Friday, 27 February 2015

15 Ways To Reduce Stress

Image by wisteriasweb. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License

I just got back from the doctors after a couple of months of not feeling myself - poor sleep, pains that wouldn't go away and other random symptoms. Within a minute, the doctor nodded her head decisively and announced I was suffering from stress.

It was a surprise to me! After my last teaching practice finished in December, I thought I'd be done with stress - it was the most stressful time in my life, in which I worked 80 hour weeks and decided on a total career change from teacher to independent author. However, the doctor said that actually no, stress can be hard to shift.

Your body can be so upset by times of high stress that it can take months for normality to return.

To live a productive, happy and healthy life, I need to beat my stress! But it got me thinking about how stressful life can be on a daily basis.

So here are my top 15 favourite ways to beat stress, that I'll be using and applying to get myself back into tip-top shape.

1) Determine what's causing the stress.
This has to be number one. How can you begin to address the problem or stress if you don't know what's causing it? Figure out why you're stressed - then you can take action to solve that as well as the stress. If you just focus on reducing stress/negative emotions without fixing underlying problems, the stress will return.

2) Take control
There's always a solution to a problem, and you have the power to control it. If you're feeling stuck, chances are that someone else has encountered your problem. Talk to a friend about how you can address it - or hop onto Google to see if you can find ideas. (n.b. if it's health related - go see a doctor/ medical professional. Self diagnosing is not recommended.)

3) Exercise
Exercise is proven to not only lead to good physical health, but also good mental health, by releasing endorphins which reduce stress and increase feelings of well being. Exercise won't make your stress disappear, but it will help to clear your thoughts and reduce negative emotions.

4) Eat well
Eating poorly can damage your health - both physically and mentally. Eating well, so enough food from the main food groups, can help your body and therefore your mind feel better. Goodbye binge/comfort/stress-eating!

5) Avoid bad habits
Smoking, drinking, drugs, caffeine - anything that helps you 'cope' with the stress. These just mask the stress temporarily, but don't help you address the root cause and fix it.

6) Accept that some situations are beyond control
I thought there was a solution to every problem? Well there is - but sometimes, things are beyond your control. By accepting that, you can reduce the stress and concentrate on what you do have control over.

7) Find the positives
Things may seem hard, there might not seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel - but I bet that when you think about it, you have an awful lot to be thankful for. Do you have a roof over your head? Food on the table? A warm, safe place to live? A loving family? A good support network of friends? A job you enjoy? Whatever it is that you have, appreciate it. Even by thinking each day of three things you're grateful for, you can boost positive emotions.

8) Have some downtime
Whether you work 8 hours or 80 hours a week, you need some time to yourself to relax and recharge in whatever way is best for you. For me, it's a scented candlelit bubble bath with a cup of tea and good book. Aaah. Bliss! Having 'me time' releases those feelgood emotions, and helps you lose the tension in your body that stress can cause.

9) Deep breaths
They really do help! Taking deep breaths, or even trying meditation or yoga techniques can help beat stress. Deep breaths reduce cortisol the stress hormone and temporarily lower your blood pressure.

10) Laugh your way through it
Laughter and smiling reduces stress and increases feelings of well being. Go to a comedy gig, hang out with your friends, or watch something funny on TV to cheer up.

11) Music
Listening to your favourite tunes can have a calming effect, lowering anxiety, blood pressure and heart rate. It's hard to feel stressed when your favourite music gets your foot tapping and your head nodding! 

12) Get a massage
Ok, so this one can be pricey, but massages are a fantastic way to release the physical tension in your body, leaving you feeling relaxed and refreshed.

13) Get creative
Art is therapeutic! 'nuff said.

14) Start a journal
Writing down your feelings is a great way to vent the frustration through reflecting on your experiences.

15) Be kind
This might sound a bit odd, but altruism is a stress beater too! By helping others, you can often boost your own emotions too.

I hope that helps you beat stress in your life. Now, I'm off to go beat mine.



Sources: NHS, Helpguide, Greatist, WebMD.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

New book idea + share your writing processes!

The sky is the limit!

Super excited today. I had a vague notion for a story a while ago - perhaps as long as a year or two actually - but it never fully formed at the time, and whilst I thought, 'oh, that's a good one to keep', I didn't know what to do with it. I only had the main character/two but no idea of the plot.

Well that changed last night! I was just trying to drift off to sleep when it popped up into my head again. The main characters strolled into my head formed (and sassy) and the story unfolded. One thing I learnt (the hard way) to do when this happens? Write it down immediately! As awake as you think you are, and as much as you think you can trust your brain to remember all the details in perfect clarity... oh boy it won't!

