3 Tips: How to nurture your body desk-side

  1. Use a bigger device: Generally speaking, the more time required on the task the bigger the device you use. Anything requiring more than 30 minutes of work – whether it’s social media, word documents or web browsing – means you need to sit at a desk. Save small tasks and checking things quickly for your small devices.
  2. Long-time sitting requires a good workspace set-up. Think about changing your set-up: use multiple screens, change the mouse from side to side, and sit at different chairs to change your posture.
  3. Counter the effects of small tablets on your bad posture with regular movement. Stand up from your desk at least once every hour and go for a walk, and work extension exercises like yoga, GYROTONIC(R) method and pilates into your routine. As a general rule for every hour you sit you need to do 5 minutes of exercise throughout the week.

Humpday Hearts 01.04.15

Undid all the health benefits of my 7km Bay Walk thanks to this plate of French Toast at Nields Park Pavilion

Hello April, Hello (impending) Easter. It feels like just yesterday I was celebrating my girl’s first Christmas, and now here I am, wondering if its inappropriate that I have decided not to buy her Easter eggs. Hey, it’s not like I am not celebrating – in fact, as a matter of principle in the face of growing consumerism I choose not to buy Hot Cross Buns until Easter week – but still, it seems a little mean. So I am taking comfort in the fact that I chose to celebrate Palm Sunday with her in the traditional Lebanese way, which involved her wearing a brand new frock (a Chloe one, no less, which was a gift from a relative) and being a given a candle decorated with olive branches so she can join the other children in the traditional procession and welcome Jesus into her heart. This weekend, I am looking forward to spending time with loved ones before getting back into the daily grind. I am way behind on so much, but still going to take the time out to enjoy this lovely season that promises warm nights in away from the chill, new life and togetherness. Hope you all have a wonderful Easter weekend, with ferrero rocher eggs and warm hot cross buns with lashings of butter.

The Happy Cookbook Lola Berry

So excited to have found a recipe for lemon curd in Lola Berry’s The Happy Cookbook (PanMacmillan, $34.99), which boasts over 130 wholesome recipes, sans the boredom, including desserts, spreads and salad dressings, to make your healthy diet all-encompassing

Country Road Lavinia Derby

After searching far and wide for two years or so, I have finally found a pair of Brogues that I love

Forever TV ShowI’m not normally a fan of murder mysteries, but I think the old-world, English character of Dr Henry Morgan has me hooked on this show (it certainly helps that he’s a bit of a looker)

Lost For Words QT Hotel

This notebook I found in my room at the QT Hotel is perfectly reflective of my current situation

For more of my likes and daily adventures, follow me on Instagram – http://www.instagram.com/sarahayoubwriter

3 Tips: Money for freelance writers

Whether you’re a freelancer, employed full-time or just testing the waters, you’ll have to work incredibly hard to prove you’re actually a killer writer and worth the coins. Follow these three tips to stick out from the crowd and show potential clients that they need your words!

  1. Charge what you’re worth: So many people don’t like talking about money – and they squirm at the idea of meeting a client to discuss prices. However, once you break out of this traditional mindset you’ll realise that not only is the cost of your work an indication of how much money you make, it’s also a signal to others that your time, efforts and words are of that particular quality. In some cases, upping your worth could make you the more attractive option. A key consideration to make here is that increasing your costs will also make you more accountable for your work’s quality. Think about ways to add value. For example, include an extended version of the content for use on the publication’s website; this shows that you’re thinking beyond your pay rate and are a valuable contributor for them to have on board.
  2. Word rate or flat fee? This point could almost be re-worded to say “know how to read your client”. When it comes to providing written work to a client, the length and nature of your arrangements has a huge sway on which payment methods you should bring to the table. If, for example, you’re providing the written copy for an ongoing campaign, asking to be paid per word doesn’t make sense – it’s messy, hard to pinpoint and requires too much brainpower on their end. In this instance, paying per project is likely to be a much better option, both for minimising invoicing efforts on your part, and approving those payments on your client’s end. Use this calculator to determine what you should be charging.
  3. Become top of mind: Having a regular and engaging brand presence is one of the most underappreciated skills of the modern writer, but when you think about it, it’s also one of the most obvious ways to promote your skills. If you’re using social media and regular face-to-face catch ups to put snippets of your work in front of the right people, seeds are being planted in their head that will sprout the next time they’re sitting at their desk needing fresh content. There’s nothing better than being on the receiving end of that eureka moment when a big name realises “Oh, ___ would know something on this!”

