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Beginnings and endings

Why I wrote a book on goal setting and time management

Some people who read my blog or my newsletters know me as the writer of the ‘small steps’ series – a set of short books to guide you through the writing process.

Others of you know me as a writer of various things but mainly fiction.

Or you might know me as a Creative Writing teacher and workshop leader, especially if you signed up to my mailing list or started reading my blog after taking one of my classes.

I appreciate you being here.

Stories and time management – what’s the connection?

Over several years, I visited unusual places and wrote short stories inspired by the locations. Those stories eventually ended up in a collection called Unusual Places, published by a small press called Cultured Llama in 2018.

I recently rewrote a book on goal setting and time management that first came out with Straightforward Publishing in 2012. The new edition has just launched.

You might well be wondering how all of these things are connected.

A personal journey and a teaching tool

I wrote the first edition of the time management book before I got my dyslexia and dyspraxia diagnosis and before I really knew I was neurodivergent. The book itself, then, was a personal journey of discovery. I was gathering materials together that would help me to improve my own executive functioning skills. And it was also a way of helping my undergrad students at the time, by collating the stuff I’d been sharing with them during a module I wrote on creativity.

I’ve included a list of many of the resources I discovered along the way in the back of the book, many of which – like Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance and Cal Newport’s Deep Work, for example – I found life changing. In fact the whole journey was life changing. The bibliography itself is worth the tenner for the book in my humble opinion but I hope you’ll read the rest of the book as well. (Scroll to the end of this post if you want to read an extract.)

The epiphany

The idea for the small steps method came to me in an epiphanic moment – which happened during my maternity leave while we were sitting in a lounge with extremely funky wallpaper – and you can read about it at the beginning of the new edition of the book. But I’d actually been using the small steps method for a while before that, to do things like go travelling, start a family, write a PhD, and get published.

That first small steps guide was particularly for people who were a bit suspicious of the more razzmatazz, overly-extroverted, in-your-face sort of goal setting, and cynical about the idea that we have to be productive all the time. (You have good reason to be suspicious of those things!)

Then I began to apply the small steps method to writing in particular.

What happened next?

I wanted to share the teaching I’d been doing on creativity, I had a lot of writing prompts that deserved to be shared, and I taught a year-long course on novel writing and I wanted to group all the materials in one place. Also, I wanted to experiment with self-publishing. That sent me on a very steep learning curve – and I eventually realised that when it comes to indy publishing it isn’t a good idea to try to do everything yourself!

The new editions of the resulting small steps guides came out in 2022 in bright bold covers – all originally inspired by that first foray into sharing the small steps method while I was on maternity leave. One of them, Find Time to Write, is directly involved with time management. All of them break down the process of writing into bite-sized chunks – the small steps method in action.

Small steps and short story writing

Although I didn’t know it at the time, when I set out to write those short stories on location by visiting unusual places, I was using the small steps method. I had broken the writing process down into manageable tasks that I could do in a day or half a day. The steps went like this:

  • Research quirky locations. Make a list. Pick one.
  • Schedule time to visit the place. Turn up at a location with a notebook.
  • Drink tea and freewrite.
  • Edit at home.

Several journeys later, and I had enough stories for the book. Almost all of them are directly linked to a particular place. There’s a list at the back of the book. Most of them are in London where I was living at the time.

Endings and new beginnings

The lovely editors who run the small press that published my first short story collection are retiring, so Unusual Places in its current form is coming to an end (although I have bought some – and may well try to sell one to you at a literary festival). At the same time, a publisher has picked up my second collection. At the moment it’s called Invisible – watch this space.

The first small steps guide as it was in 2012 is no more – the new, improved 2023 version has just hit the shelves – or at least the virtual shelves. So, right now, it’s a time of endings and new beginnings for me. I’m also looking for a home for my next novel – again, watch this space.

Want to read some of the first small steps guide?

Jane Friedman has kindly published an extract from A Small Steps Guide to Goal Setting and Time Managment on her blog. You can check it out here.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Lou xx

P.S. Here’s my number one time management tip.

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