Life in a pictish broch

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Reader, I love the brochs, and though I find them fascinating and enigmatic, they were the homes of real people. As you can imagine a lot of reading has been happening around here. I’ve been learning about the daily life of the people who lived in these structures.

Diagrams like this are found at almost every broch we visited.

Diagrams like this are found at almost every broch we visited.

We know the brochs had one or more floors that were built in timber on the shelf like scarcements and accessed via the steps built between the double skinned walls.

Some were built on the coast and had other stone buildings constructed close around the base with palisades and ditches built to further protect the inhabitants.

Animals could have been brought into the ground floor for safety and or warmth in times of war or bad weather. The upper floors would have been for living and storage. These iron age castles were well able to withstand whatever the neighbouring clans or tribes might throw at them, not to mention the harsh winds and wild storms blowing in from the North Sea. Well it’s the North Sea in my stories.

With little wood to be found in the immediate area, the waft of peat smoke billowing through the cone shaped timber and thatched roof would have been commonplace. Smoke from peat fires isn’t something we come across here in Australia, so I felt incredibly blessed when a friend offered to light their peat fire for me when we visited Caithness. I even bought some Peatscense to burn and help me remember now I’m home again. Peat is a commodity that takes plenty of muscle to harvest (dig), but peat bogs are readily available in the flow country of Caithness and Sutherland in the far north of Scotland.

Which brings us to what the Picts would have eaten. They were farmers, graziers, fishermen and hunters, so I think they would have eaten very well indeed. There have been huge middens investigated, near Newburgh in Aberdeenshire, and it seems they Picts were quite partial to shell fish if the mounds of shells are anything to go on.

Perhaps a hunting scene

Perhaps a hunting scene

They were weavers and artists in stone and beautiful silver jewellery and much has been found to show their skills and abilities. Both the jewellery and carved stones give us the understanding, to a degree of the lives they lived.

Silver work of the Picts

Silver work of the Picts

Pictish brooch

Let’s not forget the Picts were fierce warriors who had the Romans running for the hills and made them build Hadrian’s Wall to keep them safely contained in the wilds of Scotland.

Carving of warriors

Carving of warriors

I have enjoyed learning about the indigenous people of Scotland, though no one is exactly positive that the Picts were the first peoples of Scotland. I have my own theories on this, and if you want to know what they are, you’ll have to read the books. When I’ve written them.

Thanks for popping in, I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing my research and travels as I’ve been preparing and writing my story set among these wonderful and mysterious people.

NaNoWriMo – the good, the bad and the totally ugly

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Reader, NaNoWriMo has been a really hard slog for me this year.

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After returning from our wonderful trip to the UK, a month away from the pressures of my day job, where my focus was almost totally on my writing, I came back to a back log of work plus a few horrid surprises.

I won’t belabour the pity party I indulged in, suffice to say I got stuck in and caught up during October and did a fair amount of research and preparation to begin the umpteenth rewrite of my first YA novel, “Castle Quest” book 1. I was hanging to start, could not wait for the freedom of November. I had managed to get myself sorted to be able to nano without too much in the way of distractions.

Or so I thought.

Our business has an accreditation that requires an audit every 2 years, but it isn’t due until February, so it wasn’t likely to interfere with nano. Right? Wrong. The auditor paid us a nice little introductory visit to say hi and have a quick look at where we are at. And proceeded to tear my little complacent world down around my ears. Suddenly I had a work load that I couldn’t jump over and the audit was booked for the 18th of December not in February as I’d expected. So instead of having a month cleared for writing, I now had a six week to write policies and procedures and implement a million additional processes to our accreditation model. To say I wasn’t happy was a bit of an understatement.

Stubborn thing that I am, I thought I could still write. After all, I write early in the morning, so I’d write creatively in the early morning, and write business policies after that.

Now this is where things started going awry. I have a bit of trouble jumping from one to the other. So when I had time to write, I found myself thinking about the “verification of on board air scales for individual axle groupings”. When I was supposed to be writing the procedure for fault reporting and subsequent closing out of the fault, I was imagining walking along the Scottish coast, high on the sloping cliff tops, with the water oozing from the earth with each step.

