Spot: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge

Welcome! Come and join the Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

This week’s challenge is spot.

Within your heart, keep one still, secret spot where dreams may go.

Louise Driscoll

Do you have a favorite spot? A spot where you love to hang out? A spot where you enjoy walking? A spot of tea? Spot the Dog? Do you love spotting birds? Or you could take this literally and show me a spotty dog (Edinburgh slang for a dalmatian) or spotty wallpaper. Let’s be dotty about spots, this week!

My photo is of the sunset on Christmas Eve 2017 in Pattaya beach, Thailand. It was a great spot to just let go and have a quiet holiday at a point when my husband and I were living in China and working very long hours.

What can you come up with?

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Childlike: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge

Welcome! Come and join the Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

This week’s challenge is childlike.

There are no seven wonders in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.

Walt Streightiff

The subject could be a child or you could attempt to take a photo through the eyes of a child. It’s notoriously difficult for adults to see the point of view of children, so this challenge might push some people out of their comfort zone.

My photo is the excitement of going on a plane as a child and seeing the world from above. That sense that you could live amongst the clouds and build snowmen out of them. The rollercoaster thrill of taking off and the uncertainty about how the plane will ever touch land safely again. I never went on a plane as a child, so the first time I experienced the awe and wonder of air travel was when I was eighteen.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Sorry, Italy, I disagree about coffee

In Italy, they are very particular about their coffee. It stands to reason, since they’re famous for coffee. Half our coffee words are direct loan-words from Italian. Latte, cappuccino, espresso, doppio espresso, to name a few.

Many successful coffee shop chains have given themselves Italian names and the main coffee machines used in those coffee shops come from Italy. The Gaggia machine is made in Milan, and that is the industry standard for professional coffee-making equipment.

So it’s generally acknowledged that Italy knows a thing or two about coffee. But I’m not so sure. When I went to Verona more than a few years ago, I wandered across a huge piazza to a cafe with dozens of seats outside. Wanting to experience some local culture, I sat down and a waiter came out.

– What would you like to drink? he asked.

– A cappuccino, please, I replied.

– No. We do not serve those after 11am.

– Could I have a latte instead? I wondered.

– We do not serve those, now, either.

– Americano? I (out of desperation) asked. I was starting to feel as if I’d landed in Monty Python’s Cheese Shop sketch.

– We don’t make those, he replied.

I couldn’t think of any other types of coffee right then. It seemed so weird that an Italian cafe wouldn’t sell coffee. I could see people drinking around me. I blinked once. Twice. Three times. My brain had to reboot. Then it gave up. So did I. I thanked him, left the table, and headed back across the square to the McDonald’s where they were not so strange about their coffee.

I only found out later that the waiter was being a coffee snob. The thing is, in Italy, you are not supposed to drink cappuccino or latte except with your breakfast. The rest of the time, you must only drink espresso.

I find this bizarre. Milky coffees are extremely high in calories and, due to a hormonal issue, I struggle to keep weight on. On top of that, I have abominable stomach acid and, because I overcaffeinated when I worked eighteen-hour days as an inner-city high school teacher, I now get jittery if I have more than 2 real coffees within an eight-hour stretch. I used to be well-known for being able to drink coffee at 2am and fall asleep at 2:20am, but these days, coffee really affects me if I have too much.

I don’t think I’m the only one. I know loads of people who have cut out caffeine in an attempt to cull mood swings, anxiety, or jitters.

Largely, I drink decaf. But a decaf espresso is the most pointless drink known to humanity. The 50ml shot of decaf neither hydrates you nor wakes you up. Actually, they’ve invented non-alcoholic shots of “spirits”, these days, so that’s up there as pointless, too. Not drunk. Still thirsty. Pointless.

A long drink with a ton of extra calories and some protein, like a soy latte or cappuccino, has a purpose. It gives me energy, from the calories, and stabilizes my weight, so I don’t waste away from breastfeeding. While I was pregnant with Jellyfish, I drank two or three decaf iced lattes every day to keep my calories up, to make up for the hell of hyperemesis (extreme pregnancy sickness) which had made me lose 5kg (10lb) of weight in the first trimester.

When you think about it, this whole obsession with Italian coffee makes no sense. None. Coffee came to Europe from South America. There are not many Italians in South America. People were drinking it over there for a very long time. And North America has some of the best-known coffee outlets, too. Starbucks. Seattle’s Best Coffee (which, BTW, was my favorite haunt in Osaka). Tim Horton’s (which is in my top ten eateries in Belfast). Need I continue? Italian coffee is like fancy shoes. Great to make you feel special, but day-to-day I’d reach for my Skechers or sandals. America knows coffee better than anyone, and I think they’re the ones getting it right.

So I’m sorry, Italy. You’re wrong about coffee. It doesn’t need to be strong. And it’s okay to put milk in it after 11am. It won’t catch fire.

Texture: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge!

Welcome! Come and join the Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

This week’s challenge is texture.

Texture and pattern should function as a surprise.

