecsager AT gmail DOT com), turn to your writing community, get a writing coach … Just ask.

Next …

So, that’s the end of this series.  I truly hope this has helped you move towards making your dreams into achievements and I wish you every happiness and success along the way.

A big thank you to everyone who has liked and subscribed to the blog over the course of this series – the response has been fantastic.  Thank you!  Remember, get in touch if you have any questions, thoughts, or feedback on the series – I love hearing from you!

Confession-time – I wrote this series a long time before I published it.  I sat on it worrying about the reception it might receive, whether it would actually be of use to anyone.  But I realised – I want to help others improve their lives and make their dreams happen (The good ones, not the one where you’re standing at the front of your maths class and suddenly realise you’re naked – no one wants that one to happen!) and if I share this and it helps just one person, then I’ve made a difference.

So I hit publish.

Do let me know how you’ve done and where you’ve gone with this – I’d love to hear from you.

All the very best.  Go turn that dreaming into doing.

Pursue Your Passion – Part 4 – The Writing


Image credit: Pixabay.

So far in this series, I’ve been talking about life and how you can make that work for writing, rather than how to write.  There are already just a few blogs on that topic, eh?

I’m not going to dive into that crowded pool, but in this penultimate part of the Pursue Your Passion series, I am going to talk about some specific tips to help the organisation and productivity of your writing, helping you make the most of the time you’ve made to write.


I don’t know about you, but I have a range of ideas for a range of types of writing.  There are a couple of non-fiction books I’d like to write and several fiction ideas at various stages of gestation.  I also have blog post topics floating about.  Not to mention research I need to do and processes my writing needs to pass through before it’s fit for human consumption.

How the hell are we meant to organise all this?

Workflow, my friend.

What the hell is workflow?  Well, I tried to find a definition online, but most of them seem to be written by robots.  Exceptionally dry, corporate robots.

So I’ll try to explain: workflow is the series of steps a piece of work or a project goes through from start to finish.  It should be something that’s repeatable and can be applied to many projects of the same type.

For writing, you could think of your workflow for a whole novel (could be something like: concept –> development and research –> planning –> drafting –> editing –> beta readers –> final edits –> submission).

You could also consider the workflow each scene/chapter of a novel goes through, or your blog posts, podcast, photographs …

Workflow helps us keep a project moving forward, it can give a helpful framework or sense of direction when working on a project (‘What’s next?’ suddenly becomes an easy question to answer.), and it can help you understand how you work.  It’s also great for keeping track of the different stages a project or parts of a project might be at.

In short, workflow is awesome!

And my favourite tool for implementing workflow is Trello.


Oh Trello, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways!

Ahem, sorry, I got carried away, but I really do adore Trello.  It’s amazing.  Here, take a look:



This is my Trello board for my fiction ideas.  An idea has to pass through these workflow stages in order to become a finished book:

Initial idea –> Brainstorming –> Research –> Outline –> Draft –> Edits –> Beta readers –> Final edits –> Submission/Publishing

And my Trello board helps me manage that.  I can see at a glance what ideas I’ve got in the pipeline (however small a snippet of a concept), what stage other ideas are at and what I need to do with a project next.  I have similar boards for non-fiction and for blog posts.

I also use it to help me manage my to do list when editing (in a similar vein to Rachel Aaron’s editing method).

You can colour code cards, move them around, and add comments.  It’s super visual and simple to use.

So, you see why I love Trello?


There are loads of great resources out there about motivation – a couple of my favourites are Raj Persaud’s The Motivated Mind, based on psychological research [affiliate link, and the US version], and The Successful Author Mindset: A Handbook for Surviving the Writer’s Journey, by Joanna Penn [affiliate link, US version here], which helps with all different areas of brain wrangling (seriously, I finished reading that book and turned right back to the beginning and started again!).

One of the most effective ways I’ve found of improving my motivation is tracking and it seems to be one that helps loads of people.

word_count_graphWhen I’m drafting, tracking my total word count and my words per hour, ticking off planned scenes as I write them, and representing this visually is a huge help.  I’m deep in the editing pit (at least that’s how it feels) at the moment and I’ve written up a long to-do list of changes I need to make – these get crossed off as I do them.

Yes, in terms of organisation it helps, because I know what I’ve done and what’s left to do, but just as important is the psychological impact that has on my motivation.  The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and tracking all this helps me see each step I’ve taken, each mile I’ve progressed.