 

Sydney Staycation Musings

As much as I love my treks and escapes, there’s something so wonderful about being a tourist in your home city. Which is why I was delighted when my husband surprised me with a weekend escape in Sydney for Valentine’s Day earlier this year. For two days, we traipsed around familiar streets and ate at loved, local haunts, but there was still something magic and new about the adventure. This time, we were parents, and it was amusing to reflect on how much our tastes had evolved with our age. In our old life, lunch was always at a particular Italian cafe in Sydney Central Plaza, and we drank at clubs until the wee hours. We awkwardly visited luxury stores like we didn’t belong. Staying at the Four Seasons Hotel was the coolest thing, and we thought Toko was the be-all and end-all of Japanese dining.

 

Sky Phoenix Yum ChaBut the city has changed and so have we. In 2015, there are newer players and we’re more well-versed in the game of life. This time around, our luxury hotel of choice is Sydney’s QT hotel, which thanks to its quirky, edgy style but still refined taste (and perfect mesh of old and new), really reflects our personalities. We enjoy Yum Cha at Sky Phoenix in Sydney’s Westfield, and we know that the best breakfast croissants are at La Renaissance in The Rocks. We think nothing of paying $200 per person plus drinks for a chef’s choice dinner at Sokyo in The Star, and popping into Prada or Christian Louboutin is not intimidating. Instead of hitting the clubs, we prefer long afternoons at The Australian or The Glenmore, where we can converse with our friends over everything from pop culture to politics.

QT Sydney

We’ve grown in confidence and friendship with our city. Our secrets are its own, hidden in the crevices of old memories and bygone adventures. And we’re not the only ones: when we told Nanna that we were heading to the QT for a romantic weekend away, she smiled herself in nostalgia: I used to visit that building with Grandpa, she said.

And I smiled in return, wondering if someday, I’ll be sharing these little snippets of my youth with my own grand kids.

 

Interview: Amanda Holohan

  1. Tell us, in a nutshell, how you got your start in the industry. I was working as Editorial Coordinator at The Sun-Herald and mentioned to one of my colleagues that I was writing a book. She passed it on to her agent who really liked it. The book got picked up by ABC Books. My latest novel, Unwanted, has just been published by Penguin Books.
  2. What were some of the difficulties you encountered when trying to establish yourself as a writer? Did you rely on any tools, mentors, groups or writers centres/courses for help? I’d been writing fiction since I was a child, but when my mother died I went through a stage where I simply couldn’t write. I was 22 years old and she’d been the one to encourage my writing most. Finding my voice again was a matter of willpower – I went overseas, I explored new things, I constantly compiled notes and ideas for novels.
    To strengthen my skills and renew my confidence, I enrolled in a creative writing course at UTS and attended seminars at the NSW Writer’s Centre. I also started writing travel pieces for The Sun-Herald. The strict word counts and deadlines forced me to be very disciplined. I had to juggle the writing around other tasks and constant distractions. Once I knew I could do that, I realised I could write anything, anywhere.
  3. What has been your biggest career highlight so far? And the biggest lesson you have learnt? The biggest highlight for me was when my first book, The King’s Fool, made the shortlist for the Aurealis Awards. As a newly published author I was thrilled. It was included with some terrific books by authors I admire.Biggest lesson? Not to take criticism too seriously: everyone has his or her own perspective and some criticism can come from an ugly place. Learn to differentiate the negative criticism from the constructive kind – that which can help you improve your skills.
  4. What gets you inspired? Oh, so many things: people and how they relate, new advances in science and technology, history, current affairs. The things that inspire me sometimes turn into themes in the writing. Everywhere I look I see a new idea.
  5. What’s next on your goals list? I’m currently working on a follow up book to Unwanted for Penguin. After that I have a whole swag of book ideas.
  6. What’s your typical day like?  I’m usually up around 6.00am, but writing doesn’t start straightaway. As I like to write in uninterrupted blocks, I tie up as much of my other work as possible then I head for the gym. Exercise puts me in the perfect frame of mind for writing. I usually spend some time on the treadmill going over my book in my head, often reaching for my smart phone to type in notes. When I’m back home I settle down at my desk and get stuck in. I never wait for the mood to hit – I aim to get the story down, as I know it will change in the second draft. I actually love the revisions phase, as that’s when I really get to craft the story and perfect the characters. Unwanted has quite a complex plot so I revised it over and over until everything clicked. Time is precious so I always aim to be as productive as possible. I stay at my desk for as long as I can – at least five hours on a typical day. I break again in the late afternoon to run errands or make dinner. If I’m on a roll I return to my desk after the table has been cleared. Most times though, as night rolls on, I like to settle down with my family and find out about their day.
  7. What advice can you offer to those who aspire for a similar role? Persevere. It’s great to have talent, but it won’t take you very far without perseverance. Strive to improve your skills constantly. Don’t listen to the naysayers – they’re everywhere and they’re boring. Have faith in yourself and your writing.