Overload

It has been an enlightening time. I’ve learned a great deal about myself. One of these is that I can write rather good business documents, the second and most important is that I struggle to stay in the “stream of consciousness” that I need to be in to write. When I am constantly pulled out of my story I find it really hard to remember what was happening prior to the interruption. That’s ok, I can reread the previous scene and get back up to speed. Well most of the time I can. But as I became more stressed I found it progressively harder to find my characters motivation for their actions. So I’d read back over something and feel as if it was written in a foreign language and that it had little to nothing to do with me.

It is a hard thing to explain, but to lose that fragile gossamer thread can be soul destroying for me. I need to keep momentum up when I write a first draft, that’s why I nano. Not for a 50K word count, but for the motivation and momentum. To keep myself  heading down the same path as my characters and to keep everyone heading in the same direction. That’s why, when I am pulled away and distracted, I come back wondering who is who and why they are doing what they are doing.

And so NaNoWriMo is finished. It’s the first day of December, I have made the 50K, some of which needs a major fix up, but I made it. The story is not done, the first draft isn’t even finished, but thank heavens Nano is.

Winner

So did you attempt NaNoWriMo? Do you like or loathe the 50K in  30 days concept? Did you win? Is it worth it? I know for me, the time set to get the first draft done is as important as a motivator as it is a generator of the actual words, but when life has it’s way, NaNoWriMo, can be totally ugly. Will I do it again? Yep, I think I probably will.

More about brochs . . .

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In my story, The Kelpie King, my protagonist Jack Perry follows a strangely dressed girl into a castle ruin and emerged to find himself in a Pictish village around the time of the introduction of Christianity.

Aberlemno, Angus.

Aberlemno, Angus.

Wow, what an undertaking reader. Sometimes, often, I wonder what on earth was I thinking when I decided to do this. But, I love the story, and love researching the Picts. There is so much to learn, but I find it absolutely fascinating. The trouble is knowing when enough is enough.

So I’ve started with iron age Scotland and the end of the Picts. We know the Picts used and re-used old fortresses.

I’ve been to Sydney to collect and read a book called “The problem of the Picts” edited by TF Wainwright. Photocopied “Picts” by Anna Ritchie.

My research into the Picts and their lives had to begin with where and how they lived, hence the brochs.

Interior of Dun Troddan

Interior of Dun Troddan

Imagine sailing into a wide bay and seeing a huge dark stone round tower on a cliff top. The structure stands about ten metre high and almost as wide. What would this say to those approaching the land.

To me it would say they were strong, intelligent and protected. Powerful and astute.

Dun Troddan

Dun Troddan

Drystone buildings of this size are something to behold, the precision of the stones, the smooth sloping circular walls that were built side by side to form a double skinned structure with stairways spiralling up between the  two walls are a sight to behold. I stood inside those walls and imagined. I climbed to the top. This reader, is something worthy of  note as I am very very afraid of heights. I am known to not even stand on a chair! Dave took photos of me on the top of Dun Beag on Skye because he could not believe I would ignore my fears and climb to examine every angle and detail I could on these magnificent structures.

Entrance

Entrance

The broch has a small entrance with quite a long low tunnel to duck through, one one side there is usually a small chamber, known as a guard chamber. The tunnel opens up into a wide open floor that usually had a hearth in the centre and often a well of some kind too. The inhabitants could stay safely inside for extended periods in both times of bad weather or attack. An opening on the far side would lead to another chamber built into the wall and a stone staircase curving up inside the wall. The stone steps had the dual role of tying the inner and outer walls together.

Guards chamber

Guards chamber

 

Cross section of the inner and outer walls

Cross section of the inner and outer walls

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Steps and upper floor of the chamber between the walls

Examining just a few of the brochs at close quarters was something I’m not likely to ever forget, and I can’t wait to begin writing about Jack and his take on prehistoric life.

 

Are you interested in history? Have you ever, like me, found yourself caught up in imagining what it would be like to have lived in a different era? Please share, I like to know I’m not alone.

Who were the Picts?

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Reader, my writing and research leads me on a merry, if sometimes confusing, trail.

Picts

Much of my reading lately has been centred on the Picts and where and how they lived. Not bad considering the Picts must be the most enigmatic people that I’ve ever heard of.

