Sunday, 1 January 2017


Hello again and Happy New Year! Welcome back to the Awfully Big Blog Adventure for 2017.

Time to begin again. Near my desk are a fresh new diary and a calendar empty - apart from twelve months of cat selfies – of any commitments. 

The just-emptied pin-boards on the wall wait for a new arrangement of prompts and plans, even if some cards will have been there before. 

My workroom is almost tidy again and, aside from the empty decoration boxes, is becoming my own space once again. I do not grudge having guests staying on the sofa at all, but it is rather nice to be back, feeling lucky to have my room around me once more.

I love this quiet period after Christmas. These peaceful days are very welcome right now, especially as our family celebrations were almost overwhelmed by non-cheery coughs, colds and fever, even though a good time was had, rather snuffily, by all.

Meanwhile, the spate of sad news - not just all those cultural icons but people l really know – has seemed endless. As for all that happened during 2016 itself? Oh dear. Reading the stream of social media, it’s easy to feel your heart shrink with despair and anger, and for the shadows to set in.

All of which is why this ABBA post is about some small-scale, quiet things I’ll be doing for myself, and which you might find interesting or helpful too.


The first idea is to get a large empty jar, some neat squares of brightly coloured paper and a pen, and put them all somewhere where you can easily see them.   

Each day, quickly write down one good, remarkable or wonderful thing that happened, fold the paper and put it into the jar. No need for scribbling screeds or creating story openings or poems or working it into an idea: just snatch that quick “memory moment” while you can. 

You can read through all the notes at the end of the year, create scrapbooks, work with them, or do whatever you like. For now, gathering them is enough. Might try the same for those quick flashes of picture book story ideas: scribble down & start stuffing into my "ideas box” again.

This memory jar idea came from Facebook, and I'm sure it's all over pinterest as a family activity too, so my bright jar may not be new to you. I liked the jar because, all too often, the petty anxieties, the naggling worries, the WIP doubts and all sit heavily in the top of my mind, blocking those better instances.  But this New Year, I’ll start using a bright memory jar to capture the much-needed good and happy moments that so easily slip past in a busy life.

This is, I suppose, at the darker, opposite edge of note-making activity. Once, on a retreat, I heard a writer speak about a ritual they had used to move on from an unhappy time. As the year came to a close, they secretly wrote out all the personal worries, doubts, sadnesses, sorrows, confusions and mistakes that weighed them down, although whether as a single long list or on scraps of paper I can’t recall. 
Then, just before midnight, they threw the paper into the flames of a fire and let all the worries and regrets burn to ashes. The moment may have have been shared with trusted friends, too. However, they were now facing the New Year, feeling free of all those burdens, which seems a helpful thought to me.  

I felt that the ritual had echoes of a wider spiritual practice, so you may already know of this idea. I know, too, that today is New Year’s Day, but I don’t believe anyone has missed their one, personal, annual chance. Twelfth Night is still to come, and I’m sure that any date significant to you, yourself, when you can be quiet and thoughtful and in a comfortable place, with friends or alone, could be just as meaningful.


This idea is a very small and very childish kick-start ploy. Working from home, I am often overwhelmed by all those Ordinary Things to Do, particularly as the workroom mentioned above is next to the kitchen, utility room, back door, conversational people, callers and so on. Despite the enjoyment factor, all the Christmas preparations have heightened this working/not working situation. When, I think, having no fixed deadline, did I last do any real writing?

Besides, once January has started, all the Other Things To Do will start resurrecting: all the stuff that creeps in from various Groups & Organisations, let alone plans for school visits and similar administration activities. And that tax return.

So, to get my practice back on track, I am going to adopt an almost silly practical trick, shown to me recently by a Christmas guest. Running a busy and complex job, and having just started a course of study, she showed me a simple, daily chart she’s devised for the week. The chart is half play, half visible incentive, and sticky gold stars as markers and rewards. There were various named sections, but what stood out to me was that one section was labelled WORK and another was labelled TASKS.

Of course, I thought, that’s exactly my problem!  I have stopped differentiating between my own WORK and all those to-be-done TASKS!  

So, as January begins, I’ll be drawing up my own simple WORK v TASKS chart to clarify my mindset and my time allocations - and will be using sticky gold stars to shine me on my way too. Enough, enough already! That's it!

Have your own good start to the year, and if you have any fine ideas for helping you move from lazy holiday into a good, nicely-tough work mode, do let me know. And if you are already horribly efficient, you have my intense admiration!

Penny Dolan


Sue Purkiss said...

Thanks for all these ideas, and I hope they work well for you!

Sue Purkiss said...

Thanks for all these ideas, and I hope they work well for you!

Anne Booth said...

I like all these ideas!

Sarah Hammond said...

Good ideas! Thanks.

Linda Strachan said...

Love these, Penny.
I think differentiating between writing and all those other 'tasks' that can creep in and take over eating up time, is a great idea.

Rowena House said...

Love both the bright jar & the fire basket. Everyday magic! Went to a wonderful storytelling festival once with a wickerwork man & woman (not Wicca!) and we tied written wishes to them, to be burnt with them at the end. Mine wish came true last year! Hope all your planning works for you this year too.

Lynne Benton said...

Only just got to this, Penny - thanks for all the bright ideas - especially the Bright Jar! And what a good idea to separate the Work from the Tasks, and with gold stars to show how well you've done. Many thanks, and a Happy New Year to one and all, especially writers.

Celia Rees said...

Excellent advice, Penny. Wise, as ever. Linda Newberry told me to read your post and I'm off to buy my gold stars and I've got just the jar!