blog tour

Blog Tour: The Boy With The Butterfly Mind by Victoria Williamson

Blog Tour: The Boy With The Butterfly Mind by Victoria Williamson

Butterfly Mind Blog Tour - Victoria Williamson

We Can All Be Butterflies – by author Victoria Williamson 

‘Is it a book for girls?’

This was one of the most annoying, and surprisingly frequently-encountered questions I was asked by parents and teachers when my debut novel, The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle, was published last year. ‘No,’ I’d reply with increasing weariness, ‘The main characters are girls, but it’s a story that boys will be able to relate to just as much.’ After all, how can you gender human experiences such as war, loss, friendship, hope, and redemption?

This time round, with my second novel, The Boy with the Butterfly Mind, there should be no confusion for adults intent on pushing gender stereotypes and so-called ‘gender-appropriate’ products on children. This is definitely a book for boys too. We all know it is, because it’s got the word ‘boy’ in the title. But wait… It’s also got pictures of butterflies on the cover. And aren’t butterflies a bit, well… girly?

The adult obsession, or more specifically, the marketers’ obsession, with categorising everything from clothes and toys, to animals and inanimate objects as either ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’, results in parents unwilling to buy anything for their children from the ‘wrong’ section of the shop in case their child gets bullied about it in school. Girls may seem to get let off lightly in this respect – a girl with an Avengers obsession, even though all but one of the superheroes in the film are men, won’t face the same amount of taunting in school as a boy who loves My Little Pony. But this is due to a deeper bias, one that still insists that girls, and by extension anything aimed at girls, is ‘lesser’. Films, toys and products aimed at boys still have a ‘prestige’ factor that makes it acceptable, and understandable, that girls should take an interest in them too. When it comes to books, while boys are allowed to turn their noses up at stories featuring female characters as ‘girly’, girls are still supposed to empathise with male characters without expecting anything approaching equal representation in return.

According to research by the Observer:

‘Male characters are twice as likely to take leading roles in children’s picture books and are given far more speaking parts than females, according to Observer research that shines a spotlight on the casual sexism apparently inherent in young children’s reading material.

In-depth analysis of the 100 most popular children’s picture books of 2017, carried out by this paper with market research company Nielsen, reveals the majority are dominated by male characters, often in stereotypically masculine roles, while female characters are missing from a fifth of the books ranked.’

Children in this country learn from a young age that animals and insects in stories have a gender. More often or not, that gender is male, unless of course that character is seen as ‘pretty’, in which case it’s automatically categorised as female. Butterflies, ladybirds, peacocks and tropical birds are often gendered as female, which makes little sense when in the real world it’s usually the male of the species who has the pretty wings or the beautiful feathers.

It was interesting this summer to see children playing who hadn’t been influenced by Western marketing to the same extent. I spent four weeks volunteering as a reading assistant with The Book Bus, visiting schools in Zambia to run story and craft sessions. One of the books that proved very popular was The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and the children enjoyed colouring in butterflies to take home. At the end of the session, most of them, boys and girls, used the pipe cleaner body and tail to attach the butterflies to their hair. The boy at the bottom of this picture was the first of the children to do this, while the boy on the right had just taken his off to adjust his pipe cleaner.

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No one is suggesting these children aren’t bombarded with gender stereotypes every day of their lives, but with very limited access to electricity, television, films and books, they hadn’t absorbed the marketer’s message that butterflies are considered things that only girls should adorn themselves with. After all, in real life, a butterfly is equally likely to land on the head of a boy or a girl, so why should only girls wear them?

Gendering animals as predominantly male in the stories we tell might not seem like much of a problem, but as Jess Day, who campaigns to end gender stereotyping with the Let Toys Be Toys movement says:

“It is preparing children to see male dominance as normal, so that when women do less than half of the talking, that still feels like too much to some people. And with so few female roles, there’s also not enough space for the female characters to be multi-dimensional. I think the lack of female villains reflects a wider cultural discomfort with women who are not well-behaved and good.”

If girls and boys are to take equal roles in society – in politics, science, management, and in the home – then they have to see all of these roles as open to them from a young age. Gendering books, films, toys, clothes, and even butterflies as ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’ limits the choices that children have open to them, and in turn, limits the career paths and opportunities they believe are open to them when they’re older. As adults, we can make all the difference in helping children overcome the pink and blue ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ market that surrounds them, by offering them alternatives to these limited choices.