Image credit: BT, Flickr.

A graph of total words done in my first draft lets me see that I’m getting there.  I put it above my desk and the great thing about a graph of total first draft words done is that it just goes up and up and up, unerringly towards that projected total of 90,000 words (or 115,000+ if you are a glutton for punishment write fantasy like me).

Your Golden Hour

Know thyself.  Not just an ancient Greek quote, but infinitely useful advice.

In this particular case, knowing yourself allows you to know when you’re at your most effective.

I have trouble getting started: it takes me a while to get going in the morning, to feel really alert and leap into action on my projects for the day.  Which is why, for me, working at a day job is kind of useful – it forces me to get up and get going, then by the time I get home in the evening I’ve got that momentum, so I write when I first get in (and during my lunch break, sometimes).


Fairly accurate representation of me in the morning.  Image credit: Mark A Coleman, Flickr.

I could set my alarm for half an hour earlier every day, but that doesn’t work for me – I’m an owl, not a lark.

Find the time that works for you and, if you’re not sure, try different times of day (and give it a real chance, not 5 minutes before you give up).  It might be that your house is quiet straight after work, because no one else is home yet, or maybe that’s peak chaos for your household.

Protect Your Time

When you’ve worked out when your golden hour (or half hour or whatever it is) is, protect it, safeguard it, hoard it jealously.

Avoid scheduling anything else in that time.  Put it in your diary – block it out with highlighter.


Image credit: Pixabay.

Use an app like StayFocusd, which blocks the whole internet or just specific sites (I’m looking at you, Facebook and Twitter!) for a certain timeframe.

You need to prioritise your writing, because no one else will.

Get into the Groove

Make it a habit, try to be as consistent as possible.  You might not be able to do the same thing every day, Monday to Friday, but can you form a habit that Tuesday and Thursday you write as soon as you get home, while Monday, Wednesday and Friday you write in your lunch break?

Habit, momentum, rhythm – these things make it easier to get started and quicker at the work itself.

Habit-forming is helped by prompts, such as the time and place you write.  Perhaps you always go to a café to write, so that sound of hustle and bustle will become a trigger to write.  Little rituals can help, like having a specific drink, switching off the internet and only opening Scrivener when it’s time to write.

I have made my desk into a trigger location – when I sit there, it’s time to get my head down and focus.  My pinboard with motivational quotes, inspirational images and quotes that remind me of my goals and my book help that even further.

Plan for The Next Thing

Knowing what you’re going to do next will help avoid that flailing, sinking feeling when you finish a project.

You’ve finished editing one book – good stuff!  What’s next?  Is there a project ready to start drafting?  Do you have some research to do?

I find it helps to have a solid idea ready to go when I’ve finished one piece, so I brainstorm, research, collect and experiment with ideas, and start outlining while I’m still working on the previous book.  I try not to get too deep into the next piece, but its easier to get started on the next project when some planning is already in place.

Having deadlines and stretch targets can also help, but, again, that depends on you and your personality.

Next …

Some other resources I’ve found really useful for my productivity:

As for this series, next week is our last part, come back for some closing words …

Love Listening – September 2016

I’ll admit it – I was a podcast naysayer.  But, fear not, I’ve been converted!

And in a big way – I’ve been chaining podcast back episodes all year and have even taken my first foray into audiobooks.

Suddenly waiting for the bus is a chance to listen to interesting discussions and learn – I love it!

Some of my favourites:

  • The Worried Writer Podcast, with Sarah Painter – Sarah is charming, honest, and thoughtful in her approach to podcasting.  She interviews other authors and shares fantastic tips and advice to help tackle the writing worries that can creep up on us all.  The only bad thing?  The Worried Writer only lands once a month, but it’s definitely one to look forward to!
  • StoryWonk podcasts, with Lani Diane Rich and Alastair Stephens – These two know story.  Seriously.  Insightful analysis of narrative from pop culture to the classics, together with a fab dynamic between these two, who are guaranteed to make you smile.  Do yourself a favour and go right back to StoryWonk Sunday, which isn’t running anymore, but has hours and hours of content to lose yourself in!
  • The Creative Penn podcast, with Joanna Penn – I’m sure Joanna needs no introduction!  I love this podcast for her positive, can-do attitude, which is not only inspiring, but allows her to share helpful advice.
  • In Our Time podcast, with Melvyn Bragg – This BBC podcast is a shot of history.  45 minutes with Melvyn Bragg quizzing the experts on an event or idea and challenging them to explain it for the rest of us.  Fascinating stuff, with years of back episodes.