The Romans called them the “Picti” as in painted ones. Does this mean they loved to paint themselves or portraits? This is the question, and no one can really be sure.

stone image

An anonymous Norwegian said they were little people. “The Picts were little more than pygmies in stature. They worked marvels in the morning and evening building towns, but at midday they entirely lost their strength and lurked through fear in little underground houses.” Really?

The big bad Vikings were afraid of them, and “dared not land because of beings like elves or trolls bearing shining spears”.

Reader I think the Picts were just people, doing their thing, carving rocks and making jewellery. Lets face it, they must have lived a reasonably stable existence to have such well developed artistic skills.

If they were constantly waring they’d hardly have had time to make moulds and cast the beautiful silver pins, chains and brooches we still have today. Not to mention the monumental carved stones that are scattered all over Scotland.

artefacts-main-brooch

Well they wouldn’t, would they?

Apparently they had no written language, but again, there are accounts from Bede that messengers were sent from the Pictish King to an abbot in Northumbrian monasteries asking for advice on Church matters in 710AD. The reply was sent with instructions to be “immediately sent out under public order to all provinces of the Picts to be copied, learned, and adopted”. If it wasn’t sent to the Pictish monasteries, to be forwarded on, then who would it have been sent to.

KellsFol034rChiRhoMonogramkells00

Then there is the Book of the Kells, the illustrated gospels created in a monastery in eastern Pictland. The style is very similar to the Pictish stone carving and other art work, so perhaps they did write, and either no copies remain, or we don’t recognise them as identifiably Pictish. Who knows? Certainly not me, but I do find it endlessly fascinating. So much so, reader, that I’m in dire need of more shelving to contain all the books I’ve been ordering online.

Had you heard of the Picts before I started on about them? I feel like I’ve known of them forever, but then I’ve been researching the far north of Scotland for almost 10 years, so they’ve been on my radar for probably, about, that long.

What is a “broch” anyway?

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Reader, I’ve been researching prehistory and early history in Scotland in an attempt to make sure my story is as historically accurate as possible when one is writing a story set in the Dark Ages. Dark as in there is little known, so therefore the era is shrouded in mystery and made up stuff.

 

The journey that began almost ten years ago when I wanted to write a story set in a castle because I loved the TV series “Monarch of the Glen”. This interest set me on a path that has been exciting and frustrating in equal parts.

Ardverikie Estate was used as the setting for Glenbogle in Monarch of the Glen

Ardverikie Estate was used as the setting for Glenbogle in Monarch of the Glen

As you know, I recently attended a writing retreat/course in the Cotswolds with Kate Forsyth and as we shared our current WIP with the group I was distinctly uncomfortable when I had to admit that my story was set in a parallel world because I wanted to mash three historic periods together. My bad! And it wasn’t overlooked by our esteemed tutor. Kate pulled me up short and reminded me that most people don’t learn their history via non-fiction, but rather through fiction, and so we, as authors were obligated to “get it right”. Sigh.

I knew she was right, and if I’m honest with myself, I’d known it all along, hence my inability to get the story finished.

So now, I am on mission to write not one, but three linked stories that will cover the three separate time periods that I was attempting to combine. And you know what reader? It’s ok, because I’ve researched all three periods anyway. So now I am in the process of pulling all the relevant bits out of the first draft and rewriting the first book in the way it should have been done in the first place. Because we all know that there are no short cuts or free lunches.

Which leads me to tell you about brochs.

Brochs. What is a broch I hear you say? Well it’s a very early Scottish version of a castle.
Wikipedia says this:
“A broch is an Iron Age drystone hollow-walled structure of a type found only in Scotland. Brochs include some of the most sophisticated examples of drystone architecture ever created.”

A broch was a status symbol, a defensive structure and a home. And in my story it is all three.

While we were in Scotland, Dave and I went broch hunting and had heaps of fun scrambling all over every one we located. I’ve climbed over the ruins of one in Carn Liath Broch near Golspie; walked for miles through fields to find one at Dunbeath; drove all over Skye to find one of the many there; drove through the twilight to find the two at Glenelg. Visiting Dun Telve and Dun Troddan just on dark was beautiful, atmospheric  and more than a little bit special.

Carn Liath, Golspie. Outside the remains of a my first broch.

