Emptying my house: a voyage of discovery

Lifestyle

For those of you that don’t know, my tenancy for my house in Bath is ending in a couple of weeks, and my wonderful friend and current housemate, Beth, and I will be moving. Where to? I hear you ask: well, we’re still not sure. But we’ve bought a tent and we’ll take it from there.

Beth and I are polar opposites of each other when it comes to collecting physical ‘stuff’; she’s very minimalistic, whereas I am a huge hoarder. There is clutter in my bedroom that I can’t even remember the significance of, yet still seem to have some emotional attachment to. But because we don’t know where we’ll be moving to, or for how long – and we know we’re likely to be living in a, uh, tent… Well, I’m having to be firm with myself on how much actual ‘stuff’ I can take with me. So, I’m clearing out.

I wanted to write a blog post about all of the interesting things I’ve found in my bedroom so far, but I’ve just chosen a couple of them to write about today because it’s late and I have a lot of packing to do. Beth and I have been living in this house together for three years now, so I didn’t actually think there’d be many surprises. But wow. The underneath of my bed is a treasure trove of well-read Creative Writing textbooks, socks, and cereal bar wrappers. There was a whole draw in one of my cupboards that I’d completely forgotten about, and I somehow managed to discover some kind of weird parallel universe of old matching pyjama sets.

Amongst all of the absolute rubbish, though, I have found a couple of gems that I’d like to share with you. The first: a diary from 2014. This diary is absolutely brimming with weird dreams I’d had – I must’ve been in a phase of writing them down – so it’s been interesting to read through how gloriously disturbed my mind was back then! I was also far more creative than I am with my notebooks now (there are lots of pretty quote pages… I was probably procrastinating.)

IMG_0739As well as those, I found a piece of writing from when I was stuck in Tamworth station on Christmas Eve, waiting for my delayed train home to Manchester. I remember I’d been in this station for hours and there was still no sight of the train. It was getting close to midnight. I was at the end of my tether. Here’s a little snippet:

My day has already stretched over sixteen hours. I’d take a quick nap, but I know the minute my eyes close, the train will come. It’ll be like that episode of SpongeBob, where he’s waiting in the rough end of Bikini Bottom for a bus home, and every time he goes to get a snack, a bus goes past. I think it must’ve mentally scarred me as a kid. It’s all I can think about, staring at the vending machines opposite me. If I go and put a quid in the machine, a train will pull into the station and leave without me, I’m sure of it. The twix isn’t worth it.

Another wonderful find is the soft toy I grew up with: Tutu. Tutu is a little pink monster that I used to carry around as a kid. I don’t know why she was in my wardrobe or how the hell she got from Bolton to Bath at some point over the last three years without me noticing, but we were happy to be reunited.

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There’s so much more that I’ve stumbled across during my ‘clearing out’ and I am absolutely useless at throwing things away (how am I going to reduce my room into just a few boxes? how?) but I haven’t time to write about everything. Stay tuned and keep up to date with the blog to read about the whole process: moving house, living in a tent and, uh… living in a tent.

Things are about to get wild.

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Turn your ‘should’s to ‘could’s: and see results in your motivation

Lifestyle

Research for my latest novel has me delving into therapies, recovery activities and exercises for motivation. One particular activity I was introduced to yesterday was, “Write down your rules for life.”

Your rules for life, so to speak, are not necessarily rules that you stick to all the time. Your rules can be things that you feel you should be doing, or maybe things you feel guilty if you don’t do. Here are some examples:

  1. I should go for a run every day.
  2. I must not be selfish
  3. I should always text back straight away
  4. I must never be late for work
  5. I should always put make-up on before leaving the house

In my research environment, we were then told to change these negative, authoritarian words like ‘should’ to something that was kinder to ourselves. I thought this was a really interesting phrase to use, and noticed that many of the others in the environment were changing their rules to more tentative words: I could, I can, I might…

After speaking to my housemate later that evening, she pulled up an article she’d read about the impacts of using the word ‘should’. As the article says, although should’ may occasionally give good guidance, more often than not it “induces guilt, and decreases the desire to do something you might otherwise want to do.”

