Twitter, how I’ve missed you!

So, I did it ! A month without Twitter and I survived – just!  As many of my Twitter and blog followers will know, in July I made the momentous decision to stay off of Twitter for a month.  I’d been spending so much time interacting with other writers, reading interesting blog posts etc that I was struggling to find enough time to keep up with my own writing and reading.   
I recently met the lovely @isabelashdown at a book launch (Rook, by Jane Rusbridge – review coming soon) and Isabel told me that she always takes the whole of August away from Twitter. The sky didn’t fall in, she assured me, and what’s more, she got lots of reading and writing done.
I took the plunge and said TTFN to all my Twitter pals on July 31st. It was only when I woke up the following morning that I realised how ridiculously  hooked I’d become; I woke mentally composing a tweet about how odd it was going to be to not be able to share my thoughts on being off the Twitter scene for a while! Composing a tweet about it – you see where I was going wrong!
So, I reminded myself that it was possible to go about one’s daily business and not share every thought and observation with the Twitter community, and I started to use the extra time to get on with my second novel, and to catch up with my reading. I was lucky in that we had a week’s holiday in August, too, so that was even more lovely reading time.
I am happy to report that I have made some progress on my novel. Contrary to my own advice in Writing a First Draft  I didn’t actually get to the end of the first draft before starting to rewrite, because I decided that as I’d made so many changes, I couldn’t realistically write the final sections until I’d strengthened some of the earlier stuff. I have also done a lot of reading – see mini-blog post to come later.
In other news, halfway through August I managed to break my ankle while running up some stairs. I know, I know – the teachers were right when they told us to walk-don’t-run.  It was pretty hard to stay off Twitter at that point, I can tell you! I wanted to get straight on there and tell everyone how much it hurt, how I’d got a flashy purple cast, how frustrating it was not to be able to carry a cup of tea from the worktop to the kitchen table, and most of all, how sitting about with your feet up sounds quite nice, but is spoiled by the fact that it’s a killer for your back. And you get a numb bum, too. 
I’m still on crutches (which aggravates the RSI in my arms)but I’m getting about a little more easily now. I still have to keep my foot elevated much of the time, but at least I can sit at my desk for a few hours each day. I miss walking the dog, though, and dread to think what the lack of exercise will do to my figure!
Anyway, back to the main topic.  I’m really glad I took a month away from Twitter; I’ve definitely got more done, and it’s really made me think about  using social media a bit more sensibly in future. I’ve decided that from now on, I’m going to take a week off each month, just to catch up with work and keep things in perspective. I’m wondering about a daily time limit, too. Or is that too hard to measure?
Having said all that, I’m absolutely delighted to be back, because I’ve really missed my daily chats with this wonderfully supportive and endlessly interesting and entertaining community.  
Could you survive a month away from Twitter? Have you ever tried restricting your use of social media? How did it go? Did you just have some time off or have you made permanent changes? 
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Can I survive a month away from Twitter?

Like many others, I was sceptical about Twitter. Wasn’t it all about celebrity gossip and the finer points of what Stephen Fry had for breakfast? And given the amount of time Twitter was bound to gobble up, how could it possible be ‘good for writers’?
Well, it’s almost a year since I joined Twitter, and I haven’t once learned what Stephen Fry has for breakfast (mind you, I don’t follow him, so his breakfast would have to be spectacular enough to warrant a retweet if I were ever to hear about it.)

And I have to admit that I do now see why Twitter is good for writers. I have gained so much from Twitter in the past year that it’s now quite hard to imagine life without it.  Not only is Twitter a virtual water cooler/coffee shop in terms of giving us solitary authors access to the daily banter that enhances the working day of those with ‘proper jobs’, but it has also provided me with a number of book recommendations I might not otherwise have discovered, it has opened the doors to such a wealth of interesting newspaper articles, blog posts, quotes and YouTube videos about writing and the writing process that I can never hope to read even a tenth of what’s available; it has provided real-time updates in the form of Tweets from writers’ conferences and events that that I haven’t been able to attend, and, most valuable of all, it has given me new friends.