Carn Liath, Golspie. Outside the remains of a my first broch.

Dun Beag Broch, Isle of Skye.

Dun Beag Broch, Isle of Skye.

Dun Telve Broch, Glenelg Dave standing inside for scale

Dun Telve Broch, Glenelg
Dave standing inside for scale

Dun Troddan Broch, Glenelg

Dun Troddan Broch, Glenelg

We visited more, but I can’t find the photos 😦 I find these wonderful examples of prehistoric architecture fascinating and have lots more to share, but I’ll have to save something for next time. So, stay tuned.

Does prehistory fascinate you? Do you ever wonder what it would have been like to live in a place like these? Have you visited any of these or like these? Or even would like to one day? Please share, as I’d love to know. I might even have to pick your brain for details, it’s all research after all.

 

The time has come . . .

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Reader, I keep promising myself to get back to blogging regularly, and yet here we are again and it’s been ages. I’m not going to check how long as it will just send me off on a tangent that, in turn, won’t get a blog written.

So to bring you up to speed, I’ve been a bit busy.

Packing

Packing

August saw the big count down to the long, long, long awaited trip to the UK. Since 2005 I’ve been trying to write “Castle Quest” and could never really get it finished as it was set in Scotland. So what you say? Well, I’d never been to Scotland, so how could I write about it realistically? In short, I couldn’t. I had several attempts at saving, and each time was unsuccessful for a variety of reasons, but this year was different.

You may remember reader that I attended a weekend writing course with Kate Forsyth last year in Sydney? Well here’s the link to Kate and the Australian Writer’s Centre. At the course, called History, Mystery and Magic, we had a wonderful time, but Kate told us of a course she was going to be running in the following September in the Cotswolds, England. How lovely, I thought.

The Lygon Arms, Broadway, The Cotswolds

The Lygon Arms, Broadway, The Cotswolds

Well somehow, Kate convinced my darling husband that I should go, so I booked in and paid a deposit and then I panicked! I had a lot of money to save and I’d committed to going to the other side of the globe on my own! ON MY OWN.

Lygon Arms

Lygon Arms

Thankfully, Dave decided to meet me for the second half of my trip and so we went to Scotland together. It was the honeymoon we’d never had, well sort of. For me it was a research trip with my own personal chauffeur and sounding board.

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The highlight of my trip was . . . well the whole thing actually, but as far as my writing was concerned it was visiting the setting of my story, Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, near Wick in Caithness Scotland.

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

SnapShot 2014

A little something from my author friend, Jodi Cleghorn

Pursuing Parallels

[SnaphotLogo2014%255B4%255D.png]It’s my first year involved with the SpecFic Downunder SnapShot and I have to thank Sean Wright for yet again investing in my writing career. In the interview I talk about new collaborative projects, the erratic nature of poetry, bending narratives, what Australian spec-fic I’ve read recently and loved, what it would take to get to the bottom of my to read pile and drop the news on a flash fiction collection.

You can read the full interview here.

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flies, baths and dunnys

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I was nine, almost ten, when we moved from our nice suburban, 3 bedroom, red brick house in the Western Suburbs of Sydney; into two caravans on the top of the hill in the bush. It was billed as a great adventure by mum and dad. And they were so right! It was awesome! Cramped? Yes. Hard work? YES – though mum and dad were the ones who carried that load. But mostly, it was fun.

On the left is dad, Darren, Gina (standing) Mel & Me in the centre, the two other girls and lady are the Reindler's our neighbours twice over.

On the left is dad, Darren, Gina (standing) Mel & Me in the centre, the two other girls and lady are the Reindler’s our neighbours twice over.