In this article, psychologist Susan Heitler suggests to use the words ‘could’ and ‘I would like to’, rather than ‘should’ – and the more thought I put into it, the more it made sense. Even from a simple, stripped-back perspective: if you tell yourself you would like to do something, rather than you should do something, you’re surely more likely to do it, right? It just makes more sense.

Similarly, if you use the word should when addressing others, you’re very likely to make them feel guilty for not already doing said thing. Therefore, they’re less likely to feel motivated to do said thing because, let’s face it, nobody likes being told what to do. Telling others that they should be doing something is appealing to that little bit of rebel we all have inside of us: the voice saying, “If I should, then I ain’t gonna. Don’t tell me what to do.”

For example, if I said to my housemate (which would never happen, by the way, because she is far cleaner than I am): “You should have done the washing up today. You should really help out more.”

(God, it felt weird even writing that.)

She’s not going to do it. Actually, she’ll probably be pissed off that I’m telling her to do something. But if I said, “Could you do the washing up today?” I reckon she’d be more likely to pick up the sponge.

Using the word could implies that you have an option. You could do the washing up, but there’s no pressure. You could also not do the washing up, no biggie. Similarly, if I’m speaking to myself (happens a lot), I can change I should go for a run every day, to I could go for a run every day, if I feel like it. Hey, no pressure. If I don’t feel like going for a run, I’m not going to bother, but I have the potential. I totally could, if I wanted to. But I don’t need to feel like I should be going for a run, even when I don’t want to. I tried this technique out on myself this morning, because I have a whole host of things to do and very little time to do them in. I wrote myself a little list of things that I should be doing / have already done, but used the phrase would like to instead.

Things I would like to get done today:

  • Finish off my publishing portfolio
  • Edit my manuscript submission
  • Write another synopsis & query letter

Things I could also do, if I want to:

  • Email various people waiting for work and thank them for sticking with me while I’m busy
  • Call a lady about renting a tent pitch

Just seeing these little lists already makes me feel like I’ve no pressure to complete any of my tasks – but that makes me want to do them even more! Not because I should, but because I could – and why waste that potential?

Susan Heitler’s article Should You Use This Word? on Psychology Today explains this concept far better than I can, so go and give it a read. Also thank you to my housemate, Beth, for pointing this out to me! It was too helpful of a concept not to share.

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Reckless & resourceful: powerful women in young adult fiction

Writing

I loved celebrating International Women’s Day yesterday, but let’s face it – one day just isn’t enough to celebrate all of the strong and influential women that help mould our lives. In honour of International Women’s Day and – hey, why not? – just women in general, I’ve picked out three female-oriented and wonderfully written young adult novels to celebrate with you guys.

These three young adult novels hold such a close place in my heart, and I wanted to share them with you all. Each of the following novels was written by a talented female author, with intricate and beautifully written plots and equally intricate female protagonists.

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The Taste of Blue Light by Lydia Ruffles

This novel is Ruffles’ debut, and it’s written in such an incredibly visceral way that she’s bound to have set herself up for a successful authoring career. The story follows Lux – a student at a prestigious art school in London, who has recently developed synaesthesia, a condition that makes her taste, feel and smell colours rather than see them. The narrative of this piece is so disjointed and often disturbing, but never so much that the reader can’t follow Lux’s journey. Through Lux’s panic attacks and repressed traumas, Ruffles really captures the reality of mental health conditions for young people.

“If Sylvia Plath wrote a novel for young adults, The Taste of Blue Light would be it… Beautiful. Visceral. Gripping. I loved it.” – Louise O’Neill

Lux is strong, resourceful, and often too independent to accept help and support from others. As readers, we’re very much in Lux’s head as she tries to come to terms with her condition, uncover the mysteries of her past, and navigate school and home life. One of the more refreshing elements of The Taste of Blue Light is the supporting characters: Lux’s wonderful female friends that never waver in their support, even when they aren’t sure how to help, Lux’s teachers, her mother – the women around her that hold her up, even when she doesn’t think she needs holding.

I can’t recommend this novel enough – there are so many lines throughout the novel that are so poignantly phrased that they may as well be poetry. You can purchase the novel online here. (Content warning: Lux is a complicated girl, and the book does include depictions of drug use.)

