Several months ago I decided to join a writing group. I’d been feeling an increasing need to get together with other writers, to get some feedback on my stalled-out writing and to re-establish some of the peer networks I’ve allowed to slide. So I bought an A5 spiral-bound notebook, sharpened my pencil, girded my loins and joined up.

That first session turned out to be quite anxious-making. It was a brand new group and none of us knew each other. We had no clear idea of what to expect or any real feel for how things would be organised either. This resulted in a fair bit of discussion before we settled down but, once that was underway, things got moving. We agreed to meet once a month and each time we get together we continue to build on the initial ideas.

We’ve tried various approaches so far, including catch-up chats about our writing, short exercises during the session and a take-home topic to write about for the following meeting. The exercises are random, but have tended to focus on an agreed topic/word. For those done during the sessions, we’ve all scribbled away madly for 10 (or so) minutes, then shared what we’ve written. The sharing is always optional, although most people have chosen to do so, and the feedback has been constructive.

The homework exercises have been a bit more of a challenge but have resulted some very amusing anecdotes and a number of very touching personal stories. I came away from the last session thinking about family, friends and the very short time we have together on this earth, partly due to this piece by group-member Rosemary Ague.

It’s only two days until we meet up again and the take-home exercise has been preying on my mind for weeks. We all agreed to write a short piece revolving around a colour of our choice, with the subject matter left up to the individual. The catch is that we’re to name the colour in the first sentence and then only allude to it after that, actually mentioning only once in any paragraph.

Right. After considering various colours and even more topics, my head had started to feel like it had a rainbow of ideas hovering around in it – but nothing much made it to the page. Then, yesterday morning, I listened to Joanne Fedler talking about her upcoming 7-day writing challenge.

“Some days we’re going to sit down and we’re just going to write rubbish… If you write one or two sentences that make you go ‘Oh, WOW!’  – well, then that’s been a really good writing day… But writing rubbish is better than writing amazing things in your head. Amazing stories in your head don’t count… The only thing that counts is words on the page. So put some words on the page! Let them be rubbish – that’s part of the process… just do it!”

Thank you, Joanne. I already knew this, but I managed to lose sight of it in amongst all the colour and noise. I’ve chosen yellow – because it makes me happy – and I’m almost-nearly satisfied with at least one of the paragraphs that have emerged 🙂

This week a lot of my thinking time has been done whilst weeding our very overgrown verge garden. I find weeding to be an exceptionally tedious task, with virtually no redeeming features. The only upsides I’ve come up with are: (a) the outcome = tidy garden = satisfaction, and (b) my mind is free to wander around and trawl through ideas that have been lurking just out of sight.

So far (a) has not been achieved – but I’ve spent a good many hours working towards that goal and am past the halfway mark. Satisfaction is within sight. Meantime various items under (b) have received a good deal of my (spare) attention. The issue that’s surfaced to the top of the contemplation pile is… procrastination… probably because the seemingly endless weeding I’m ‘enjoying’ is a direct result of just that.


The following questions have been buzzing around in my head as I weed:

  • Why do we procrastinate? (…and don’t kid yourself, we all do it!)
  • How do we resolve it?
  • What motivates, inspires or drives individuals to get going on a project or task in the first place, i.e. what kicks people into getting stuck in and doing things?
  • And what makes them see it through to completion?

No doubt there are many and varied answers to all these questions – and no doubt those answers are slightly different for each individual. My starting point (in the hunt for some answers) was to try to categorise people into groups. I came up with three broad categories:

  • Self-starters: people who seem to walk to the beat of their own drum, a neat little rat-a-tat-tat that (to an onlooker) just seems to keep on going.
  • Pleasers: respond actively to motivation in the form of outside encouragement, rewards, etc. – or to a combination of reward/punishment.
  • Resistors: seem not to be swayed by any form of persuasion, from any source.

Once I had all that clear in my head, I boldly put myself into the self-starter category. Then I realised that I actually fall into each of the categories at different times or for different types of tasks. Sometimes I just get cracking and get something done – but other times I do things to please others or to avoid negative outcomes. I confess that there have also been times when I’ve actively (and stubbornly) resisted some tasks completely.

Reflecting on this I see that my own procrastination isn’t just because I don’t want to do things. Sometimes it’s because the task is tedious (weeding), or overwhelming (a lot of weeding!), or I feel uncertain (perhaps because I don’t have the skill to effectively complete a particular task). There are some things I have procrastinated over starting because not starting seems less stressful than doing it ‘wrong’, or because other things take priority, or when I simply fall into the trap of watching TV / social media browsing / email.

Plodding through all this – particularly whilst doing something I don’t really want to do (but do want done) – has made me realise that the first step to getting things done is to consciously acknowledge that I’m procrastinating. I had a think about what I do with my time instead of getting on with whatever it is that I’m avoiding (weeding!), then tried to figure out how much time I do actually fritter away on time-fillers (rather than on things I’ve theoretically actively decided to do). It turns out to that I manage to fill rather a lot of time with useful, but essentially directionless activities.