The friends I’ve made on Twitter are mostly, but not all, other authors, and this means they understand a lot about my life, and I understand a lot about theirs.  We empathise with the challenges we all face in our daily quest to ‘get some work done’; we sympathise with each other’s isolation; we commiserate over rejections and we celebrate successes.
But there is a downside. All this wonderful support comes from having a strong network of people that you frequently interact with, and interaction takes time.  Twitter is also the BEST vehicle for procrastination, and what’s more, when you confess to procrastinating, loads of other authors will jump to your defence, convincing you that it’s normal or even desirable to procrastinate. I’m guilty of this myself and even wrote a blog post encouraging others. *hangs head in shame* See 7-ways-to-justify-procrastination 
So, in the interests of the health of my second novel, and at the risk of returning to Twitter to find that no-one remembers me, I’ve decided to follow fellow author Isabel Ashdown’s  (@isabelashdown) example and have a month (ish) away from Twitter.  Gulp. I’m going away for a week in August anyway, and lots of other people will be away too, so I won’t miss much, right? Who am I kidding – I’ll miss loads.
But despite wondering how on earth I’m going to survive for a month without the support of my lovely Twitter mates, I’m going to take a deep breath, and I’m going to do it!  See you in September!
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How’s everyone else getting on with their New Year’s resolutions?

How’s everyone else getting on with their New Year’s resolutions? Even if you don’t call them ‘resolutions’, it counts if you made any sort of plan of action for the new year.  Last week, I publicly declared my intentions with regard to my plans for my working day in 2012, so how have I done so far? Hmm.
Write for at least two hours every morning: Well, including this one, there have been five mornings since I wrote that post. One was wiped out by a long dental appointment, and I’m taking a chunk out of this one to write the blog. (Really, I should use the afternoon for blog-writing, and I’ll attempt to do so from now on.) That leaves three, and although I hit my target on Thursday and Friday, I confess to spending Saturday morning browsing holiday cottages online. So, given that the only valid excuse was the dental appointment, I’ve had a 50% success rate (and also, of course, a 50% failure rate.)  Mark: C+ -you have made some effort, but not enough -must try harder.
Resume ‘Morning Pages’ – three pages of freewriting, preferably on waking: Oh dear. I have failed dismally here; haven’t done it even  once.  Crazy, because when I was doing this regularly, I found it very useful. Maybe I need to start getting up earlier so I can’t use lack of time as an excuse. Mark: F – dreadful! Appalling! Abominable! Must pull your socks up!
Do all teaching preparation, reading students’ work, writing reports etc in the afternoon: Yes!  Have restrained myself from trying to get these jobs ‘out of the way’ in the mornings and ending up allowing them to stretch into the whole day. This week, I’ve only had  reports to write for a couple of my Open College of the Arts students, and by leaving it until after my writing session to work on them, I’ve felt that I’ve achieved a lot more by the end of the day.  Mark A+ – good girl!
Restrict Twitter activity to two half-hour sessions during the working day: There have been four full days since this post,  I’ve managed to stick to this on three  days. On the other day, I realised that over an hour had passed with me just reading tweets and blogs, retweeting things and ‘chatting’. Twitter is a wonderful resource for writers, and the camaraderie and friendship is hugely supportive, but Twitter can gobble up a lot of time. I really intend to get to grips with this. Mark: B+ – a good effort.
Take one or two days off from writing activities each week. Use these to catch up with household stuff, and to do something nice as well: Well, I took yesterday off, did some laundry, went to the theatre to see a excellent production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company and had a Thai meal in the evening. So I think that counts. Mark: A- – good, but you didn’t do the shopping.  Don’t start relaxing too much; you have a novel to write!
The Reading Bit
Just a thought this week – have you noticed that when you’re reading a novel on a Kindle, it’s quite hard to remember the title of the novel and the name of the author? This is because you’re not looking at the cover every time you pick it up. Love my Kindle, but not sure I like this aspect.
The Food Bit
As promised last week, here is the recipe for Red Kidney Bean Dahl:
1 tin kidney beans
Half a tin chopped tomatoes
1 onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic
2 green chillies
1-2 tsp tomato puree
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
Oil for frying
Spices: 1/2 tsp each of cumin seeds and black mustard seeds, 1 tsp each of  tandoori masala, turmeric, and garam masala. If you like a bit of a kick, 1/2 -1 tsp chilli powder (I’d start with 1/2 tsp!)
Put the tomatoes, chillies and garlic in a blender and whizz into a paste. Heat oil in a pan, then add the cumin and mustard seeds and cook for a few seconds, then add the onion and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the blended paste and all ingredients except the beans. Cook for a minute or so, then add the beans and about half a pint of water. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, and adding more water if needed.  I like mine quite saucy (if you see what I mean). Serve this with some boiled basmati rice and naan bread or chapatis.  There’s enough here for two if it’s the main dish, but we sometimes freeze it in smaller quantities and have it with, perhaps, a spinach and potato or green pepper and potato curry.