 

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Clean by Juno Dawson

I’ve always been a fan of Juno – a female writer who is a huge advocate for the LGBTQ+ community – but I think she’s really outdone herself with Clean. Protagonist Lexi has grown up living the life of a celebrity, hanging out with Victoria’s Secret models and her father’s limitless credit cards; then her heroin addiction lands her in an exclusive rehab facility in the middle of God-awful nowhere.

It’s only in rehab that Lexi learns about her addiction and can grow into the person she truly wants to be. Everyone she meets in the facility is struggling from their own addictions, whether it be food, sex, or drugs. The supporting characters – particularly the females – in this novel are just as inspirational as Lexi herself becomes. The female owner of the centre is strong, successful, and has turned her grief into something beautiful with all that she has achieved. Kendall, a transgender girl suffering with anorexia, teaches Lexi the values of being non-judgemental and open to support.

“Compulsively readable and touching – I loved it.” – Marian Keyes

This is a novel that is as deep and gripping as it is light-hearted. There are tear-jerking moments, but Lexi’s sarcastic nature will always leave readers feeling warm. I was given an ARC of Clean, but it will be out in stores April 2018, and it’s worth pre-ordering! (Content warning: those currently suffering with addiction might want to avoid due to triggering situations. Mild drug use, anorexia, binge eating disorders, abuse and death are all mentioned in this novel.)

 

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We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Firstly, I think we can all agree that the cover art for We Are Okay is overwhelmingly stunning. Can I pretend I didn’t buy this one just for the cover at first? Anyway, LaCour has published many novels for young adults now; another favourite of mine is the novel she co-wrote with David Levithan, You Know Me Well. This novel, however, is one of the best young adult novels I can think of for female YA readers.

Protagonist Marin is at college in New York, far away from her old life on the Californian coast. It’s winter, and every other student has gone home for the holidays – except Marin, who doesn’t have a home to go to. When she is visited by her best friend from her old life, Marin has to face up to some truths and confront her past.

Short, poetic and gorgeously written. . . . The world LaCour creates is fragile but profoundly humane.” — The New York Times Book Review

The entire novel is set over the space of a few days; Marin and her friend are snowed in, alone, and forced to explore their past relationship and why they’ve both been so distant with each other. This is a novel about sadness, grief, loss and love. And it’s the right time of year to read this one – We Are Okay is a novel to read while you’re curled up with a hot beverage and snow is falling outside. Perfect for readers looking for realistic and sensitively written LGBT fiction. Buy it here. (Content warning: grief, loss, death.)

Buy, read, enjoy. Although I’ve attached Amazon links to the above novels, please support these wonderful authors by buying through your local bookshops if you can!

 

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An interview with ‘The Doll House’ author, Phoebe Morgan

Writing

Phoebe Morgan, debut novelist and author of psychological thriller The Doll House talks writing, editing, and her advice to young authors with Niall Cunniffe.

Could you give readers a brief introduction to what you’ve published, and what you’re currently working on?

My first book, The Doll House, was published last year. It’s a psychological thriller about two sisters who find themselves the target of a stranger seeking revenge. I’ve just sent my second book to my publisher after doing a structural edit with my agent, so it’s all quite nerve-wracking! It’s another psychological thriller, but the title hasn’t yet been confirmed as yet. Watch this space!

You’re a commissioning editor for a trade publisher by day. Do you think this has helped you improve your writing or editing process and, if so, how?

Yes, definitely. I’m an Editor first and foremost. I work with a long list of authors, so I see both sides of the process. Working as an Editor in publishing has given me a wider understanding of the commercial market, I think, and seeing it from both sides helps me empathise more with authors, and gives me a different perspective. I’ve found comfort in the fact that I know how the publishing process works, all the ins and outs that go into making a book and getting it into readers hands. There’s a lot of work involved!

Do you think aspiring authors should get some experience in the publishing industry to help with their writing and career?

No, I don’t think that’s necessary. I would suggest they read widely and read around their chosen genre. They should keep an eye on what’s doing well and becoming successful – and figure out why certain books are more appealing or gripping than others. But writers should always be true to themselves, too – the market is an ever-changing beast so you’ve always got to keep your own voice and write what you love.