And next time you see a see a book with ‘girl’ in the title or butterflies on the front cover, just ask ‘Is it for children?’ instead.

 

Thanks to Victoria Williamson for your beautiful article.

Lifestyle

Review – Writing Gloves from Literary Book Gifts

Review – Writing Gloves from Literary Book Gifts

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Spring has sprung and I’ve taken my reading and writing outdoors. 

Sitting outside, whether that’s a park, the back garden, or a quiet spot at my local nature reserve, allows me to focus. With no broadband, minimal noise and fewer opportunities for procrastination, outdoors really is a literary person’s best friend. 

And yet the weather isn’t always on our side. Cold hands are an unnecessary distraction, but until now, I haven’t found a pair of gloves which are designed with a pen in mind. 

That changed when Literary Book Gifts offered me a complimentary pair of writing gloves in exchange for review. 

The gloves are fingerless and made of a light material which makes it easy not only to grip a pen but to keep hold of it through a longer writing session. They are so soft and cosy that I was hardly aware that I was wearing them. Made up of 35% cashmere, it is no wonder they are such a delight to wear. 

Available in thirteen different colours, there is a shade for every writer and every season. 

Gifts for book lovers can be a bit predictable – bookmarks and tote bags are spilling off my shelves. These offer something different and fulfill a practical need. They also look super-cute when I’m out book shopping or heading out on a research trip with a notebook and pen. 

Get outdoors, get rid of those cold hands and get writing. 

 

Writing Gloves are available from Literary Book Gifts. The gloves in this feature were gifted in exchange for honest review. Opinions my own.

 

Non-Fiction · Young Adult Reviews

Review: Dear Ally, How Do I Write A Book? by Ally Carter

Review: Dear Ally, How Do I Write A Book? by Ally Carter

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Have a novel manuscript? Have a few scraps of writing with no idea where to start? Whether you are a regular writer or someone just setting out, Ally Carter has said it all. 

No theory book will make you a writer, this is true, but everybody needs to learn the craft, and everybody needs to learn from experienced writers. 

Part theory book, part reflective autobiography on the writing life, this is the book which has been missing from the creative writing shelves. I don’t say that lightly. With people who have barely finished their first story penning advice, it might seem like a saturated market. As somebody who has spent the past couple of years working seriously on her writing craft, I can tell you from experience that this book does two or three things which I haven’t found before: 

 

  • It introduces the basic theory in one volume. Certainly, there are books which talk about more than one element of story craft, especially screenwriting books, but they tend to be of more use with a couple of manuscripts completed. Ally Carter’s novel is a lovely refresher for practicing writers, but it is also accessible to the total novice. (For the sake of simplicity I am using the terms ‘novice’ and ‘practicing’ to differentiate between people who have never completed a story and people who are not yet published but have drafted enough to be familiar with the most common theories.) 

 

  • It combines theory with the kind of down to earth, pragmatic advice previously found on YouTube. There are some things only time will teach a writer. Like how a novel takes the best part of a thousand hours. Minimum. Like that the first novel-sized thing you write probably won’t be novel-shaped, the first story you write probably won’t be agented, and the first thing you have agented won’t necessarily be published. Like how one person’s process is entirely different to another person’s. Often novice writers don’t want to hear these things. It breaks every myth they have ever heard (about inspiration, for example, or gifted people) and it can set their goals back by years. However, learning from more experienced writers is liberating. It is quite often the moment where people realise they aren’t doing anything wrong. 

 

  • The voice is pitched at teens – in the most non-patronising, realistic and totally brilliant way. This is the book I needed at 17 when I tried to write but had no idea how to turn my scrappy ideas into novels. As an adult reader, I found the book accessible and handy, but it would have meant the world to me as a teenager to find a book by an author whose name I recognised. 

 

Examples are drawn from Ally Carter’s career, and from the experience of guest writers. While most of these were American YA authors, plenty has been published to huge success in the UK and their names will be familiar to voracious readers. Regardless of this, hearing from multiple authors on the same subject gives a wider lens to each answer. Creative writing books to often claim to have the answer. This book encourages the reader to find a way of working which suits them. 