I know I’m late to the whole podcast thing, so educate me – what are your favourites?

Pursue Your Passion – Part 3 – The Necessities

Luxury Taxes For The Rich

Image credit: Ken Teegardin, Flickr.

Death and taxes.  There’s no escaping some things in life.

There are some other tasks we all have to do, but there are ways to do them smarter.  We’re going to look at ways you can hack those necessities to do them quicker and better, so you can make more time for your Thing.

These are all techniques I use and I’d love to hear from you if you try them out or have more ideas.  What are your lifehacking tips?

Household Cleaning

We tend to wash up most things as we go, but pans from big meals can get left to soak, so they might get done every other day – it’s a compromise for me to not wash those immediately (as that’s my instinct!).  It’s also a compromise for me to only dust every other week (And then probably not very thoroughly, I’ll admit!), but that’s exactly what I mean by having to decide what you’re willing to give up or compromise on.  A change that will help me in the future will be to get a dishwasher, but we’re a couple of years away from renovating the kitchen.

I set aside an hour every Saturday and an hour most Sundays to blitz things and that’s it.  I have a mental chart of tasks like the hoovering, tidying, cleaning the bathroom, dusting, etc, and when these things will be done; some are every week, others can wait, so I do them every other week.  I try to put a load on washing on first thing on a Saturday, as this can be running while I’m doing other things, like writing or cleaning, then keep the machine on until the wash-basket is empty.



Image credit: Pexels.

Anything that can be prepared, then chucked in the oven for a while is great.  Even better if it’s something you can make in a large batch, then freeze or refrigerate.

Soups, anything slow cooked and the food processor (Saves time chopping!) are your friends, use them.

I’m going to share some recipes with you here on the blog for healthy, nutritious and easy food you can make quickly or in large batches, because for writing, your brain is your best tool and it needs nourishment.  Watch this space!

Travel to Work


Image credit: Pixbay.

You might not be able to make this pass by any quicker, but can you maximise this time?  If you don’t need to drive for work, taking the train might mean you can write on your laptop or tablet on the go.

Even if you have to drive or find writing/reading on the bus makes you sick (like me), you can listen to e-books or podcasts.  Some of my favourites are The Creative Penn, Storywonk and The Worried Writer, all great sources of inspiration and advice for writers.


Don’t do it.  That’s another option.  Just like my lax approach to dusting, maybe you don’t really need to do things as often … or at all.  That’s a compromise you can make with certain tasks.  Ask yourself: is this really a necessity?  Does it need to be done?

And if it does need doing, do you have to be the one to do it?  Could your children earn their pocket money by doing the washing up?  Could your partner contribute more?

I’ve decided that when I reach a certain consistent income through my writing, I’m getting a cleaner to come in once a week or two and do the hoovering and dusting … and maybe the bathroom.  Because at that point my time will be better spent writing, rather than hulking the vacuum around, both from the standpoint of heading towards my mountain and in monetary terms.

Next Time

I hope these tips have helped and next week we’ll be looking at some writing-specific tips to help improve your organisation, motivation and productivity.

[If writing isn’t your Thing, some of those tips will still be applicable to a whole range of passions, so do join us next time!]


Pursue Your Passion Series – Part 2 – Your Roadmap

This week we’re going to crystallise the view of your mountain and consolidate the changes we touched upon in Part 1 to ensure they help set your compass for your destination.  Yep, there are going to be a lot of travel analogies in this part!

What Does Your Mountain Look Like?


Image credit: Pexels.

There are all sorts of mountains – from steep craggy rocks created by the up-push of colliding tectonic plates, like Everest, to the long, gentle slopes of volcanic Fuji – and even though you might share a general destination with a friend, the specifics of your mountain and what it looks like will be personal to you.

Because if you set off without a good idea of your destination, you might find yourself having reached a mountain, only to realise it’s someone else’s and you’re no closer to your own.

Here we need to return to your Thing and get more specific.  What exactly is your overall target? What is your idea of success?  Is it winning an award, getting a book traditionally published, or perhaps making a consistent living through indie book sales?  Do you want a career in writing or just to get one book out there?