Do you think it’s becoming increasingly common for writers and authors to also have a full time job nowadays?

I think this depends on what stage of the journey they’re at, really. I know a lot of writers who balance writing around full time jobs, some of whom have children as well which is awe-inspiring! As a general point, writing isn’t always the most financially rewarding career in the world, so it’s very common for people to juggle multiple jobs, especially when starting out. I love my job – I always wanted to be an Editor, and I wouldn’t want to simply write on my own, I think I’d go mad! Of course, some authors do write full time; I think it’s a very personal choice.

Do you have a place you always go to write, or somewhere you feel most inspired?

I can write anywhere, though I’ve got a new desk recently which I’m really excited about. The shelves above the desk have some little reminders – a plant my agent gave me, a poster with an inspirational quote, my books about publishing. It’s really nice to have your own space to write, so I guess I’m lucky. However, I wrote most of The Doll House while babysitting in the evenings, or sitting in cafés at night.

How much planning and outlining do you undertake before beginning to write your novel?

I don’t plan at all, to begin with. I find it really difficult. I did write a synopsis for my agent and publisher for my second book, but that’s the extent of it. Everyone works in different ways. I prefer to get the first draft done and then edit it. I’m not one of those writers who can plan out a whole novel with sticky notes and spread sheets. I probably end up writing more drafts. I’m an editor by nature, so I’m most comfortable editing a lot than extensively planning.

Do have any other hobbies and passions, outside writing and publishing?

I’ve very passionate about the Society of Young Publishers; I’m co-chairing the London branch this year. Writing and publishing are where my main interests lie – I’m fairly terrible at everything else! Although I am trying to learn how to cook… with mixed results.

If you have one piece of advice to offer to young aspiring authors, what would it be?

Be persistent. You have to keep going. It’s a good idea to perhaps have your writing read by other people and be prepared to take editorial feedback. Focus on your own journey, and make sure you’re doing the best you can. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others – just keep your head down, do the work and make the most of every opportunity.

Keep up with Phoebe’s journey on her website, where she frequently posts about writing, editing and the world of publishing. You can also follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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A big thank you to Niall for organizing such an insightful interview with Phoebe! Keep yourself in the loop with Niall’s work by following him on twitter and checking out his blog.

 

 

 

It’s okay to be a total flake: reassurance from a total flake

Mental Health

Recently, it feels like there’s always someone who needs a bit of my time. There are emails to be answered, appointments to be made, catch-ups and study-sessions and coffee dates to be scheduled… I’m starting to understand why my lecturer’s always seem to have their ‘Out of Office’ automated emails switched on.

It isn’t a bad thing when this happens. I feel very loved and grateful that there are so many people that want thirty minutes of my time, but there aren’t really enough hours in the day for me to do everything I want to do as well as everything I need to. So, if you’re one of the people who feels like I’ve been ghosting you or being one of those friends that forever says, “We need to catch up, it’s been too long!” but is never actually available: I’m sorry. I’ll get round to you, I promise. In the meantime, I need a little time.

Anyone that regularly reads this blog will know that I’m currently trying to juggle a Master’s degree, a part-time job in my local bookstore, and getting manuscript edits sent to my agent so that we can try to sort the novel for publication soon. There are always things on top of this happening as well: meetings with lecturers and authors and doctors that I really can’t postpone. So, yeah, I’ve been terrible at replying to messages, and equally bad about re-arranging our catch-ups to later in the month when I’m convinced I’ll have a little more free time. It even took my mother a few days to get a call back from me. It’s not just you.

But the point of this post wasn’t for me to rant and bitch about how much work I have to do and how annoying it is that I have so many friends – trust me. The point of this post is to call out all of the flakes and ghosters and say hey, it’s cool. We need time for ourselves, time to recuperate, time to think and reflect and pretty much just get our acts together.