Robert Denning

My photo is from Istanbul, where the texture of this scene fascinated me. It wasn’t just the water, although that’s intriguing by itself since it’s very obviously standing water, but the surface is choppy like tidal water.

The texture of the stone around the water, and the white egg-like structures in the centre of the feature were also fascinating, and the whole thing contrasts with the trees in the background.

Reflecting on this photo, I wish I had taken it with a higher ISO and faster shutter speed to really get more light and movement into the image. But that would have meant using my Canon Eos instead of my iPhone, which is what this was actually taken with. :0

What can you come up with for this challenge?

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Delicious: Thursday Photo Challenge!

Welcome to the weekly Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

This week’s challenge is delicious.

You can go anywhere in the world, and people’s faces light up when they put delicious food in their mouths.

Sandi Toksvig

My photo is from one of my extended trips to America. You may instantly recognise my picture as the syrup jugs from iHOP (international house of pancakes?), the most delicious place to get pancakes I’ve ever been to. I was alone in America and I wished I had someone to share the love of iHOP with.

Looking at that picture makes me wistful. Also hungry. Food is the best part of any travel adventure, I always think.

What can you come up with on the theme of delicious?

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Unkempt: Join the Thursday photo challenge!

Welcome to the weekly Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos! Anyone can join, just follow the steps below!

This week’s challenge is unkempt.

Unkempt about those hedges blows,

An unofficial English rose.

Rupert Brooke

My photo is from a tumbledown house in County Meath, Ireland, near Newgrange.

There is a huge problem in Ireland where people have let old houses fall into such bad disrepair, but at the same time they have a housing crisis meaning a lot of people have nowhere to live. Some people think that when a house is empty, people should be allowed to live in it, which seems fair, but a lot of the empty houses are not for sale for some reason, so no one can buy them or rent them to live in!

So there are a lot of these unkempt buildings around Ireland and almost no one is doing anything to make them habitable!

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Writing targets and burnout

How many words does a professional writer type in a day? What if they get burnout? How do I set a writing target? These are all going to be answered in this article.

Sometime a few years ago, I stopped being an unemployed person who also wrote a blog and I became a writer. It was a gradual process and it’s still not a bombproof career – it only works if I keep releasing books, writing blog posts, and sharing these on social media and in my author newsletter. I believe this is the case even for James Patterson although his income is obviously several orders of magnitude greater than mine.

That means I have a target for how many words I write every day.

It started when I was living in China and I was contracted to a publisher to get 1 book to them every 3 weeks. On top of that, I had my own projects I wanted to write and self-publish. A lot of the time these days, I don’t have enough words left over at the end of the day to write my blog which is a shame.

At the height of my productivity to date, I was writing at least 4000 words a day. In fact, four thousand was a bad day. On a good day, I could do 8k or more and I worked 12-16 hours a day, taking long breaks only to cook or shower. After about forty published books, I am working at a point where those words usually only need one or two rounds of edits to be publishable.

It all got a bit too big and unmanageable around late 2018, when I found out I was pregnant. The first trimester hit me especially hard. Due to pregnancy concerns, and the hormones making it impossible to think clearly, my productivity plummeted to about 2000 words. It felt like I was working through treacle. At the time, with my bipolar misdiagnosis (I don’t have bipolar, I have ADHD and PMDD), I thought my productivity was linked to mania/depression, although I now know that’s not the case.

After I had a baby, I thought things would get better, but then I was lost in a mist of severe post-natal depression that kept coming in waves, so every time I thought it had lifted, it came back again. At first I thought this was writer’s block, but I had no shortage of ideas, I just couldn’t execute them.

There were weeks at a time when I couldn’t write anything at all. Not a book, not an article, and I withdrew from social media completely. I became a recluse because I couldn’t handle the pressure from all the things I’d been so good at, which were now on fire.

I. Was. Burned. Out.

The trouble is, like depression, it’s hard to recognize true burnout until you’re so deep under the weight of failed commitments and broken promises that you’ve drowned and they’re fishing your blue corpse out of the river you used to float on top of.

I had to get rid of every pressure, every target, every expectation, that I or anyone else had of me. I had to stop doing and just be. Lockdown didn’t help. I took up running. That helped.

Like a snowdrop poking through the snow I finally started to emerge after about a year. The storm was over. I had survived even though there were many times when I thought I hadn’t.

For about six months now, I’ve been writing again. Some days, more words come out than others. There’s also the constant pressure of needing to drop everything whenever my baby needs something. And trying to hash out a fair arrangement between my husband and I, since we are both working from home.

I have realized that even 1000 words a day is enough to release a 30,000-word book a month (luckily the romance genre supports this length of book), and 1000 words is about an hour of effort (a little over an hour). So now, my target is 1000 words a day. This means at the bare minimum I am writing enough to pay the bills, and if I have time to write more, then great, it can be a more satisfying book.