Later on I did some reading (yes, internet browsing…) and found that there are numerous websites that provide suggestions on how to manage procrastination. The tips that make the most sense to me are:

  • Motivation. Finding something that will get you going is often a tough ask, but you could consider giving some thought to Future-You. Or, as with the weeding, sometimes you might need to simply accept that you’re doomed and just need to get started in order to produce sufficient motivation to complete the task.
  • Chunk the task into bite-sized portions. This helps to make even the most overwhelming task less implausible. The verge garden as  whole seemed insurmountable last week, so I decided to chunk it. 1 – 2 hours of weeding every morning this week left my arms and back aching, my nails broken and provided me with no enjoyment it at all. But… rather to my surprise, it’s almost done…
  • Beat your own drum. Fear of failure / being judged by others is a fact of life – so acknowledge it and then set your own standard. In this example, the garden will really only be mostly weed free when I’m done – and I’m okay with that. Progress = success, even if it’s not perfect.
  • Reward yourself. My reward was that I set a time limit  for each session (more than an hour, less than two) and stuck to it. Tottering away from the garden was such a relief each day that I actually didn’t need more reward than that – although I did indulge in a very nice cup of coffee and a cookie afterwards anyway.


I reckon two more sessions in the garden will see the weeding conquered. My reward at that point will be to go to the garden centre to choose some new plants. Perhaps a fig tree… or some pumpkin seedlings… Meantime, a surprise harvest of one perfectly ripe pumpkin this morning. Win!


Life was unsettled when we first arrived in Perth and it took us a while to finally get around to choosing a dog. We talked about it endlessly, debating what size and kind of dog would be most appropriate when we finally got one, how much walking and grooming would be involved and who would take the dog to training. We had previously had Labrador Retrievers, a small mixed-breed (possibly Miniature Pinscher/Terrier mix), a German Shepherd, and a large mixed-breed (possibly Mastiff/Rottweiler).


This time around we wanted a medium-sized dog, about the size of a Beagle. After heaps of research, a friend suggested that we go with her to a dog show. There we’d see a whole range of different dogs in action and be able to compare them. This was a great idea, since that’s where we found and fell in love with Honey – a Welsh Springer Spaniel. It turns out that these are fabulous dogs: not too big, cheerful, good-natured, reasonably smart and very playful. She fitted right in from the start.

A year or two later we happened to watch the pilot episode of a TV series called Dharma & Greg. In this, Dharma explains  to Greg that her second dog (Nunzio) been her ‘bar mitzvah’ gift to her first dog (Stinky). For some reason, this amused me no end. From then on we bandied about the idea of getting a second dog, a ‘bar mitzvah’ gift for Honey. Sadly we dithered for too long and she never did get her Nunzio. She died after twelve years of being an integral part of our family, leaving an enormous gap in our lives.

When we finally decided to get another dog, we turned to the list of what are widely considered to be the 10 smartest dog breeds for some guidance. The list was rapidly whittled down, as follows: Border Collie – too crazy active, Poodle – too woolly and poncey for me, German Shepherd – love them, Golden Retriever – too hairy, Dobermann – well, the neighbour had one and it was kinda nice…, Sheltie – too small and barky, Labrador Retrieve – love them, but… health issues, Papillon – too small and floofy, Rottweiler – too big, Australian Cattle Dog – tend to become barrel-shaped. The choice seemed pretty straightforward.

Several years and two German Shepherds later, we know better. Both our Australian GSD’s were beautiful dogs, bright and responsive – but they also both died from inherited autoimmune related conditions. This effectively removed them from our rather short short-list for future additions to the family. We now share our lives with a young Dobermann – and the whole issue of whether to get her her very own Nunzio is pretty much a daily conversation. As it happens, this Saturday is National Pet Adoption Day  – and the temptation to just get out there and pick out a companion dog for her is huge…

htnm dogs

But this is a forever-decision – or at least one for about the next 10 years – so it’s important to get it right. We – and anyone else thinking about getting a pet – need to consider a number of factors, such as what size pet is appropriate, cost (purchase price, food, equipment, inoculations, kennelling if you go on holiday, etc.), whether to get a male or a female, how much space is available and whether said pet will live inside or outside. Then there’s the issue of how much time can be made available to devote to the pet, who will take responsibility for cleaning up behind it and who’ll do the training.

Having worked through all that, we know we don’t want another big dog… that it does need to be energetic, friendly and happy… and there we’ve stalled out. So this weekend we’ll be visiting some likely candidates… and perhaps one of them will turn out to our Nunzio. Or perhaps it will be like Honey – a surprise choice on the day that turns out to be perfect.

dog options 2016

After something of a hiatus, my epic-tome is finally moving forward again. My adventures in Tasmania have left me renewed, refreshed and only somewhat exhausted – but ready to focus on the final stages of production.