The Speedy Six:

  1. Describe yourself in one word: Passionate.
  2. You wish you wrote: Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, but if I’d written it I wouldn’t have had the joy of reading it.
  3. Can’t leave home without: A pen and notebook.
  4. First thing you wrote: Supercat, at age five. It was a comic and I wrote a whole series.
  5. If you were a character in a novel, you’d be: Holly Short (I wish!) of the LEPrecon unit from Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books. She’s funny, smart and knows how to kick ass!
  6. The best thing about being a wordsmith: Building worlds out of words.

12 Steps to Zen: #12 Temperament

When I resolved to change my habits and ways of thinking at the end of 2014, it totally seemed doable. I’d had a good run in my first five months of parenting (seasoned parents I can hear you laughing from here), I’d managed to keep at my deadlines and the various obstacles on my path to wellness – the house build, my new blog, my book etc – didn’t seem that daunting. But I’ve always been a little slow to catch on to things, and dare I say it, a little naive.

Fast forward two or three months and early into 2015 I am feeling completely differently. The house build is still going nowhere (again, I’m building with family, which brings with it a whole host of pros, cons and delays), work for my husband and I seems crazy, and even though I am still committing to moving as frequently as possible, it seems that everything in my everyday is eating at my resolve, threatening my undoing.

February was going to be my time for mental change: I had chosen to focus on meditation, because I figured that by being more mindful of what I was doing in each present moment, I could better complete each task and breeze through the rest of the changes with ease. But I didn’t commit to it, and February passed without me meditating for more than three whole minutes in the entire month.

As February began winding down, I realised that maybe this was meant to be. When I planned out my Better Habits Challenge, I put meditation second and put temperament all the way at the end, but as March approached that I had subconsciously been working on my temperament for much of February, without even knowing it.

I had forced myself to be hopeful of good triumphing over evil when week in, week out I was bombarded with negative news stories. I lost heart over race-related deaths in the US, feared the spread of the IS threat, pained over Boko Haram’s burning of thousands of people, lamented the attacks on European Jews and cried over the genocide of the Arab World’s Christians, something that has been ongoing for years but has recently amplified with the growth of IS. The beheading of 21 Copts on the Libyan shore – the bloodied aftermath I accidentally caught on uncensored Arabic news in my parents’ home – weakened me for days and I would spend nights whispering to my husband in the dark, fearing for my daughter’s freedom when she was our age: it seemed that the world I had grown up in had taken a massive turn for the worst.

Needless to say, I hit a bit of a slump. Although I have always had a positive nature, this time things felt really different. I knew had to get myself out of the slump for my daughter’s sake, but I also had to stop and think every time I complained about one of my problems, which were minuscule in comparison to the real problems experienced on a daily basis all around the world.

Ere go, working on my temperament. How would I find the delicate balance between being aware of my privileges and also sympathetic to the plights of other people? How could I remain hopeful – which was the essence of life as far as I was concerned – when it felt like everything around me was crumbling?