So I jotted everything down on my phone and emailed it to myself. Plotted roughly the first book in about 10 minutes flat. Not in any great detail of course, but figured out most of the key events - that can't be a bad thing!

It's going to be a YA fantasy heavily based in myth and magic!

A bonus was being able to see a series arc as a whole. There's still far too many gaps to know how long it will be, but I know there's so many adventures the characters can have! Exciting times. I usually struggle to see the much longer term picture (I have struggled plotting too far ahead with Caledan, for example), so this is a new and welcome feeling.

How do you plot/plan your stories? Do you plan far in advance?

Of course, I still had to trawl Amazon this morning to see if I could find anyone who'd already written it. I came close! I had a nervy few minutes thinking that someone had written my exact idea, but thanks to the synopsis and Amazon's 'sample' features, I was able to see it was completely different. Phew!

Have you ever done this and found someone's already written your ideas? What did you do!?

I just don't know when on earth I'm going to do it and how I'll fit it in! I already have lots of projects planned out for this year. I'm not sure if I can give myself to anymore without compromising the integrity of the ones I already have (which is of course, non-optional - I firmly believe in putting out your best work, despite the fact we are all continously improving).... but I'm *really* bitten by this idea and want to start now now now!

If only I didn't still have most of my dissertation and other essays to write, it might be possible to fit it in much sooner! I'm going to focus on plotting this in my spare time though, see if I can't hash out the first few books in the series. I think I need to become more productive in the time I have to manage everything. I know people who put out many books a year, so it must be possible!

How do you ensure you stay on task and are as productive/efficient as possible?

I love being a writer - new ideas can strike you any time and anywhere. The sky is the limit - or rather, the bounds of your imagination are.

I really want to share this project, but I know it's too soon yet! Hopefully in a few months I can spill more of the details.

Take care for now!

~ Meg

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Brooding Crown first draft is complete!

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Hi folks! Yes, at last, the second book of Caledan has taken form in its entirety! Only a first draft for now, so the process is very far from over, but the biggest step of all - getting it down in complete form - is done and dusted as of Friday 13th February 2015.

For the first time, I recorded detailed data about when, where and for how long I wrote, plus word counts. It was a very valuable exercise that allowed me to understand my writing habits lots better!

I planned this book in a heck of a lot of detail - you can see the stats above! 24 hours over 16 days. I was astounded to have written 30k of planning - yikes! It's set me in good stead, though. I would have forgotten all those good ideas, had they not been written down!

For book 2, my hourly word count was decidedly average: a solid 1,000 words an hour or thereabouts. This frustrated me, as on book 1 and in some places on book 2, I peaked at 2,000-3,000 words per hour. But mostly, I worked in the range of 1,000-1,500 words an hour. Hmm! I expected to be much faster with the meticulous and detailed planning I did.

What surprised me most, however, was the overall time it took to write. It felt like a long process, but it only took 50 days (though spread out since last August 2014, and mostly written from January onwards 2015). That doesn't seem so long.

Condense all those hours sat at the keyboard... and it only took 81 hours. That's it! Really not very long! Not even 3 and a half days to write a full length novel. A huge part of me wishes I could do that in one sitting!

So what's next? Well, nothing Caledan related, strictly speaking! The manuscript needs to rest - aka I need to get my head firmly out of Caledan, so that when I come to editing, I approach it with a fresh mind to fix the many inevitable icky bits.

I'm also on the hunt for a new editor once I've self-edited to help me really polish it. That should happen at the end of May-early June. I'm aiming to publish late July-August this year. :-)

Also got other projects to work on too! I am starting on my accounting/finance for authors series shortly, so you'll be hearing lots more about that. This month I also have two short stories to draft for an adult fantasy/dark fantasy/urban fantasy/sci-fi collection this month. One is done, one is still to do!

...And of course there's my dissertation for university and an assignment set too. But hush about those - the less said the better. I am avoiding university work at all possible costs currently!

Anyway, hope you're well!

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That's all for now - don't forget to let me know how your writing is doing, or what you're reading now!


Thursday, 12 February 2015

The 10 books that made me 'me'.

So thanks to the lovely Myk, I got book tagged! I don't do memes as a rule, but since this tag is actually a great one, I couldn't say no!

The aim of the game is to post your 10 most formative books.