Since my plan is now to try self-publishing the tome as an eBook, there are a few hoops I need to jump through to get to launch point. First of these is to make some tough decisions about the cover design.

Given the number of eBooks in the market place, I feel that my cover image will need to be really eye-catching. This will (hopefully) get potential buyers to pause for long enough to become actual buyers. This sounds easy in concept but, for a first-timer in particular, it’s a little less so in implementation.

As is my way, I’ve spent an awful lot of time on the research phase, looking at book covers, both in book stores and online. Whilst there seem to be just about as many different styles as there are books,  only a fairly narrow range of these appealed to me and this had led me to the following conclusions:

  • there really isn’t enough space on a cover for more than a single image, the title and the author’s name
  • there needs to be a reasonably clear link between the cover image and the title – otherwise the potential reader is likely to move on to something less challenging/confusing (I certainly do)
  • the image needs to ‘pop’ as a thumbnail, to be sufficiently clear and eye-catching as to attract attention
  • the font selection needs big enough and clear. Crisp lines seem to work better, overall.
  • likewise, the cover needs to be one that can look good in colour (if used) and also in greyscale.

No presPhoto with permission, Lisa Ryesure, really…

Luckily it’s the end of the convention season, which meant that the creative talents of Lisa Rye have become available – much to my delight. Based on discussions over lunch at our first business meeting, she roughed out seven thumbnails and emailed them through for me to look through while I was in Tasmania. Super efficient.

Suddenly the tome has taken on a whole new dimension – it looks like a real book!

Choosing which image to run with took me much longer than expected, which is amusing since I ended up choosing the one I’d liked best when I first saw them! Lisa is currently developing the concept and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with. Watch this space for the grand reveal soon…

Of course, once a potential buyer has paused for long enough to admire the cover they need to find the text engaging as well. To this end, editiPhoto courtesy of Sandy Limng is all-important. I had the manuscript professionally assessed over a year ago and have had feedback from a number of beta readers since then, resulting in a number of minor revisions for clarity or consistency.

I think I’m on the home stretch now, with the help of talented writer/artist Sandy Lim. It’s been very interesting to have a fresh set of eyes on the manuscript. Sandy’s careful, professional editing and comments – some of which also reached me on holiday (!) – are proving to be most insightful and will result in a tighter, more readable product. No wonder she’s in demand 🙂

With all of this in mind, I’m off to a half-day self-publishing expo this coming Saturday. I’m hopeful that some gem(s) of information/insight will be forthcoming to push the process along. Maybe I’ll see you there…

writers expo_5dec2015

At what point does the seemingly endless round of editing and getting people to read your manuscript become self-defeating? The objective, no doubt, is to refine the manuscript so that the best possible product reaches a publisher or, in my case, potential publisher. Somewhere along the line, however, this quite possibly ends up sliding towards nitpicking, navel gazing and – essentially – procrastination.

A friend of mine has a simple mantra in life, one that’s borrowed without shame or compromise from the corporate world: just Do It! I admire her for this enormously and am often slightly envious at the capacity she has to live up to those words. She’s a great example to her many students and, indeed, to me. So whenever I start to debate the finer details of syntax, grammar, sentence construction, paragraph length and so on for too long, I try to haul myself back from disappearing down that rabbit hole and try to keep a sense of perspective. I remind myself that, whilst correct spelling, appropriate grammar and the position of a comma or apostrophe are all very important, so is finishing a product and getting it out there. Finding the balance between procrastination and a gung-ho attitude is the key to just doing it whilst doing it right.

In that spirit, I tidied up the final details of my epic tome this weekend – adding and captioning some photographs and scanned images – and have sent it off for some final line editing. Are these edits really necessary? Probably not, but I’m pedantic enough to want to be sure that the product I take for professional assessment by a publisher is indeed the best that I can produce. To an extent doing so will make rejection tougher than if I knew that it still needed a lot of work, but at least I won’t castigate myself unduly for not having done a good job upfront – whatever the outcome.

I actually have no idea how long other writers take to edit and tidy up their manuscripts prior to submission. My only benchmark is my thesis – and that took an awfully long time, partly because reference checking is exacting and very time hungry. This round of editing (by no means the first) started in September last year. Given that December was a write-off, that still means that this is the fourth month of nitpicking, of checking for consistency and formatting, along with everything else.

Things I’ve done that have worked:

Changimageing the font and colour of the text. This makes me actually read every word, rather than letting my eyes slide over them and not see typos. This is a real pro tip, by the way 🙂

Printing out a hard copy and reading it as though it’s a book by someone else – and being ruthless with a red pen whenever I find an error.

Reading sections out aloud to myself, since this often shows me where the errors lie more clearly than anything else does – particularly where the commas should (or shouldn’t!) be.

Things I’ve done that haven’t worked: Procrastinate. Yup, that’s about it really.

So – onwards (to victory, and beyond!). I await feedback from a couple of people and must then knuckle down and submit the manuscript as a book proposal to local publishers. Exciting times…