(And as I mentioned before, this could apply to areas other than writing – perhaps you want to start your own baking business.  Will you have arrived when you can quit your day job and support yourself and your family by baking fulltime?  Or do you want to be able to complement your existing earnings with an enjoyable weekend sideline?  Maybe only global baked-good domination will satisfy you, with a series of recipe books and a line of branded bakewear.  Any of these are valid goals.  Only you can say which one is for you.)

There is some great advice out there about clarifying your idea of success – I would point you to the following:

To give you an idea, here’s my Mission Statement (which is actually a little scary to share, please be gentle!):

I write for creative and personal expression, because I love stories and the written word and playing in my imagination.  I want to share my ideas and creations with other people and, perhaps, change the world, even if it’s just for one person.

I write strong female protagonists who are flawed and kick arse (whether literally or figuratively), pushing the boundaries of their worlds.  I write stories that visit impossible worlds where magic, history and outer space become real.

I want to eventually make a full-time living with my writing (£20k+ per year), but I’m prepared for that to take a while.  I’m not sure whether traditional or self-publishing will be best for my work, so I’ll continue to research, but if I can’t choose, I am going to finish the GwT trilogy and send the first book out to agents to seek traditional publishing.  If that isn’t possible, I will self-publish the trilogy simultaneously (or the first two books, with the third to follow shortly).

During that time, I will start writing a new book/series – Awakened, a SF space opera – and generate more ideas.

The great thing about the mission statement is that it’s given me a clear direction of where I want to go, the specific goals I want to meet over the next couple of years, but also in those first two paragraphs it’s highlighted what the heart of my writing is.  And that’s an important compass to keep track of along the way.


Image credit: Pixabay.

(Told you there’d be lots of travel analogies.)

One final word from me on your idea of success, your image of your mountain: yes, do think about this carefully and write it down, but don’t fret about it and chisel the words in stone – the likelihood is your ideas will change over the years, just as your life develops, and that is OK.  Let’s just work out where we’re going for now.


The great space oddity himself David Bowie encouraged us to “turn and face the strange”, to meet change head on, and that’s exactly what we need to do if we want to chase our dreams.

The next stage of the process is working out what changes you need to make to get from the life you have now (as per your life audit) to the one you want (as per your specific mountain).

Look back at the notes you’ve written so far in this series.  By now you should have an idea of what your current barriers are.  You also know how you spend your time and what part of that is fixed and what is flexible.

We’re going to expand upon that now and work out some real actions you can take to make progress towards your mountain every day.

Consider all the notes you’ve written so far and your time wheel(s) and ask yourself this: What do you want to change?  What are you willing to change/give up/compromise?

One change I’ve already spoken about on the blog (see number 6) is making time in between other tasks – use that ‘dead time’ we identified before to do something productive, whether that’s washing the dishes while the pasta’s boiling or writing 500 words in the 20 minutes while your salmon’s in the oven.

To reach your mountain, would you give up watching TV every night or going out every weekend (and the hangovers that take up the next day … or two!)?

What about any toxic relationships in your life?  These might be friends and acquaintances, but keep in mind a toxic element holding you back could be a partner.  Like I said, change is scary, and I’m in no way advocating chucking everything in your life out the window and starting with nothing but your writing, but I am saying that you might need to make major changes to your life.

Or you might manage with small tweaks – everyone’s situation is different.

For me it was the career that consumed my energy and time.  I was a successful teacher for five years and the course leader for a programme that helped people get to university to train to become teachers.  It was the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had.  I still get messages now from former learners thanking me for helping them achieve their dreams of teaching.

But it was a leech of my time and energy.  After a day standing in front of classes, answering constant questions, and managing the expectations and behaviours of 20 people at a time, I was exhausted.  Then I had to go home and mark papers and plan lessons.  No wonder I wasn’t getting any writing done!

So when I had my moment of clarity, my realisation that I needed to be writing, that it was my Thing and that everything else was just distraction, I knew I couldn’t give both it and teaching the dedication they both needed (and that my students deserved).

Who You Are

This might be the scariest one to change.  I don’t think about it as changing who you are, so much as drawing out your truest self.  (Sorry, I know getting a bit Maslow there and into self-actualisation territory, but it’s true!)

And perhaps the hardest thing about that is changing your beliefs about yourself.

The idea of Who I Am is a potent one and one that’s been developing your entire life.  It’s something you might have been clinging onto for decades.