Here are mine - in the order that I encountered them. Enjoy! Here's a little of why I tick the way I do. :-)

The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter
 I used to have almost all of the Beatrix Potter books as a child, the hardback editions with a dust cover and full colour illustrations. I treasured them, arranged them, read them and kept them tidy on my first bookcase. I couldn't help but love the quaint tales, which were so beautifully illustrated.

These were the first books that I have any memory of reading, and think they definitely influenced my love of slipping away into fictional worlds. My favourites, the ones I read the most, were The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck and The Tale of Miss Tiggywinkle!

Five on a Treasure Island, by Enid Blyton
 I adored many of Enid Blyton's books, but the Famous Five series were the first and the favourites, with the Mallory Towers series coming a close second and the Tales of the Faraway Tree third. This was my favourite Five adventure. I used to love reading about the gang's adventures.

I wished more than once that I could be Georgina, off exploring with Timmy and the gang! I was so caught up with it that I insisted my parents let me add "Georgina" to my middle names (not legally). Being tolerant folk, they obliged, though now I am sure they they thought it ridiculous!

Matilda, by Roald Dahl
 Matilda was one of my favourite fictional characters as I grew up. This is one of the rare occasions where the film was more influential than the book, because it seemed so perfectly cast. I wished more than anything else that I could have Matilda's powers.

I always tried to make things move, but it never worked! I still remember a recurring dream I had as a child, brought on by reading Matilda, where I would fly around our dining table. It was always disappointing to wake up and realise that it was only a dream!

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
I still have my well-thumbed copy of The Hobbit from my childhood and still re-read it, though not as regularly as I did back then. As far as I know, this was my first exposure to a fantasy world and I loved it. Hobbits, dwarves, wizards, elves, dragons and gold!? Bring it on! I remember often reading this as a child and being completely lost in Middle Earth.

My first attempt to write any kind of serious story was heavily based on The Hobbit - it never saw the light of day! I have it still - neatly handwritten in fountain pen in the same red file with 'Keep out!!!' written on the front. I remember proudly telling my English teacher at the time that I was writing a book. She laughed at me as though the concept was ridiculous and would occasionally ask me with sarcasm "How's your book going?". I ignored her at the time and carried on writing it, though I still think she's horrible! Really, of all the teachers to encourage creative writing, she should have been number one!

I'm glad I didn't take any notice of her dismissive attitude and ploughed away being creative. I did drop writing for a long time after that - perhaps her words did affect me - but you can't not do what you're meant to do... before too many years had passed, I was writing seriously again.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling
This was the first Harry Potter book I read. I chose this of the first three (which were the only ones released at the time), because the cover appealed to me most. Then I went back and read the first two books - and I've been hooked ever since.

It's weird, because I remember in absolute clarity being in the school library (a beautiful, wood panelled room that was the most magical library you could ever wish for - my primary school was in a Victorian manor house, with all original features retained). I recall the exact moment the moment my eyes fell on the spine of this book, and I reached up to take it down from the shelf. My brain must have realised that this would become a special memory.

I think, of all the books I've ever read, I wished Harry's world real more than any other. I was genuinely upset on my 11th birthday, when I didn't receive my Hogwart's letter. I obsessively read every Harry Potter released after that. I grew up with Harry - in the books and films from then on, I was roughly the same age as Harry, Ron and Hermione, so it resonated with me because of that, but most of all, because the tale J.K. Rowling told was genuinely spellbinding.

Artemis Fowl, by Eoin ColferAnother very well chosen pick of my parents, brought home to entertain me, that I fell in love with! The first fantasy/sci-fi mix I read, I suppose? In any case, it's impossible not to love Artemis' constant sarcastic put downs, arrogance and clever solutions to impossible problems. I loved all the pickles he managed to get himself into, and how he got himself out of them again, too!

Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
I saw the first film with my dad when it was released, not thinking it would be anything special. How wrong I was! We left the cinema and before long I had a hefty copy of the trilogy in my hands and was glued to it. I read it 11 times in the first year that I had it (not joking). Now, it's falling to bits it's so well read! (and I dropped it in that bath one time so it's got a bit of a perm, whoops...)

It was a magical read, like nothing I'd ever read before and even quite different to The Hobbit. The movies only helped bring it to life - Jackson's realisations of LOTR are the only book-to-film adaptations other than Harry Potter that I believe do the maximum justice to the books, because of the excellent casting, resources, effects and the love, care and attention to detail. The Two Towers was my favourite part of the trilogy. I haven't read it in a few years now, though!

