The Benefits of Doing Things from Scratch

Stored in my walk-in closet sits my box of assorted analogue cameras.  A mish mash of vintage Canon film cameras, a Ukrainian Fed-3, and a heap of camera accessories carefully stored and wrapped away from the dust, dirt, and moisture.  Without the luxury of my own study, this box gets hauled out every so often and its contents emptied out onto the kitchen table we inherited from my husband's late grandmother. 

The simple pleasure of just dusting off or cleaning accessories or a newly purchased camera is in some ways a meditative process.  I often get into this same zone when I am drawing, painting, or kneading bread.  During these times, I sometimes get asked why bother with using analogue film, making your own artwork, or baking bread when you can simply use a digital alternative or buy it from a store.

I believe we could all do with more of a physical connection to our surroundings.  We're always being told to get outdoors more or find new challenges but it is the act of simply doing or creating something from scratch which provides the greatest satisfaction.

Ever made your own loaf of bread?  My favourite kind is an almost no-knead cob recipe, baked in a Dutch oven, producing a loaf with a thick crust that has the loveliest golden brown sheen and aroma.  Surely nothing beats home-made bread.  Definitely something that fills the senses like the loamy scent of the air after an early morning rain or the aromas released at dusk from native shrubs and trees. 

Nowadays we are so used to getting things right away and, yet, we often may not truly find the satisfaction we crave.  Using analogue film and cameras is one way to delay the gratification so to speak.  It's a bit of gamble at times loading the good ol' rangefinder or SLR camera with film and hoping you get some good shots.  At times, I still find working out exposure values tricky but I think I'm getting the hang of it finally.

I love the anticipation of dropping off a film to be processed and scanned.  It's often feels like placing your hand into a lucky dip bag and hoping one or more of those thumbnail sized images on the contact/proof sheet is a winner.  Of course there's going to be some disappointment on occasion but when it works, oh boy, it's wonderful.

Our memories are tied up with so much more than what we visually encounter but we can sometimes be too busy to notice that it's not just the visual qualities but the sounds, smells, and textures that make a memory.  We are shutting out the many cues that trigger our thought processes when all you have is a digital or virtual image of someone or something.  You can look at or read about something all you like but it's not the same as being present in the moment.

During your day I hope you take the time, even for a brief period, to enjoy the people and world around you.  We're all guilty of being too busy or distracted but it won't hurt to feel a real connection every now and then.

How to Avoid Getting into a New Year's Rut

At the beginning of a new year you are usually full of enthusiasm for the possibilities of the next 12 months and it's likely you've also made a list of your goals or resolutions and even worked out a plan or next steps to achieving those goals.

The first days or weeks go along just fine and then you start coming up against some challenges or obstacles you thought you had figured out.  For most people, I believe the three main killers to achieving your goals or resolutions are the following:

(1) Lack of motivation

(2) Lack of inspiration

(3) Distraction

A lack of motivation usually creeps in rather than stopping you in your tracks.  For me, it starts off as being too tired or busy to attend to my goals which concern my writing, running, or creative pursuits.  A deficit of inspiration soon follows and starts feeding off the lack of motivation and, finally, to top it off I then start distracting myself with everything and anything to avoid taking the steps to achieving my goals.  Sound familiar?

Over the last couple of years, I have taken stock of what hasn't worked for me in the past and I have found the next 3 tips the best way to get past any ruts:

(1) Spend time on your goals no matter how short

You might not think spending 5 or 10 minutes working on your goals or resolutions would be worth it but, those few minutes usually end up becoming 15, 20, or even 30 minutes without you noticing.  A short walk or run turns into something longer in fine weather or even on cold, rainy days, just being outside in nature provides ample motivation.

(2) Don't aim for perfection the first time around

This year I hope to get one or two short stories published.  I have written several articles and reviews in the recent past but fiction is something I haven't touched in a while.  I have plenty of ideas, with some that I like more than others, filling up a number of scraps of paper and notebooks, but it has been some time since I have crafted a true work of fiction.

Last weekend, I decided to start writing my first short story for this year and it was messy, terrible stuff.  But you know what?  It was cathartic to get that first attempt out of the way.  I found out how not to begin my short story and what I liked and didn't like about where the story would go.  I have started my second attempt, kept some ideas I liked from the first try, with a clearer understanding of how the story will develop.  The main objective is to get a feel for what you are trying to achieve by trying out different things and realise you're on a journey of discovery.

(3) Be consistent - slow and steady wins the race

One of my other goals this year is to improve my half-marathon time by 10-15 minutes compared to last year.  It's going to require a lot of hard work but the simplest thing I can do is to be consistent in doing the additional speed work, hills, and strength training needed to achieve this.  I've already changed some of my usual routine of simply going out for a run in the early morning and I have started to notice improvements in my times and comfort levels during runs.  Spread out your next steps towards achieving your goals, follow through on them on a regular basis and you will soon begin to see minor changes and improvements building up.

Remember, we're just starting out a new year and there's plenty of time to figure out what you want to achieve and your plan or next steps.  Good luck and happy 2016!

New Year's Resolution No. 2

This year I plan to complete the manuscript for my YA debut novel and also get two short stories published.  Ambitious?  Very.  Crazy?  Definitely.  Achievable?  That all depends on how much planning, hard work, and pure guts I'm willing to put into this year and beyond, all while holding down a full-time job and spending time with family and friends. 