I would recommend this to any writer starting out, to practicing and emerging writers who need a gentle reminder that it doesn’t all happen at once, and especially to young people who would like to know where to begin. 

All the theory, expertise and gentle encouragement you ever needed to get going. A fantastic book about creative writing from a successful Young Adult author. 

 

Thanks to Orchard Books for my gifted copy of Dear Ally, How Do I Write A Book? Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Murder At Twilight by Fleur Hitchcock

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Synopsis:

The worst thing about living on a big estate is Noah. Viv’s mum has cared for Noah since he was a baby and Noah has always been the most important. He thinks he is far more important than Viv. Viv has grown up in the shaddow of the big house and the heir to the Belcombe family fortune. 

Then Noah disappears. At the same time, his PE teacher goes missing and is named as a major suspect. Viv is forced to question everything she thinks she knows about life on the estate. 

With Mum held as a suspect, it is up to Viv to figure out what has happened. A gripping and totally modern mystery.

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Review:

It is no secret that I love middle-grade mysteries. Fleur Hitchcock’s stories are the closest thing in the middle-grade cannon to adult crime novels. They are set in the modern day, which is fairly unusual. There is no shying away from the internet, mobile phone technology and modern policing here.

The story gives a little more detail about the crime than other mysteries. Do you remember knowing about crime dramas on television but being told they weren’t suitable? Nothing frustrates kids more than being told they are too young to handle something. These will be a hit with fearless readers. The grizzly details come in manageable doses, and the worst comes when the protagonist is safe. This allows a taste of those forbidden subjects but keeps the age of the audience in mind. 

There was good tension between the main characters. Viv and Noah are forced to work together despite the fact they have spent years at war. We are able to empathise with both characters at different times – Viv has grown up feeling second-best and Noah is quickly labelled because of who his parents are. He is also under huge pressure to grow into a particular role. 

The story also has a strong setting – a rural landscape of rivers and sawmills. It is easy to get lost in and full of interesting micro-settings. 

A strong mystery set firmly in the modern day. The story will keep you guessing, and you want to follow Viv and Noah to a safe end. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow for my arc of Murder At Twilight. Opinions my own. 

Short Story

Fan-Fiction: Now We Rise Blog Tour

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Today is a very special post.

Children Of Blood And Bone is a reccent favourite. By favourite I mean I have been imploring everyone to read it. This isn’t just good, guys, it is stellar. 

I am delighted to take part in the blog tour. This is the most open and unconventional blog tour I have been invited to join, and it is a breath of fresh air. Instead of asking everyone to write a review for a scheduled date, it invites bloggers to create orignial content. As much original content as they like during the period of the blog tour. 

If you like Hogwarts Houses and Divergent factions, you will love the magi clans. Essentially these define people by how they channel their magic. Reapers see the dead, healers cure people. Tiders channel their magic into water and Winders into air. My story is about a Tider and and Winder. It takes a similar theme to Children Of Blood And Bone but imagines the troubles and strengths a Winder might have when faced with a tyrant. Along the way she meets a boy called Taki … but I won’t spoil it. 

Constructive feedback is always welcome. Hope you enjoy. 

 

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(Photograph: Paul Nettleton)

Cry Mama Khazri – Louise Nettleton

Sit quiet when the soldiers come. That’s what Mama always taught me. Sit quiet, say nothing and listen to the wind. Even so, the first time the soldiers came, Mama was impressed that I had sat quiet at the back of the cupboard, even as people screamed and shots rang out and doors were broken apart.

‘Did you not feel frightened?’ she said.

‘No Mama,’ I told her. ‘The wind sung me a lullaby.’

Nobody else heard it. There were no other winders in our village, no other children who played games with the wind. The wind played games with me and told me stories and when other children’s papers blew away, mine always sailed back into my hands.

One day I moved from the back of the cupboard and pressed my eye to the key-hole. I had always imagined the soldiers to be unnaturally big and was surprised to see that most of them were boys. At their head was General Arun, the King’s nephew. The General lead raids on the villages. Some said he wanted to weed out magi, but often there was no reason for the raids other than Arun enjoyed it. Before he killed people he let them beg for as long as possible. Let them build up hope and thank him for his mercy before he ran them through with his bayonet. When he made a kill, the general left a white blossom on the ground. Some said it marked one step closer to purifying the land, but most people in the villages thought it was a boast. It was the General’s way of saying he was leader of the hunt.