So, how can you change that idea?  Well, the technique that worked for me was affirmations.

I know, I know, there are many naysayers when it comes to affirmations, but if you’ve never tried them or only gave them a go for a couple of days, I’m asking you to give them a proper chance.  I was an affirmation naysayer back when I first encountered them in Coach Yourself to Writing Success, but then I tried them, found they worked, and realised exactly what they were doing.  Let me explain …

When I worked as a teacher, I saw first hand the immense power of what we tell ourselves – when a student tells themselves they can’t do maths or they’re no good at spelling, well, then they’ve already lost the fight.

What happens to us when we’ve spent a lifetime telling ourselves that we’re not creative or we can’t write in the evening because we’re too tired?  We believe it.  The same when someone else has told us for years and years that there’s no point in writing, because we’ll never get anywhere.

Affirmations allow us to counteract the (sometimes) years of negativity we’ve been listening to.  You say something enough, you start to believe it and that goes for the negative things as much as the positive.

To do something huge, like committing to writing a novel, you have to start believing in it.  So, give affirmations a try – they might help you and even if they don’t, all you’ve done is talked to yourself a bit and don’t tell me you don’t already do that!

Do It – Be Proactive, Take Little Steps, Stay Happy

In your mission statement, you wrote some more specific goals.  To reach those, you’re going to need a plan of action – concrete steps you need to take.  Take each goal and work out the stages required to meet them.  Again, jot down all your ideas in pen and paper, so you can see what you’ve crossed out.  Ask yourself these questions as guidance:

  • What is my goal?
  • What do I need to go to achieve it? Break this down into as many steps as possible – be specific.  I like to brainstorm the steps on paper, then put them into a logical order on my laptop.
  • What learning do I need to do? This might be using a short course, a book, or a blog.
  • What support is available to me? This could be a writing group, beta readers, a best friend, a supportive partner, or a writing coach (or a combination).

Also brainstorm actions you can take every day to keep you moving forward, such as reading about indie publishing, submissions, or narrative structure.

Consider how you currently use your time and how this can be optimised to align with your goals.  In the next couple of posts in the series, I’m going to give you some specific tips for this, so don’t think you have to have all the answers now – this is a long term strategy, which will evolve over time.

My key tips to bear in mind:

  • It’s really important to make the changes in stages: don’t try to do everything at once! Start with one or two smaller changes, then when you’ve got those running smoothly, introduce something else.  Consider this ongoing self-development.
  • Make sure you set aside time for these really important activities:
    • Looking after your relationships.
    • Looking after your physical health.
    • Looking after your creative and mental health. This includes down time/relaxation time, as mentioned above, but also refilling the creative well and time spent with people who support you and whom you support in turn.  I’m part of a private Facebook group of creative entrepreneurs who are fantastic – there we share problems, get stress off our chests and post great resources we’ve found.  They are a wonderful support mechanism and we’ve become close friends.
  • If you have deep-rooted blocks that are holding you back, consider seeing a professional, whether that’s a counsellor, a psychiatrist or a life coach. There is no shame in this.  I’m going to say that again: there is no shame in getting help.  Ahem, sorry, it’s just with the stigma around mental health and related issues, I want to be crystal clear on that point.  I have had mental health issues in my life – I found a good counsellor was a great help when I had panic attacks and, more recently, I had some fantastic sessions with Stuart Hallam, a kind of life coach with his own unique spin on things, all gleaned through his years of experience, which helped me with some barriers I was facing.  (I have no affiliation with Stu, I’ve just used his services and think he’s fantastic, plus he offers a free initial session and he works via Skype, so you can get his help wherever you are in the world.)

The bottom line is this:

you need to look after yourself.

Next Time

We’ll be looking at some tips for how to hack the necessities of life – the things you need to do – so they don’t end up taking over your life.