It’s really easy for me to catch myself in a web of guilt when it comes to my friends, family, and other commitments – and I’m sure I can’t be alone. Sometimes I’ll spend an evening writing, Netflix on in the background, wondering how I’ve managed to turn down so many plans with people when this is all I’ve ended up doing. I feel like I’m prioritising the wrong things, neglecting friends to stay at home, trading in human contact for the company of my laptop screen… But I have to remind myself: some people work nine to five in their careers, and this is mine. I don’t have your average working hours, but as a writer I have to find time to commit to my writing. It’s so important.

I have to remind myself that when friends message at six or seven in the evening and want to go out for drinks or just come round for a coffee, that’s kind of the middle of my workday. And alongside my career of writing, I’m also having to support myself by working part-time and also do, that, uh, university thing we’ve talked about. I can’t let myself continue to feel guilty because I’m working doing the thing I love most.

“But, Beth,” I hear you cry. “You need time to socialise – to have a life!”

I do, I promise you. I tend to schedule my phone calls and quick catch-ups in my lunch breaks at work or on the occasional evening, but if I haven’t found time for you, please don’t be offended! Please understand my lack of time and total disorganisation! I know I always end up neglecting my friends that live far away, but that’s only because I’d have to commit more than an hour to come see you (and, in some cases, a fair bit of cash that I don’t have either). I’m so grateful for the friends that understand I’m useless at keeping in touch; the friends that are fully aware of my busy life and accept the fact that I care about them, I’m just a big ol’ Cadbury’s flake most of the time.

And I’m grateful to my mum, for coming to terms with the fact that I’m probably alive and well regardless of whether I answer her phone calls or not. Probably.

So here’s a message to all of my fellow flakes: you’re not alone. We all do it, even those of us who seem like they’ve nothing better to do with their time than spend it with you. Every so often, everyone needs time to just go MIA. Ignore your phones, turn on your ‘Out of Office’ emails, and try not to feel too guilty about it. Your time is valuable and it’s always, always, up to you how you spend it.

Stay flaky,

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laughing on the outside: rainy day writing, manuscript soundtracks & more

Lifestyle, Writing

When I was doing my A Levels, my best friend Amy would send our group of friends an email every single Friday wishing us a good week and linking us to The Cure’s Friday, I’m in love. That was my soundtrack this morning, when I was cleaning my house; I danced around with my mop and vacuum and thought of how simple life was back then… As it stands at the moment, I have edits to do on one of my novels, plotting and writing to do on the other, a part-time job, and a Masters degree to contend with. Oh, younger Beth, you really did have it easy, kid.

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After blitzing my house (a regular past-time whenever I get a day off work), I escaped to my nearest coffee shop – which is now, amazingly, about three minutes walk from home. God bless Costa for opening a store on every street corner. My laptop is fully charged, which is a miracle in itself, and I’m armed with notebooks and iced tea – all the necessities for a good writing day. My background music for today is the soundtrack of The End of the F**king World, which, by the way, was a pleasure to watch. I’ve already stolen several songs from the soundtrack to add to my own manuscript playlist…

Speaking of, manuscript playlists are something that I find hugely helpful when writing. My current work of progress has very dark vibes and a confusing and fragmented narrative, and I find it so much easier to get into the head of my protagonist when I’m listening to music with the same kind of twisted undertones. I’m forever trawling through Spotify and YouTube for more songs to add to my playlists: I always feel better when they’re 2+ hours long, so that I’m not distracted by hearing the same songs over and over and can focus on my writing.

Yesterday was deadline day (hooray), which means the first five chapters of my latest novel have now been submitted to my manuscript editor for review. I don’t have to think about edits for that one until the end of February now, so in the meantime… I’m writing. Beginning a novel is always my favourite part of the process: probably because I’m not really a planner so when I’m writing, I tend to have little to no idea of where my characters will be taking me. A little uncertainty is always fun.

Anyway, I’m 14,000 words in at the minute and really enjoying the motifs that keep cropping up and the characters that kind of seem trustworthy to start with and are slowly becoming less so as the plot thickens. I’m hoping to reach around 70,000 for this particular manuscript, as it’s for a YA audience. My first draft of my first novel ended at around 55,000, but now I’m discovering that I have far more words to play around with and probably should have written way more to begin with – while I was in the flow of that particular story.

