Tuesday, 31 December 2013


Happy New Year to one and all, and good to have you here on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure! 
Yes, it’s January the First. New Resolution Day! Now you may well be one of those people who don’t make resolutions, don’t need to make them, or prefer to make your resolutions on the magical cusp of the midsummer moon. 

However, if you - like me – use these early January days to shift your life into a more orderly state, here are three small, possibly contradictory and even familiar suggestions.

The story goes like this:  

A Nobel prize-winner came to talk to a business conference about planning. She went up to the desk, took out a glass jar and some big stones. She put the stones into the jar, filling it right to the top.

Then, from a dish, she took a handful of tiny stones. She tipped those in too, and another handful, filling the jar to the top.  “Full, again,” she murmured.

Then, from a third dish, she took a handful of sand. As she tipped that into the jar, the sand slid down to fill in the gaps. Finally, she smiled, took a nearby tumbler of water and poured that in too. “Full again, again?” she asked.

Then she spoke to her audience. “Believe me, the only way you can get so much stuff into this one jar is by putting the big things in first. So, when you start planning your time, get those big things put into your day first. The rest of the stuff will fit around them.”

Maybe in 2014, the most important work needs to come first, and all the small stuff should be made to slip into the gaps between?

Or, as somebody else said, “The main thing is to make the main thing the main thing.”

Now for: 


A while back, I heard about the “timer technique” as a way of edging yourself back into writing, especially when you are daunted  by the work. I know lots of writers regularly turn to this as a way of getting unstuck.

Method: Take a kitchen timer (the portable tick-along kind, not the whole oven, obvously!) to wherever you intend to write, along with your notebook/laptop/pc/ whatever. 

Focus your mind on the project for a moment, set the timer for a short time, such as twenty or thirty minutes, and just write what you can. Then re-set and start again. Then again. If you need to take a short break, do - but then sit back down with that timer again.

Somehow, coping with a shorter commitment is easier than coping with the voice in the head that screams “I’ve got to do three hours on this really difficult project and I’m scared to begin, even though I sort of know something about it but do I? Aaaagh!” You might even find you write right through the timer, going on longer than you thought you could manage.

I’d suggest that, even if you have a timer for the kitchen, you buy yourself your own personal timer. Choose one with a tick that doesn’t irritate  - and it doesn’t need to be kept next to your ear while you’re working, anyway. Just keep the Timer Two near your desk and grab it whenever the void starts to echo, echo, echo . . .

There is a whole trademarked-tomato-shaped-Pomodoro-management-and-life-style website as well as various apps that do the same thing, but for me the real-world physical act of setting the timer to just the right number of minutes is part of the process.

So on to:


Julia Cameron “Artist’s Way” approach is well known. Her writing style – or is it her so-American life style? - can seem slightly annoying here in the damp UK, but, as a good friend told me, you have to read through the layers to find the ideas that will work for you. 

Julia's core practice insists on the writing of three pages, on waking, without shaping or editing the words in any way. The drowsy mind lets all the worries and anxieties and bad stuff rise to the surface, as well as the moments of good stuff and gratitude. It’s worth finding out more about this whole approach if you haven't already dipped into her many books 

However, Julia’s “mornings” rarely seemed to be my “mornings”, often full of rush and responsibility, even now. So often, for many reasons, those three contemplative morning pages have seemed impossible, have been an empty failure at the start of the day.

Well, during the busy days of December, and having some writing trouble (too boring to expand upon!) I decided to opt for a half-way practice:   The three “anytime” pages.  Yes, anytime, anywhere. I gave away the guilt.

If I can do my pages first thing, I do. If not, I don’t grieve. I plan for some other patch of the day to sit and think and write, and so far this has worked, with only one day – the visitor changeover of Boxing Day- skipped entirely. I feel positive, not negative.

My anytime pages are written by hand, so there's no chance of the words being "work" - or even legible. I use a beloved green fountain pen, filled with green ink, and scribble away on yellow pages, which brings a touch of playfulness to the process. 

The quiet, slow, steady dropping down into the three anytime pages may not be Perfect Julia, but as December passed, I began looking forward to showing up at the page, started finding a little faith in my words and work again.

 Now, with the clear and empty days of the New Year ahead, who knows what might happen? Maybe it's not so big a step to get back into writing now the festivities are over, after all? And maybe old suggestions can still be good suggestions?

 Wishing you good writing and reading in 2014.

Penny Dolan


Lynda Waterhouse said...

Happy New Year to you Penny! I have been spending the last two days sorting out my bookshelves and various assorted piles to try and clear my thoughts ready for 2014

Penny Dolan said...

Thank you, Lynda. Good luck with those shelves! There's something about the calm of physical tidying that seems to helps with calming and tidying the mind.

Penny Dolan said...

And Happy New Year, Lynda, too!

adele said...

Lovely post to start the year with!

adele said...

Lovely post to start the year with!

Tamsyn Murray said...

Ooh, love the thought of emerald green ink from a green fountain pen. Am going to use the timer on a difficult project I'm finding daunting, too. Happy New Year, Penny!

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks all. Tamsyn, the pen is an old, almost art-deco one. My father used it and he gave it to me a couple of years before he died. For complicated reasons, the pen is my only real keepsake from him. The green ink is just because "why not?" Pleasure not toil. (Though he would never have used green ink!!!!)

Sue Purkiss said...

Great ideas - i love the jar story. Thanks, penny, and Happy New Year to you and everyone!

David Thorpe said...

Great post. Love the pen too - and the layout of the post. Happy New Year!