Recent Reads – August 2016

I’ve been doing plenty of reading lately and I wanted to share the books I’ve found really helpful:

resilienceResilience, Mark McGuinness [UK; US*].  THIS.  This book!  I’ve recommended this to every creative friend I have without reservation.  Mark’s style is personable and his advice comes from working with thousands of creative people – his techniques are tried and tested and that shows in their quality.  This has addressed some fears I’ve been facing and I can’t wait to check out his other book on motivation.


successfulauthormindsetThe Successful Author Mindset, Joanna Penn [UK; US*].  This makes a fantastic pairing with Resilience.  Joanna Penn totally understands those dark little voices we writers have and this book not only makes you feel less alone for having them, but also has some great advice for how to get past them.  I think some of the most helpful parts are where she shares excerpts from her own journals, some of her toughest moments, and that exposure of vulnerability is a rare thing to find.  Thanks for sharing it, Joanna!

ancillaryjusticeAncillary Justice, Ann Leckie [UK; US*].  You see that little yellow label on the cover?  That says this book won the Nebula, Hugo and Arthur C Clarke awards.  And it deserved it.  One of the best sci-fi books I’ve ever read, it goes in that tradition of SFF that reexamines our world through the lens of another time and place and shows us something new-yet-familiar.  Seriously, just go read it.  I’m part way through the sequel, Ancillary Sword, and in case you were wondering, the last in the series (Ancillary Mercy) is out already, so this is a completed series.  (Just in case any of you were burnt by getting into A Song of Ice and Fire and now facing the interminable wait for closure! 😉 )

What about you, what have you been reading and loving lately?  What are your recommendations?

* These are affiliate links – I will get a small amount of money from any purchases made through these links, which I’d like to use towards web hosting, so I can move this blog over to its own domain.  Thank you for any support towards this! ❤

Pursue Your Passion – Part 1 – Self-Audit: How you spend your time, where you can make time and what to keep hold of


Image credit: Prairie Kittin, Flickr.

So, you’ve worked out what your Thing is.  The next question is how you’re going to start aligning your life with that Thing.


Well, first you need to know what your life is like now.  You might think you already know what your life is like (“Busy!” I hear you all cry), but you need to really evaluate and look at it with fresh eyes.

Some of the key questions we need to ask are:

  1. What takes up your time?
  2. What’s most holding you back?
  3. What are your biggest frustrations?

Your Life


Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Let’s start by getting an overview of your life.  Here are some questions to get you started:


  • Do you work? What job?
  • If you don’t have a traditional day job, what are the things that take up your day? This might be childcare or caring for someone.
  • Have you got any hobbies? What are they?
  • Are there any major projects going on in your life at the moment? Examples of these would be buying or renovating a house, having a baby, getting married, etc.

And the big mother:

  • How do you spend your time? AKA, where the hell does all my time go?!

I’ve got a little tool for this one, because it’s not as simple as just asking this question and writing down some answers.  Otherwise we’d all stand a much better chance of being time-managing ninjas.

No, the reason this is probably the most important of all these questions and the one you need help with is because we all lose track of time.  We all have time sinks in our lives that we maybe don’t even realise.  We all waste time, probably more of it than we realise.  And when you frame that in the context of last week’s activity, that fact becomes a lot more scary.

So, the image below is a wheel showing the 24 hours of the day.  I’d recommend at the least that you print two of these off, one of an average weekday and one for an average weekend day (assuming they are different for you).  Spend at least one weekday and one weekend day (again, depending on how your average week works) writing down everything you do and how long you spend doing it.

And I mean everything: the half hour you spent on Facebook in your lunch break, the 20 minutes you spend reading before bed, the hour it takes you to get to work (and how you spend that – driving listening to the radio, staring out a train window, people watching on the bus).

Time Wheel

There’s no cheating on this one, because ultimately, if you’re dishonest on this, you’re only going to affect your own results, your own planning and the pursuit of your own passion.  You don’t have to show me your results – there’s not going to be a grade at the end of class – and you don’t have to share with anyone else.  You just need to be honest with yourself.

Once you’ve done this, total up how long you spend doing each thing over the course of an average day (so you might want to do the timekeeping over a couple of days and work out an average).  Use that information to fill out the time wheel, with different activities in different colours.  (Each segment is one hour.)

Do a weekday and a weekend version.

Evaluating Your Life

Now you’re going to look at your answers to the Your Life questions and your time wheel and start evaluating.


First, you need to ask yourself which of these things are non-negotiable?  For example, the weekly date-night you have with your partner could be hallowed ground.

Then consider, what might be more flexible?  Do you need to work that overtime or could you afford not to?  Could you cut down on nights out or the number of TV shows you watch?

What things do you spend longer doing than you’d like?  Social media might come up here (together with its million links to interesting articles we all click on), but it might also be something like spending two hours cooking a large meal every evening.