To some of you this might seem altogether impossible.  The first thing that comes to mind is where one would find the time to achieve the amount of work involved in completing a manuscript and getting two short stories published.  You know what?  The problem is not finding the time.  I think my problem, and something a lot of us share and can relate to, is using the time we do have efficiently and not wasting it doing inane things such as online browsing for no real purpose or traipsing off for another cup of tea or coffee.

If you need to do some online shopping, go ahead but find what you're looking for pronto and submit your order - just get it done.  The same goes with updating yourself on news and other current affairs.  I am a bit of a news junkie so I understand this particular weakness very well.  Again, use a portion of your day to get some news in and then return to work.  I have started to get a little better with this by dedicating a small portion of my morning and evening time to catching up on the news but using the greater part of my day for actual work.

Perhaps I am in the midst of a positive hangover from the start of the new year but I look back on my life and, honestly, there have been so many times the difference between success and mediocrity/failure has been because I didn't put in the time and love into what I wanted to achieve.  It's not just simply about luck or timing or pre-existing circumstances.  A lot of it is really on you.  Your attitude and your state of mind first and foremost.

Everything starts with a dream or desire but we can solidify our goals by making plans and putting in the time and effort to get there. 

What you need to do now:

(1) Find your goals/dreams;

(2) Make your plans; and

(3) Start taking steps and put in the work to get there.

It's that simple but most of us don't get past step (1), let alone step (2).

Dare to dream, set your goals, make your plans, and start now.  Don't wait.


Tips for Achieving your New Year's Resolutions

It's that time of year again where you think over what you have accomplished, or not, during the past few months.  For most of us, you probably set yourself some New Year's resolutions late 2014 or early 2015 with the aim of ticking something off the list and, perhaps, rewarding yourself.

Of course, most of the time, the list is abandoned or simply forgotten come the start of the new year.  Why bother, right?  Well, you should, for yourself most of all.  It helps you avoid getting or at least wasting time being in the doldrums and more time doing things other than being in a total funk or a permanently bad mood!

Where To Begin? 

Start off with two lists - yes, two, one for short term and the other for long term goals.

Now, take your list for long term goals for the new year and write down only three goals.  Why only three?  No real reason but, think about it, one goal doesn't seem like enough and five sounds like torture so three sounds about right.  Ask yourself where you would like to be or what you would like to be doing this time next year.  What's your overall focus for the new year?  Improving your health and wellbeing?  Changing jobs or upskilling?  Starting or returning to a creative pursuit?  For myself, I focused on health and wellbeing and my hobbies.  I had been neglecting both for a while as evidenced by my increasing inability to fit into any of my works clothes and the dust collecting on my drawing supplies and half finished writing pieces.

My long term goals for 2015 were:

(1) Run a half-marathon

(2) Become confident enough to display my drawings or show family and friends

(3) Get some of my writing published

Don't worry if your goals don't seem lofty enough or, on the flip, overly ambitious.  This list of resolutions is for you and you shouldn't feel the need to justify your goals to anybody.  You have the whole new year to plan the next steps out.  That's where your list of short term goals will come in handy.

Next Steps

Set your list of long term goals aside and go to your list of short term goals.  Think of what you can do in the next one to three months that can get you on the way to achieving goals (1) through (3).

Here is what my short term list of goals looked like:

(1) Register for a half-marathon at least six months out

(2) Sign up for drawing classes, in person or online

(3) Contact publications, websites, etc I would like to write for

With goal (1), I signed up for the Run Melbourne half-marathon held yearly in July.  That's rights folks - I registered for a running event for the middle of the Australian winter.  Luckily winters are relatively mild in the southern hemisphere so, really, there was no excuse not to. 

The next step was to create or find a training schedule for a half-marathon.  You can find training schedules for all sorts of running distances online or in running magazines or books for free.  I actually used the training schedule provided in a special lift out in The Age newspaper for a promotion on Run Melbourne and it worked out great, well, maybe except for the parts where the schedule asks you to do hill repeats...

For goal (2), I signed up for drawing courses on Craftsy (see, as I didn't have time during the work day or after work to attend actual classes.  Craftsy courses are very affordable and your access to the courses you've purchased never expires.  Definitely something worth checking out if you want something more structured, with regular classes or sessions you can return to time and again.  You are also encouraged to post your art projects on the Craftsy website to share with your classmates.

With the third short term goal, I looked around for websites, rather than publications, that were looking for reviews and general content or filler.  Some websites will pay you per piece, while others will pay you a portion of their advertising revenue, and then there are some which provide you no compensation at all but will give you exposure via a contributor or writer profile or bio.  I tried the third option to begin with to get a feel for what sort of work was out there but I soon transitioned to publishing on websites that give you a portion of their advertising revenue.  Working for free is okay for a little while but, personally, I believe you should be compensated something for your time and effort.

Now I hope you go out there and set yourself some goals for 2016.  Remember your lists of short and long term goals are for you.  You will learn you are more than what you think.  Be it being able to get past that pain barrier when you are running or getting past your reluctance with showing your artwork to a friend or family member.  You can do it!