It felt like it would take a lot of energy to keep me at my normal, optimistic demeanor. Especially because that other ‘good’ in my life – my writing – seemed to be falling to pieces too. And I didn’t know how to deal with that because it was my bread and butter and something that put joy into my life when I felt like there was no joy left. It was only recently that I realised that I could sum up what I do perfectly, and I loved that summation: I’m a storyteller. I write stories, I read them, and I share them. In different formats and on very different mediums but whether they’re pictures or blog posts or interviews or fiction books, they’re all stories.

And not all stories are blemish free. There’s drama and complications and resolutions and antagonists. And the characters just keep on being.

So maybe all it takes for me to get to that mental zen of temperament is reminding myself that I am just a character in this big, wide world of drama and complications and antagonists, and that I too, will just have to keep on being.

There won’t be resolutions for everyone, but I’m here in the story, so I might as well make the most of it.

Which in the spirit of story telling and story sharing makes me a little curious: how do you deal with the big bad woes of the world?

 

 

 

 

 

When books just go nowhere

For the first time ever in my writing career, I’m currently riding an unrelenting wave of bitterness. It’s exceptionally unusual for me: I’m ordinarily a happy, optimistic, resilient person who forgets why she’s mad (my husband loves this) and who never holds grudges, simply because they’re just not worth their weight.

But this time, it’s different. I’m not sure if it’s because my current emotional discontent is inextricably linked to something that usually offers me much content (writing) or if last year’s big changes to my body (pregnancy, childbirth) have also impacted my soul.

I just know that for the first time in a long time, I’m in an emotional slump. And it’s just not conducive to getting my second book out on the shelves. Hence the title of this post.

Let me explain –

For a book I am really proud of – even in its first draft form – The Yearbook Committee has given me a lot of grief. Some of it is my fault, like the fact that I decided to write five first-person fiction narratives when I’d only ever written one first-person story before. Creating and getting into the head of five characters – and developing different attitudes, ways of speaking and being, etc – is definitely more work than just worrying about the one.

Some it relates to a whole bunch of stuff that’s out of my control, like the fact that it took six months before I was given the editing notes on it and that commissioning illustrators for the cover art took way longer than expected, which meant that each delay on someone else’s part pushed me further down in my slump and impacted my own ability to work.

But most of it just me not being able to do what every writer says you should do. WRITE. Write even when everything is riding against you, when you have a billion other things on your plate, when life gets in the way and demands your attention – just ignore it all and write.

You’d think that having read this over and over, and shared it just as much via writer memes and interviews both here and on my social networks, that I would have been able to embrace this piece of advice by now. But I just can’t. I can’t do it, I can’t focus, I can’t prioritise. I just don’t know how to treat this job like every other one.

It’s harder to, admittedly. Writing books doesn’t offer regular payments as an incentive. I won’t get my next payment until the book is out on that shelf and my next payment happens to be my last. I’ve got the bulk of it already and the rest is just a little sprinkling of extra cash that I’ll probably use to fund something frivolous.

Also, it’s harder because it can get a little stagnant. When you are surrounded by constant stimulation, on social media and smart phones and TV, and you stimulate yourself by telling stories, you just want to move on to the next project. Tell the next tale, meet the next character, write a new setting. But you can’t, because even though that prior story is written, it’s not reading-ready. It needs to be stripped back, polished and told all over again.

I’m trying to remind myself that this buff-and-polish process is only going to make for a better book. I am also telling myself that everything happens for a reason and there’s probably a really good reason why my book has had its release date pushed back three times.

But really I need to be able to just tell myself that my husband can buy his own bacon and that I don’t have to save face by hanging out with everyone and that I will just have to deal with not having a proper writing space. You know, quit with the excuses and just do what I have to do, because I am the car taking the characters to their next destination and they have no other way of getting there.

Right now, I am not in the best working order, so there have been breakdowns on the road and no end point to the journey in sight. I desperately need a service, but it’s a catch 22. I am sad because I can’t write, and I can’t write because I am sad.

And all that does is leave my characters stranded, my heart a little lost, and my words wasted.