What do you find yourself doing in what I call ‘dead time’?  That’s the time when you’re sitting on the bus, standing in line for your lunch, or waiting for a pizza to cook in the oven.  All those little snatches of time in between.  It might only be five or ten minutes here and there, but they soon add up and they are the times that slip between our fingers.  So, what do you spend them doing?

What’s Holding You Back?

fenceQuestions two and three from that original list are a bit more straight forward, but your evaluation should help you answer them.

So, what is holding you back from doing your Thing?  Have a good think about why you haven’t done it yet.  Perhaps you’ve tried, but you’ve encountered frustrations along the way – what were they?  Try to be as specific as you can.  Put on a timer for 15 minutes and sit with a pen and paper answering these questions.  The answers might not come to you immediately, but if you spend time free writing around your Thing and the things stopping you from achieving it, you should start building up a picture of your answers.

Next Time

So, now you should know what your Thing is and what your life currently looks like.  Next week we’re going to make a plan of action for how you can align your life with your Thing and start taking steps towards your mountain.

Pursue Your Passion – Part 0 – What _is_ your passion?



Image credit: Danny Norton, Flickr.

I don’t know about you, but I went through my school years constantly changing my mind about what I wanted to be when I was older – an archaeologist, an illustrator, a marine biologist.  In my 20s I envied people who had always known what they wanted to do, because I flitted from thing to thing, directionless.

My partner has only ever, since he was old enough to understand the concept, wanted to be an architect.  I have always admired him for his focus, his passion, his drive.  I had always lamented not having a single Thing I’d always wanted to do.

What an idiot!

There had always been a Thing for me.  It’s just it wasn’t a ‘normal job’ that had a clear career path or a job advert to apply for, so I had dismissed it.

Finding out I didn’t have a serious illness last year made me realise two vital truths:

  1. Writing is my Thing.
  2. Everything else is just distraction.

At the time, I was teaching English and training people to become teachers in a local college; I had plans to launch my own business teaching corsetry and sewing online.

That second realisation above showed me that running my own sewing business was a bad idea – it wouldn’t give me more time to write.  It wouldn’t get me closer to my Thing.

It was around this time that I first watched Neil Gaiman’s famous commencement speech.  It was a much-needed message of hope for me at that moment and, if you’ve never heard it, I insist you do now!  Go watch the video.  I’ll wait.

…  (This is me waiting.) …

Did you enjoy it?  Did you take something from it?  If you did, share it: you never know who might need to hear these words on this day.

Here is the passage that really spoke to me:

Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be […] was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.  And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.

– Neil Gaiman

It even gave me the name for my blog – Towards the Mountain.

Ever since, I’ve been trying to make my decisions based on that principle – I’ve left teaching, I’ve scaled back my sewing business, I’m even living better.  And in this series, I’m going to help you start doing this for as much of your life as possible – right down to the daily choices, like what to have for dinner.

Let’s get started!

No Regrets

While I was putting this series together, a video showed up on my newsfeed (this probably makes it sound like I do nothing but watch You Tube videos now, doesn’t it?).  It broke my heart, but then gave me hope.  I won’t make you watch this one, but I would recommend you do – I already blogged about it, here’s the link.  I can wait.

We regret the opportunities missed, the dreams not pursued – the things we didn’t do. 

But, and this is the powerful bit, we can start with a clean slate at any time.  We can decide to take opportunities, to make opportunities, at any time.  Even now.  Reading this, you are at least thinking about making a change.

The question is, what should that change be?  Actually, the question you need to ask first is what is the end goal your change (or changes) should be pointing you towards?  What’s your mountain?

Your Turn

Enough of me, now it’s your turn.

Give yourself a bit of time to complete this activity.  Make sure you’re comfortable and have a pen and plenty of paper: comfortable for you might be at a desk, curled up on the sofa or at a bustling coffee shop.  I would recommend you use pen and paper though – it’s too easy to hit delete on a computer and pretend you never wrote a sentence.  At least with handwriting, you can see the words you’ve crossed out.  Sometimes interesting insights come from the first things we write, even if we then change our minds about them.

I’m going to take you back to where I was last year when I left that doctor’s office.  This activity might make you uncomfortable, it might even upset you.  I think it has to cause some discomfort if it’s going to work, but if you are very sensitive or have recently had a health scare, you might want to complete this activity with someone you trust or just answer the questions above on your own.


Image credit: Pixabay.