We had two caravans set up at right angles with the annex’s somehow joined into an “L” shaped living area and bathroom. The bathroom consisted of an old bathtub and a copper. We had electricity, so it wasn’t so bad, The tub sat in a “bespoke” frame that was high enough to place a bucket beneath the plug hole for easy emptying. Bucketing out the dirty water onto the veggie patch was a job for us kids. Hard yakka, but it didn’t kill us.
The thing that did kill us, or almost, was Dad’s love of Baygon Surface spray and Dettol.
The local flies were smitten with these newcomers. Fresh white skin and dewy eyes must have been a welcome change to the Foran’s Herefords. So a gazillion flies moved into the two caravan/annex home with us. Dad to the rescue, with liberal douses of Baygon, sprayed into the air to kill all and sundry. Flies or kids, it didn’t seem to matter. Even the dog ran for cover when she saw that blue and orange can lifted off the shelf. I still feel a catch in my throat and my chest contracts at the memory of breathless gasping for non chemical air. No wonder I hate chemicals now!
baygon
The Dettol, however was another matter all together. To set the scene, we had no buildings; so no roof or tank to catch the rain when we first moved. So 20ltr drums were brought from town and that was our water supply. Drinking, cooking, washing and bathing. As you might imagine, it needed to be recycled somewhat! The bath water was great on the first night. The second night it was reheated in the copper, liberally doused with the Dettol, the enemy of any self respecting germ. By the third night the bath water would be enough to make your eyes water and other parts sting! A lot. Much clutching at vitals and a few squeals were part of the process, but Dad wasn’t having us “undisinfected”.
Dettol-Classic-Liquid-125ml_2
We were all pretty happy to help build the shed and set up the new 300 gallon water tank. Anything to be rid of the dreadful nights of torturous Dettol burn!
We lived in the caravans for a few months, until Dad and mum built a shed with bedrooms divided up by curtains and wardrobes. We had chickens, a red cattle dog called Lucy and a whole lot of, very happy to see us, flies.
We were on an adventure and had parents who billed each hardship as part of the fun. Mum and Dad’s attitude set all of us up with a resolute approach towards difficulties for life and I thank them for it.
Misfortunes, frustrations and dilemmas were to be tackled head on, determination and more than a little lateral thinking. Tenacity was the example we grew up with and so all four of us knew to be ready to look for a solution. I never have seen; nor ever expect to see, my parents be beaten by a problem or difficulty. What fabulous examples they were.
We all had jobs to do, be it feed chooks, collect eggs, dust and vacuum on Saturday mornings or everyone’s UN- favourite, dig the dunny. Perhaps we won’t venture into the realms of toilet humour. Though there is a tale or two to be told there. Yet another set of memories provoked when remembering, there was the odour. No, not what you’re thinking. I’m talking about Phenyl, there’s no smell like it. Clings to your clothes and body for far too long.
Excuse me while I drift off in a chemical induced swirl of memories. The memory of water has nothing on the headache brought on when just thinking about this stuff. Does anyone else remember this “cleaning” product?
Black-Phenyl-
Ahem, sorry about that reader.
How about you? Do you have memories invoked by smells and scents that send you hurtling back to your childhood just thinking about them? Do some smells just make you sick to the stomach or reach for the tissues? (Tissues for tears, not due to stomach upset!) Although these smells were not pleasant for most part, the memories they bring back are, and so I don’t mind. It gives me a laugh, and that’s a good thing.