Eragon, by Christopher Paolini
I remember my dad coming home from Waterstone's one day with this as a present for me. He'd seen the cover (Saphira's eye) and thought it looked interesting. This was to be the most influential epic YA fantasy novel that I read in my teen years. I read this so many times and eagerly snapped up copies of the rest of the series when they were released. It's now not my favourite book in the series, but I still have a very soft spot for it.

Across the Nightingale Floor, by Lian Hearn
This was a set text at school for half of the year group. Unfortunately, I was in the other half and instead, we got lumped with Dickens' 'Great Expecatations'. (I hate that book with a passion now!) The fact that this story was a school text put me off reading it for many years, as I assumed it would be similarly horrible, but what a mistake. This book and the rest of the series are so beautiful they are genuinely an art form.

Hearn creates real people, not characters, in a culturally rich real world, living their real lives. They draw you in and don't let go in their twisted mesh of choices and relationships. Just wow.

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

This book genuinely changed my life. At the time I was in a job I hated, severely depressed and failing to see the point of it all. My friend kindly sent me this book, her own copy, in the post one day to cheer me up. I read it. My mind was blown. I can't even explain this book - it's one of those that needs to be read to be understood.

I made life changing decisions based on reading this book that have brought me to where I am now - being a full time author. Forever indebted to Rhi, my friend, and Paulo Coelho. Thank you for helping me to see the light! :-)


I won't tag anyone, but I would love to hear what books defined you. If you complete this, drop a comment and let me know where to find your top 10 formative books!


Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Career decision made. I'm going to be a full time author.

Hi all, hope you're well.

Today is the day that I admit to the world that as of this May, the very moment when I finish my degree, turn in my dissertation and sit my exams, I'll no longer be a student teacher, I'll be a full time writer. It fills me with joy to say that!

The decision has been a long time in the making. I started writing seriously in late 2011/early 2012 and made the decision to publish in 2013. Since then, I've not looked back. The world of writing and publishing has sucked me in.

The online community of writers - both indie and traditional - has welcomed and inspired me to pursue the impossible, the improbable and the original. It has truly been a beacon of hope to me in dark times and a chain reaction of inspiration in good times. It's helped me overcome my own fears about writing, acceptance and pursuing my dreams.

It is regrettable that I've done a four year degree in teaching and no longer intend to pursue it as a career. But then, the career is in no way related to what I thought it would be and doesn't fulfil me as I'd expected it to either.

I try not to regret the decision to study it, because it's led me to where I am today. I try not to think about other paths I could or should have taken, too, like Illustration or Graphic Design or Creative Writing. A degree is still a degree - a valuable asset, though perhaps not right now.

It's not to say that teaching won't ever be the right thing for me - who knows - but for now, it's certainly not and I'm lucky enough to be able to walk away from it to pursue writing. It's a really hard job - at times impossible - and I genuinely respect anyone that can do it and do it well.

We need outstanding educators in our societies to have any hope of furthering ourselves as a race, especially in an ever changing society. Educators also need to be totally committed to all that teaching entails to have any hope of doing their pupils justice - a reason why I *should* not be a teacher at this current time. I cannot fulfil that.

So instead, I get to focus on doing what I do love, which is a position I feel extremely fortunate - no, the luckiest person alive - to be able to say and do. Writing consumes me and almost every waking moment is devoted to thoughts of writing, publishing, improving and sharing my work with the world. Now I get to do that full time (well, soon, anyway).

Of course I still have bills to pay! I'll be keeping my part time job indefinitely to meet those. I'm blessed with an incredibly supportive partner who encourages me in this venture too, whilst we have the opportunity for me to pursue this. I hope that I can repay his confidence in me by making a success of this.

For many months, toying with the decision of what job to choose and feeling like I had no choice by to pursue my degree as a career... the thought of letting down those I love by walking away from a 'proper' job, a respectable profession and secure income indefinitely was the greatest weight upon my shoulders.

I do intend, though I'm not sure how long it will take, to make a full time income from doing what I love - writing - so that I can support my family as a responsible member of society and also be able to continue to do what I love the most; more writing! I will succeed. There is no question or doubt in that. I will make it happen. No one is going to hand this to me on a plate - I have to go and earn it and I will.

So. Over and out for now. Can't wait to finish my university commitments (dissertation and various essays), so that I can concentrate on my many exciting projects for 2015.

Just as a final thought - it really is important to do what you love in life. I wish I had been braver and pursued my true interests earlier in life. You only get one go: make the most of it. And whatever you think, however hard it may seem: there is always a way.

Bye for now,

Meg, the (soon to be) full time writer.