When I was fifteen Mama was killed. For weeks I spoke to nobody. I tried to tell people how I felt but my voice didn’t work. The wind spoke for me: gales tore through the village, uprooting trees and bringing roof-tiles down. The wind became my second Mama. It wrapped me in soft breezes and whispered comforts. So it might have gone on, except when I was reminded to sit tight, stay silent and do nothing when the soldiers came I could no longer nod in mute agreement. Why should the soldiers not hear about the pain they had caused? The next time the soldiers came I was ready. ‘Wind, you must not comfort me tonight,’ I said. ‘Comfort is no longer enough. If I am to sit quietly I need to know my voice has been heard.’  Wind magic is like a whisper crossed with blowing, blowing gently until your desire connects with the heart of the breeze. The wind caught my desires and the magic ignited. My back was against the cupboard wall but my mind was with the breeze.

This was different to any magic I had experienced. I was the puppet-master. The wind was obedient to my command. At my bidding it cried like a widow who had just learned of her partner’s passing. It cried like a small child whose mother had been cut down. I watched through the keyhole. The soldiers’ stumbled and misfired as they covered their ears. They had heard such cries before but had always been able to silence them with a bayonet or a sword. General Arun cursed and cried for his men to keep their positions. It made no difference. They fell back with their fingers in their ears and ran for the woods.

Give the girl a chance.

The elders talked long into the night. The village was recalled early the next morning, as the sun rose in the orange sky. A cock crowed, and I took it to be an omen. If the cock could not be silenced, nor could I.

‘Aira is of an age to test her magic,’ said the High Elder, ‘but she must visit our neighbours in Kalamon so she truly knows what the soldiers are capable of.’

I rigged a sail boat and set out along the coast. The wind was my constant companion along the journey and it sped me on my way. The journey which would have taken another person into the night took me two or three hours, and the sea remained calm although I had a great wind in my sails. When I reached the harbour at Kalamon I leapt out to drag my boat in, but a boy leapt from the jetty and took hold of the prow.

‘Thank you,’ I said, afraid my displeasure was evident in my voice. What made him think I wasn’t managing? The boy said nothing, nothing at all. His brow was furrowed as if doing the job was only an excuse to let his mind roam. He insisted he would walk me to the settlement in the olive groves.

‘There is no need,’ I said.

‘My Grandfather insists.’ He said it like it was final. Like me he had been taught to respect his elders.

Almost the whole village had been burned to the ground. Possessions were scattered everywhere – watches and photographs and wooden trinkets half-buried in the mud. The only survivors were the people who lived in the hills. Between the possessions were twenty or thirty white blossoms.

‘We will not clear it, although the soldiers say they will impose a fine if we do not get rid of this eye-sore. I replace the blossoms myself. Why should the truth rot away?’ It was the first thing he had said. His voice was deep for a boy his age, and melodic. It was clear he spoke from a place of hurt, a place of sorrow.

I remembered how little I had to say after Mama died, how I feared the damage I would cause if I tried to open my mouth. I no longer resented the boy’s help or his companionship. That night I told the wind to carry his tale. To tell it to the neighbouring villages, and the trading ports and the towns beyond the hills. Tell them that a young boy sits by the water for fear of looking at his homeland. When I searched for him the next morning, he was nowhere to be found.

I asked after him in the groves. People were so afraid they would miss the harvest that they did not look up from their work. Finally a man with cotton-white hair came over. He held out his hand and introduced himself as the boy’s grandfather.

‘Taki will not thank you for taking his story,’ he said. ‘Though I am pleased to think he opened up to you. He has not spoken a word since the night the village burned. His mother and father and sister died. Taki only survived because he was helping me with the harvest. He goes to the water every morning at dawn and does not return until sundown. Not unless …’ and here the man’s face split into a sad smile, ‘not unless I ask for his help. Taki is not a bad boy. He blames himself for what happened.’

Waves reared and crashed to shore. Taki stood amid them with nothing but a light spray hitting his legs.

‘You’re a tider?’ I said, intrigued to see magic channelled through water.