Picture yourself in the doctor’s office.  The faint smell of chemicals.  Daylight slanting between the venetian blinds.  The little hand basin with a hand sanitiser dispenser above it.

You’ve had a few worrying symptoms and you’re here for your test results.  Your hands are clammy and there’s a knot in your stomach.  What if …?

Your doctor clicks on the mouse a few times, taps on the keyboard and peers at the computer screen, then nods.  You wonder if that’s a nod because she’s pleased at what she’s written or because it confirms the worst possible outcome of her checks.  What if …?

You hold your breath, sweat prickling your armpits.  The doctor takes a breath and opens her mouth to deliver the news.  What if …?

It’s not cancer.  It’s nothing serious, just an imbalance.  Here’s a prescription.

You remember taking the prescription in your shaking hand and thanking the doctor, then you leave the surgery and walk out into the sun, the green buds and the birdsong of spring.

You’re alive and it feels like a gift.

But what if it had been bad news?  What if you had been told you had a year to live?  What are the things you would be determined to get done in that space of time?  What would you dedicate your last 12 months on the planet to?  What if you only had 6 months to live?  What if you were dying?  What would your regrets be?  What would you wish you had done?

Write down all the things you think of, without judgement.  Just write it all.  You can judge it when you read it back.  For now, just get it down.

Leave your list when you finish.  Go and get a cup of your hot beverage of choice and watch a comedy show or see some friends.  Come back to your list in a day or two and evaluate.

Perhaps some of your items are linked (for example, “write a novel” and “get a book published” – these are different parts of something bigger: being a writer).  What is the one Thing on the list that you need to do, that you’ve always wanted?  You might take some time on this, weighing the different ideas against each other, if you have several.  The question to ask yourself is this: which of these would I most regret reaching the end of my days having never done or given a chance?

This is your Thing.

That is along the lines of what happened to me.  I realised my big regret would be never finishing a book, never having one published with my name on the cover.  I realised:

Everything else is just distraction.

If you do this exercise, hopefully you will have a great list of big and little regrets, dreams, wishes, whatever you want to call them.  Leave it a day or two before you look back at them and evaluate what you wrote – is this something you really care about or just a niggling regret?  Is it something you can take action about now?

Start crossing items off the list until you have only things you really care about and that you can change.  Ideally you should end up with just a few and hopefully one of them really stands out the most, calls to you and tells you everything else is just distraction.

That is your Thing.  Let it be your focus, let it be the mountain that guides you in your decisions.

Now …

I’d love to hear how you did in this exercise.  Drop me an email or a line in the comments.  What’s your Thing?  Was it something you kind of always knew or were there any surprises?  Did you find this helpful?


Next week we’ll look at how you currently use your time and start working out how to put it to best use and turn it towards your mountain.

[Side Note: For the rest of this series, I’m going to be approaching this from the point of view of someone whose Thing is writing – that should be no surprise if you’ve read much of anything on this blog – but I do think much of the advice that follows can be applied to other passions, so stick around and follow along!]


Pursue Your Passion Series – Introducing …

So, you know what your mountain is.  You know what your Thing is: the Thing you’re passionate about, the Thing you want to achieve, the Thing that makes you say, “everything else is just distraction.”

Chances are, if you’re here, your Thing is the same as mine: writing.*

… Or maybe not.  Maybe you don’t know what your Thing is.  And that’s OK, too.  Maybe I can help.

As I’ve harped on about on this blog, I’ve been working on aligning my life with writing since April last year.  By that, I mean I’ve been making changes big and small to shift my life to one that works for writing, so I can spend more time doing it and improve my productivity and motivation in whatever ways I can find.

I’ve learnt a fair bit along the way and I want to share some of that with you, so here begins a series of posts about:

  • Making the most of the time you have for writing – we all only have 24 hours in a day, but how can you make the best use of that time?
  • Making more time for writing – what changes can you make to eke out more of those 24 hours for writing?
  • Clarifying your own personal writing goals and working out how to reach them.
  • Realistic, tested methods and tools to help your writing motivation and productivity.
  • And doing all this while still looking after yourself!

I’m so excited to share the techniques I’ve used that have helped me so much over the past year.

Tomorrow we’ll have Part 0, if you like, where we look at working out what your Thing is …

* And if your Thing isn’t writing, a lot of the tips I’m going to share will work for your personal passion, too, so you might find it helpful.