Even releasing one book every two months will pay for the bare minimum, as we have no mortgage or other big loans (and we are ninjas with a food budget), but to save for bigger and better things, a book a month is optimal (Craig Martelle, founder of Twenty Books to 50k, suggests that rapid-release brings in more money for all the books in a series than releasing on a slower schedule).

I don’t have the luxury of writing that mystery that’s been on the backburner for about 9 months, yet, but if I keep plugging at 1000 words a day, I will get there. And one hour of work time a day is really not that much to ask of my family. In an ideal world, that would be one undisturbed hour in a room of perfect silence, but as anyone with kids knows, that’s not how life works as a mother.

Usually, that’s an hour while my little jellyfish watches car videos on Youtube. I make up for it by taking him outside for a walk and to splash in puddles before or after (or both. He loves splashing), and playing cars with him when it starts to go dark. I was worried about letting him watch TV when he was a lot younger, but now I realize that was unrealistic. As long as the shows are chosen with care, the television is a key weapon in the parenting arsenal. Like any weapon (such as an adjective, adverb or flashback scene) it must be used sparingly.

My point is, if you want writing to be a career, rather than a hobby, you have to set yourself an achievable, realistic goal and make yourself stick to it. Recognize your limits and go easy on yourself. Don’t do what I did and push yourself past the point of not being productive. “Pushing through” burnout is nonsense. It’s a lie spun by people who want you to fail, or who never experienced genuine burnout.

No one ever wrote a book by… not writing.

Goal setting advice for finding your word count and making it stick:

  1. How many other commitments do you have? How much free time do you have? Don’t overestimate all the time spent in between other things. If it’s dead time, such as sitting on public transport, you can use that to write. If it’s time spent driving or similar, don’t count it as free time.
  2. How many words can you realistically write in an average (not perfect) hour? 200? 500? 1500?
  3. Now do some math. Don’t fill every waking hour of free time with writing, unless your lifestyle supports this. Your laundry still needs folding (although I use speech-to-text when I’m doing tasks like this in a quiet house). A good rule is to start by setting yourself half an hour or an hour a day of absolute ringfenced time to write.
  4. You can’t control other people or their interruptions, problems etc. You can tell them that if it’s not bleeding or on fire, not to bother you, but they might still, especially if they crawl or toddle and don’t understand words yet. Embrace the distractions when they are unavoidable, be present with the people who need you, and come back to writing. As Barbie says, positive attitude changes everything. If you spend all your interruptions stressing, you will return to your desk stressed. If you spend your interruptions generously, with the intention of helping people, you will return to your desk feeling good.
  5. Have a dedicated work space. Actually use it. I have a terrible habit of working on the sofa. I am more productive at my desk. You are too. It’s basic psychology. You spent all your youth being conditioned to work at a desk by schools.
  6. Plan your work before you start writing. Know what you want to say. Whether you’re a plotter or pantser, this is going to help you stay focused during writing sessions. You don’t need to know every fine detail, but some vague info will mean you spend your writing time typing rather than thinking.
  7. Never edit until the book is finished. Don’t waste your writing time stumbling over what you want to say. Write cliches, misuse the subjunctive, use twelve adverbs to a sentence. You can unpick it all later.

You can do it! The main thing is to get writing and keep writing.

Wheels: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge

Welcome to the weekly Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, never ending or beginning, on an ever spinning reel.

Alan and Marilyn Bergman

This week’s challenge, then, is wheels. My baby adores wheels! He loves watching cars go past the house, or play with his toy fire engine, pushing it around the room. And his favourite song is The Wheels On The Bus. But wheels aren’t always literal, as this week’s quote shows. It’s from The Windmills of Your Mind, a song made famous by the (now-largely-forgotten) film The Thomas Crown Affair.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Flow: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge

Welcome to the weekly Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos! Anyone can join in, all you need is a WordPress blog and a picture you have taken with your camera!

This week’s challenge is flow. This is a super open-ended one, so it’s going to be hard to choose your picture!

Those who flow as life flows know they need no other force.

Lao Tzu

Mine is from an artistic waterfall in the Dubai Mall near the Burj Khalifa. The Dubai Mall is possibly my favourite shopping centre in the whole world. I really adored visiting Dubai and look forward to going again in the future.

Alongside all the myriad literal interpretations of flow, you could go metaphysical and look at the flow of life’s rhythms, or perhaps examine the impact of too much or too little water flow, cash flow or electricity flow on a community. If you’re in Minnesota or Canada, a frozen waterfall might be the way to go! I look forward to seeing what you can come up with.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Steps: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge

Hello and welcome to weekly Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos and share them once a week!

This week’s challenge is steps!

My steps are from the Garden of Dreams, Kathmandu, Nepal.

What photos can you come up with? Are your steps dance steps, following on from last week’s challenge? Do you have some literal steps to share, like I do? Or did you find a photo that represents the metaphorical steps in a journey of self-actualisation and personal growth? Maybe you have the steps in a recipe or beauty routine? A worn out shoe? I can’t wait to see all the inspiring images people will create!

The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

Chinese proverb

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!