‘Haven’t you done enough damage?’ Taki came on to the sand and the sea settled back into an ordinary tide.

‘I met your grandfather,’ I said. ‘He says you’re a good boy.’

Taki’s mouth twitched. ‘He is everything I have in this world,’ said Taki. ‘I lost my whole family in that raid, and all my childhood companions. I want the General to know my feelings, but what good is crying? Crying never made a difference.’

We walked past the ruined village, thinking to call on Taki’s grandfather. The day was silent. No laughter, no dogs barking. No sounds from the grove. Not the sound of people singing or branches being trimmed. We turned a corner and saw smoke tearing through the trees. It burned my nose and throat and filled them with the smell of burning flesh. Taki broke into a run. I ran after him, but the ground blistered my feet and the smoke choked my lungs. I grabbed Taki around the waist and held him down.

‘Mother Air if you have ever loved me help us now!’ I cried. The oxygen left the flames and they died like a snuffed candle. Taki directed the river water to rain over the village. People came, coughing and retching from the smoke. Every one of them held a white blossom. A small girl approached Taki and held a flower out to him. For the first time in my life the wind was silent. No comfort whispered in my ear. When I tried to call to the wind I could not find the magic inside myself. There was nothing left but guilt and hollow anger. The image of the burned dwellings seemed to consume my thoughts.  I thought to leave that night. I was an intruder in this grief, and worse than that it was my fault the general had come. Survivors told us how General Arun had demanded to know where the magi were. Not a single person had spoken against us.

A makeshift camp was set up. All evening I cut bandages and applied salves and boiled water above a fire. I spoke to no-one. As night fell I crept from the emergency shelter towards the harbour. I threw my bag into my boat and pushed it out to sea.

‘Where do you think you’re going?’ The water pushed my boat back towards the shore. Taki took hold of the mast.

‘Taki … it’s my fault …’

‘It’s your fault General Arun will not rest until every one of our kind is dead? It’s your fault the soldiers set fire to civilian homes? Girl, you found a way to defy a tyrant. That doesn’t make the tyranny your fault.’

‘But those people. They died because of me.’

‘Those are my people you’re talking about. They didn’t die for you. They didn’t die for me. They died for what is right and it is our job to avenge them.’ Taki looked at me and it was as though the sea raged in his eyes. ‘I chose not to cry because I did not want my voice to be shouted down, but there is only so long a person can remain silent Crying is for the dead of night. Crying is a heart-song for the people we love. It is not the way to defeat a person like Arun. Let us shout and let us rise. Let us use our magic to rally people to action.’

Taki was right. The general would never listen to our pain. He was not afraid of our pain. He enjoyed it. He was afraid of our numbers, of his victims getting together and using their magic to put a stop to his time in power.

‘General Arun will return,’ I said. ‘He will not rest until he has our magi heads.’

Taki took a moment before he spoke. ‘He has hunted us for too long. He has told people our deaths cleanse the land. Now we must stand against him.’ As Taki spoke I felt a breeze tickle the back of my neck. I tried to ignore my fear and guilt. Arun had killed our people. Not me. Arun was on a merciless quest to rid the land of magi and he would destroy whole villages and towns and kill every person who stood in his way. I reached deep inside for a place of anger, a place of vengeance. The wind howled around the ghost village. It howled through the burned groves. I hoped this wind would be enough when Arun returned.

The moon rose. By its light I saw Arun’s ship cutting through the waters. Arun stood at the bow, his sharp profile lit by a swinging lantern. As the ship turned I saw two white flowers in Arun’s belt. There were shouts. Men came forward, gesturing to the harbour. As the ship pulled nearer Arun aimed a harpoon gun at my chest.

‘Little magi,’ he called. ‘What use is magic against a warship? Once I have killed you, I will take every person who tried to protect you.’

In my rage I called upon all the winds of the world, winds with a hundred different names – bora and caju, khazri and norte and squamish. They came from different places, each forged by its climate, but they howled with the same rage. I used my vengeance to summon them in kinship. Desert winds stung my face while arctic winds came biting cold. My hair flew around my face as I gathered my winds together.