bandaids and ponies

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I grew up having a very blessed & fun filled childhood. Born in Sydney, I am the eldest of four and was probably a brat of a kid. I was known among our lot as a hypochondriac; always complaining of feeling sick. Of course reader, I could tell you some interesting if somewhat embarrassing stories, but I won’t..  Oh, alright, I will.
Apparently when I was quite young; under three? Anyway pre school -I was complaining of feeling sick and wanted a bandaid. Insisted on a bandaid. So mum, caring parent that she is, put a bandaid over my mouth. Apparently everyone was pleased with the outcome. Namely silence.
As it turned out, I am coeliac & lactose intolerant so I probably was actually feeling sick.
hunter country
When I was 9 we moved from Sydney to a small acreage in the beautiful Hunter Valley on the edge of the vineyards. Apart from band aids, I’ve had a fascination with horses since I was around 3.  So when we moved, I was desperate to have a horse of my own. As my parents couldn’t afford one I took matters into my own hands and stole one.
Two actually.
Our neighbours lived in Northern Sydney and had a few acres with a small herd of Hereford cattle & two horses. They visited their property every few weekends, so I figured they’d not mind if I accessed their sturdy steeds. Ned & Pinocchio.
Of course I’d ridden a horse precisely once on my own before; when my darling grandparents took me to a riding school outside Campbeltown NSW. They patiently waited in the car for a few hours while I went on a morning trail ride. I was a goner; totally smitten and determined to have a horse of my own.The reality was that I had no idea, but in my head I was an equestrian of some great talent, not to mention fearless. Make that reckless, ok, stupid.
Anyway back to my horse stealing. With straps taken from my roller skates and dog leads in hand I chased and lured with carrots and finally wore down old Ned. I used my bits & bobs to fashion a bridle and climbed on board. Let me tell you a little about Ned; has was in his 20’s with a sunken back and a wither as high as the tree stump I’d needed to get on him; he was about 16hh and had a mouth of steel. In non horse-speak, he was tall, skinny, boney and old; he was incredibly hard to steer and once moving, harder to stop. The homemade, by a 9year old, bridle, probably didn’t help much. With his head held high and much rolling of eyes he allowed me to  gee him up and off we went in a clunky trot.
Of course I fell off!
laughing horse
So I then had a sore bottom and a cranky old horse. not to mention that my fab bridle was being taken away at the gallop by poor abused old Ned.
Well I had to catch him, didn’t I? If I hadn’t, the hiding I’d have received for losing the dog leads would have been a bit much for my already sore bottom. It was almost dark and I had to chase two horses around the 100 plus acres to retrieve the bridle, though I must admit to using a bit of poetic licence  in calling it a bridle, more like a medieval torture device.
I did eventually get him and the bridle. The poor old thing. Can you imagine being chased by a horrid little girl and tortured with home styled bondage paraphernalia, and then kicked and tugged around before being finally getting rid of her only to end up being chased around again? No?
I escaped a smack and decided next time I’d try Pinocchio as he was fatter and not so tall. I’ll tell you about that next week. Right now, I’m off to cringe at the memories.
Did you have an exiting childhood? Are you a country or a city kid? I’d love to know I’m not the only one who got up to mischief. Come on reader, don’t be shy, share you embarrassing tales, we can keep a secret.

I’ve been thinking about goal setting

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I actually do a lot of thinking about goal setting. That’s the easy bit. I have a list of goals as long as my arm. The part of the equation I struggle with is the completion of said goals.

Goals

Here are a few of my goals for the next six months:

1 Finish editing Something in the Water

2 Submit Something in the Water (as soon as it’s truly polished)

3 Lose a gazillion kilograms before going to UK

4 Exercise daily (to assist with #3)

5 Get our business bookkeeping and paperwork under control

6 Keep business bookkeeping and paperwork under control

7 Get the house tidy and keep it that way

8 Edit Nostalgia (Romance written June 2013)

9 Plan, prepare, write Teen/YA parallel novel set in Caithness Scotland

10 Keep writing

As you can see reader, I’ve no lack of things on my to do list. Number 11 should be learn how to stick to a schedule and maintain a routine. I found a few good tips on my cousin’s blog, hers is a teaching resource blog, and has some great info that relates to all aspects of life. Check it out here.

Some of my lack of discipline isn’t actually my lack, it’s just life and circadian rhythms or some such thing. I function best in the very early morning. So I tend to want to exercise and write and get housework out of the way all before about 8am. Unfortunately that would mean I’d have to get up before I go to bed to get anything finished. Hence, I end up with very little finished. Also running our own business is time consuming to put it mildly. If I want a social life at all, and I do, it often seems like another “job” on my already too long list.

But one of the things that makes writing difficult for me isn’t the writing itself, or even the editing. It’s feeling like I’m goofing off when I do it. That I should really be doing something else on the list. Like the bookkeeping or vacuum; walking the dog or tending the garden. At the moment I’m working on my internal chatter and reminding myself constantly that writing is working. That I’m trying to run an existing business and start a new one at the same time. Not to mention run a household pretty much single handed. So now that I’ve given myself an excuse to feel overwhelmed, instead of goofing off on Facebook, I’m going to get stuck into the bookkeeping for an hour (Yes, I’ll set a timer) and then I will do an hours work on my writing. Because as much as I love it, yes, writing is work.

brain power

Am I the only one who feels like writing is something to be done when the real work if finished? Please tell me I’m not. Do you have a hobby that you’d love to turn into a career? Do you struggle with balancing the things you want to do with the things you have to? Are you a list maker who’s perfected the art of completing projects and goals? If you are, please share your secret.