I’m thankful I headed to Costa when I did, because it’s just started pouring down outside and I didn’t bring a coat. It was sunny earlier! Unpredictable British weather. You’d think I’d have adapted by now to living in the South of England by carrying an umbrella or bringing a spare jacket or something, but that rarely happens… I think when you’ve come from the North, there’s a certain element of pride when it comes to cold weather. Duh, I’m from the North. I can hack it. Brolly?? ‘Course I don’t need a brolly.

I should probably get back to working on the manuscript. I hope everyone has a great day! It definitely feels like a day to be creative, if you’re that way inclined. Enjoy.

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Avoiding the void: staying social as a writer

Writing

I think it’s safe to say that most writers would consider themselves quite solitary people. Let’s face it – writing is a solitary activity, there’s no getting around it. But nobody ever made a bestselling novel by holing themselves up in their room for three years. As writers, we need the support and inspiration from people around us to feed our writing – and there are so many different ways we can keep in touch with the outside world while still focusing on our works in progress.

One wonderful way to stay in the loop without even leaving the comfort of your home is social media. That’s right: get tweeting people. I find that Twitter is one of the more useful platforms for writers. Set yourself up with a profile if you haven’t already, and really delve into the different writing hashtags that crop up every so often. For children’s authors in particular, Twitter is invaluable for showing new and upcoming writers what agents and publishers are looking for. There are different conversations happening all the time, and sometimes there are scheduled chats that you can get involved in. There’s always room for new ideas – and sending your opinion via a tweet is so much less nerve-wracking than if you piped up in person. Get involved!

Beth’s Tips: Children’s and YA authors should try looking out for #ukyachat #MSWL and #manuscriptwishlist!

Another great way for us writers to stay in touch with the dreaded ‘outside world’ are writing groups. This can be a terrifying concept for some people, but the only way to find out if you like a writing group and the dynamic the writers share is to go and find out. Try out a few different writing groups and see how you feel, see if there’s anyone you click with, anyone who’s writing similar stuff to you, anyone who couldn’t be more different but seems like a laugh… Writing groups are really wonderful places where you can seek manuscript feedback before sending your work out to agents. If an agent is given a manuscript with spelling or syntax errors in the first few pages, they won’t be looking much further into the piece. This is why it’s so important to be involved with the writing community to get support editing and beta-reading your work before it’s sent off!

Beth’s Tips: Rather than relying on Google, UK writers should check out Writing Magazine for tips on what writing groups are available in their local area.

Writer’s festivals are also a wonderful way to meet like-minded people and off-load all of your writing problems. When I visited my first Writer’s Festival, I was blown away by the amount of people who swarmed together to complain about all things writer-ly: the amount of celebrities taking over the children’s book market, the uselessness of Scrivener, having to waste their lives at boring jobs to support their writing… Writer’s know how to complain, and it warms your heart to be able to share in it together. Festivals are also great places to attend inspiring and motivational lectures and seminars, and to share your time and experiences with writer’s who are in a similar position to you. So much knowledge and advice is exchanged at festivals – there really is nothing like it!

Beth’s Tips: My favourite UK writing festival is the Winchester Writer’s Festival – I had a wonderful, inspirational time when I attended last year. Scholarships are available worth £400 if you’re between 18-25 and passionate about writing. Find out more on their website here.

Finally, the support network that is already in place – your friends and family – can be a great way for you to avoid slipping into the dreaded void of loneliness. Schedule breaks in your writing to give your mum a ring, or meet up with a friend. Something I regularly do is make plans to have a coffee with a friend at about 2 in the afternoon. This means I have the whole morning to write, I can then walk twenty minutes to town, have an hour or so chilling with my friend, walk twenty minutes back and get right back at it. Be sure to always give yourself breaks when writing – the moment it starts to feel like a chore, the harder it’ll be to get those words down.

Beth’s Tips: When you have a designated ‘writing day’, draw yourself a cheeky timetable the night before so you know which chapters you’re supposed to be focusing on every hour – this way you can also schedule in some time with friends or family to break up the day.

I hope you found this article helpful! If you’d like to add any other ways to stay social as a writer, please do leave a comment below. Happy writing!

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