The waves crashed into the rocks. I met Taki’s eye and he held my gaze. Together we built our magic until a tidal wave rose from the shoreline and thundered out to sea. It curled over and charged. The clouds parted, revealing the moon. By its light I saw our wave arching over the ship. Arun’s hand faltered on the harpoon gun as sea spray lashed his face. He fell overboard. Powerful currents held him beneath the water. Taki used his magic to fill the water with white blossom. Arun drowned in a sea of his own making.

The surviving soldiers turned their lifeboats away from shore. They cried for Arun but no answer came. No command. The men who had looked so powerful as in the days when I peeked through the keyhole suddenly looked fragile. They pulled their oars against a swelling sea.

‘Others will come,’ said Taki. The sun rose, turning the sky orange. It reminded me that after every battle a new day would come.

‘We will rise,’ I said. We watched dawn rise. I vowed then never to cry for mercy to a tyrant when I could summon a hurricane.

 

 

 

Chat · Lifestyle

What’s affecting your productivity?

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I saw this idea over at The Everygirl and wanted to write my own thoughts about productivity. Which habits make us less productive? Let me stress – this is not a lecture. The most difficult thing about Social Media is seeing other people’s apparently impossible standards. Comparing yourself to a curated image will never make you feel better.  This post is designed for people who would like to get more out of their creative sessions but who don’t know how to turn their procrastination into work time.

Lots of posts exist about procrastination. Most of them will tell you that horrible truth. The golden rule: only you can put that work in. Some advice posts leave you there. You’ve had the lecture, you know the score and the rest is up to you. OK … but I think we all encounter these difficulties and we learn along the way. One person’s solution will be different from another. The key is to identify which behaviour is currently detrimental to your work ethic. 

Which habits stop you from getting the most out of your work time? Here is my list of ideas: birdPetty distractions:

  • Set a time or a work-goal for tea breaks and stick to it. If this is a regular time it will become habit, and you will find it easier to stick to.
  • Limit what you eat and drink during working time. Which foods distract you? Is it choosing a sugary snack or munching your way through the nut selection? Cut it from your working time or limit it to one portion a day. I will eat chocolate to procrastinate, but only eat healthy stuff if I am hungry.
  • Set social media times. Keep your phone out of reach and work with the internet off if you possibly can.
  • Get real – is it a job or another distraction? It is easy to convince yourself you need to type that email, respond to that comment and do your online shopping but if you are serious about your goals you need to give them time.
  • Don’t panic if you get distracted! Don’t berate yourself. Again, please let me stress these are not rules. Nobody can be perfect all the time. The worst thing you could do is go back to work in a negative frame of mind.

 

Vague goals and unrealistic objectives:

My rule of thumb: if I am flicking on to social media on a regular basis, my writing goal is probably too vague. Every writer – published and unpublished, fiction writer, blogger or journalist – learns that there is only one way to fill the blank screen. That doesn’t mean you should sit staring aimlessly at it for hours. If you aren’t typing, ask yourself why. Is it because you need a clearer plan for the next paragraphs? Because you haven’t made enough notes? If so take it back to the drawing board.

Make your plans realistic within the time available. The desperation to be better and achieve more has killed many creatives before they have started. If you have an hour you will not be producing half a novel. Or a beautiful new blog. You might write a draft a decent blog post or write 1000 words. Know from experience how much you are likely to achieve.

 

Not taking time for yourself:

We have six books to review. We want that novel drafted. We want to improve our photography or our web-design skills. We need to respond to our social media. Sometimes this thing called real life gets in the way too. Guys … there will never be enough time in the day, but if you work work work you will burn out.

  • Set a finish time. Excepting Fridays, my internet is supposed to go off at 8pm. I need some hours in the day where I am not in contact with the giant web of information.
  • Allow you-time. Blogging and writing are hobbies, but if you aspire to turn them into a career, odds are you’re working hard at them. Make sure you factor in down-time.
  • You-time is not for planning. I’ve spoken to lots of bloggers who are like me. INFJ-types. Over-thinkers. You have to allow yourself head space. If you find this difficult try some meditation techniques or ‘active rest’ (engage your brain in something repetitive like cross-stitch or Sudoku.)
  • Get enough sleep. I can’t stress this enough. You need sleep to function. You need sleep to think. Sleep is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

 

Which are your worst habits? How do you overcome them? Let me know in the comments below.