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First post of 2012 – a writing plan!

Happy New Year! My apologies for late posting this week – I have a number of pretty top-quality excuses: a funeral, Christmas & New Year and the houseful of family that go with them, a vicious head cold, plus a couple of days of paid work.  I still have the cold but the other things are thankfully behind me now. I didn’t even get round to putting a tree up this year, and anyway, it didn’t seem appropriate to decorate the house while we were still so close to my father-in-law’s death in mid-December.
Without all the decorations and cards to take down, it should have made the ‘getting back to normal’ a bit easier, but I still seem to be struggling to get on course for 2012. Does anyone else feel like they’re trying to run up the ‘down’ escalator?
I haven’t even had time to make my New Year’s resolutions. Well, I don’t make resolutions as such, but I do usually start the year with some sort of plan of action with regards to my writing, and I’m usually ready to hit the ground running on the first of January (or the second, should the first be somewhat shortened by a hangover and a lie-in). But this year, we’ve somehow got to the third day of 2012 and I still don’t really have a plan, so I’m going to make one now, ‘live’ on the blog! If you don’t have your own plan yet, feel free to adapt mine. I really can’t faff about this year, because I have a two-book deal (hoorah!) and that means I actually have a deadline and need to deliver the second book on time.
Ok, so in 2012 I will:
  • Write for at least  two hours every morning, in two or three sessions. I find it’s better to have a time commitment rather than a word commitment, because there are some days when the words just won’t come, and I don’t see the point of beating yourself up every time you don’t hit a thousand words (or whatever). If I spend the two hours at my keyboard, thinking about my novel, I’m convinced something will happen. Won’t it?
  • Resume ‘morning pages’ as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way  – three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing every morning, preferably on waking. This year, I might combine this with journal writing, so that the freewriting comes from what I’ve done, seen or thought about in the previous 24 hours.
  • Do all teaching admin, lesson preparation, reading students’ work, writing reports, student tutorials etc in the afternoons only, thus keeping the mornings clear for writing. I have a habit of thinking I’ll get teaching things ‘out of the way’ first, only to find they then stretch into the whole day.
  • Restrict daytime Twitter activity to two half-hour sessions a day – this will be difficult! There is so much on Twitter that is of interest to writers, not to mention the simple, pleasant chit-chat with other writers.  But Twitter can easily gobble up a morning.
  • Take one or two days off from writing each week. These days can be used mainly for boring but essential stuff such as shopping, housework, household admin etc, but should also contain something nice – coffee or lunch with a friend, a walk in the countryside, some time reading all the fabulous blogs that are around, or even a short train journey to somewhere new – anything to recharge the creative batteries and allow time for story and characters to develop. I’m particularly keen to take a few train journeys this year – going to new places always helps to sharpen my observational skills.
  • And finally, I’ve realised that by having three sections to this blog – the Writing Bit, the Reading Bit and the Food Bit, I’ve bitten off rather more than I can chew, so in 2012, there won’t be three sections every week, but there will always be  either something about writing, or a book review. And there will usually be something about food.
The Food Bit
This week, because of the excuses/reasons stated at the start of the writing bit, the food bit will be brief. It’ll be simply to tell you that as I type, Vegan Husband is downstairs knocking up Red Bean Dhal – does anyone know the definition of dhal? I always thought it meant ‘made with lentils’, but this is made with kidney beans. He’s made it before and it’s absolutely delicious, especially if you like your curries to have a bit of a kick – this should see off the last of my cold! He’s cooking some basmati rice to go with it, and we’re going to pop to the Indian restaurant down the road in a minute to get a sag bhuna and a garlic naan to have as side dishes.  I’ll get the recipe out of him later and will post it next week. The garlicky, spicy aroma is now wafting up the stairs, and there’s a glass of wine down there with my name on it!
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