A New Page: from 2015 to 2016

Book and flowers

And so we’re into a new year, and I have a new set of books to challenge myself with! (Check out my Pinterest board or see below this post for a sneak peek at the titles.) But I can’t just launch myself forward without taking stock of what has gone before, can I?

When I started the Book Diaries blog last year, I was struggling to make time for reading. It seemed like an indulgence when I felt I ought to be spending every waking moment working on my freelance business and drumming up new sources of income.

Yet at the same time, I knew that my freelancing alone wasn’t giving me the life I’d always dreamed of. I needed something else, some creative input, some project to give me alternative views on life and help me see things differently – and so this blog was born.

I decided to actively seek some new way forward as a result of every book I read. I would use each story to tap into my subconscious and let it inspire me, give me fresh insights, help me move forward when I was feeling stuck, by forcing myself to take action – any action.

I had no idea what kinds of changes I’d implement after any of these books, but, looking back, I can see that they largely fall into three categories:

  • Changes in my attitude to the world: making an effort to become more understanding and tolerant of those different to me.
  • Changes in my attitude to myself: determining to feed the good and starve the bad in me, in the hope of becoming a better person.
  • Creative inspiration: pursuing ideas for new creative projects and exploratory adventures.

What I’ve also been doing, unseen by you, is writing updates around three months after each blog post, reporting on whether I’ve actually implemented the changes I said I’d make. I realised that promising something on a blog wasn’t the same as actually doing that thing – and so I decided to make myself accountable.

This has actually been one of the most meaningful parts of the whole experiment for me. I’m finding that, as I approach each three-month ‘deadline’, I suddenly remember that I was supposed to have done something (anyone who has even worked in an office and attended regular but infrequent meetings will probably recognise this feeling!) – and the prospect of having to report back is enough to galvanise me into actually getting on with it, if I haven’t already.

Sometimes I find that the actions I intended to take are no longer relevant, or I’ve achieved something else which fulfils the underlying need, if not the letter of the intention. Ultimately, whether or not I succeed in each aim is itself a learning experience: a reminder of how quickly life can move on, as new priorities overtake old ones. But the key message always remains the same: do something.

(The updates, along with their original blog posts, will be collected into a book I am self-publishing this year: The Book Diaries, Volume 1: A Trip Through Time. Stay tuned to this site and my Facebook page for more information!)

And so, as I move from one year’s books to the next, I thought it would be helpful to reflect on what overall changes have happened to me this year as a result of my reading – and where they’ve got me heading in 2016.

Essentially, I’ve gained clarity on what I want to be doing with my time.

I’ve become accepting of the existing freelance work that I do. Even though it isn’t the most creative of businesses, I still enjoy it and have come to terms with its inherent unpredictability. It also brings me a decent income, which saves me a lot of mental anguish fretting about bills; and I don’t spend every day on this work, which frees me up for more creative endeavours.

Speaking of which… I’ve spent a lot of time this year talking about things that I’m going to do, not things I’ve actually done. This is probably due to the random nature of the inspiration I’ve received from my reading! I’ve tried one bright idea after another, only for some to stick and some to fall by the wayside. It’s been a bit frustrating, as I’ve realised that sporadic creativity isn’t particularly satisfying for me – I don’t just want to create stuff, there needs to be an underlying purpose that connects everything together.

Which brings me to… the ethos behind the Book Diaries themselves. If there’s one thing I have stuck with for the whole year, without fail (if occasionally slightly behind schedule), it’s these blog posts. I’ve realised that this is my WHY: the reason I want to do all the random creative things that strike me at odd moments of the day (and night). It’s to feel that I’m taking action, changing my life and constantly moving forward.

And the point is: I don’t just want this for myself. I want to share my enthusiasm for action with all of you, and encourage you to do the same. It’s too easy to feel stuck in a rut, but with just a few small (but regular) changes, you can get your brain into the habit of thinking – and doing – differently. And who knows where that might lead?

I’ve been talking recently about writing up my ‘method’ for creating change from stories, and I’m still working on this. At times it feels almost too simple for an actual book, but then I remember all the things I want to say, and the practical exercises that I really believe can help kickstart you into action, and I am determined to keep going. I don’t quite know when it will see the light of day – but it will happen.

And lastly, all those random creative ideas just bursting to get out? I’ve found the perfect home for them. If you’ve followed my newsletter* for a while, you might recall me mentioning a zine I wanted to create: well, the time has come! I am currently collaborating on a spin-off zine from our radio show Calon Talks Books, which will include my own stuff as well as contributions from other writers. We intend to print the first issue by the end of January, and subsequent issues will come out quarterly. Initially we’re aiming for this to be print only, but we may get it online at some point too: it’s all a bit of an experiment at the moment! Stay tuned for more news… (*You can sign up for my newsletter here if you’d like to but haven’t yet done so.)

Not only this, I may just be inspired to start up a zine of my own, for all the slightly more niche ideas that are perhaps a bit too wild, weird and wonderful for the space I have to spare with others. Exciting times!

So there you have it. At the start of 2015 I was:

  • working too hard
  • not reading enough
  • not producing anything creative

… and now, as I enter 2016, I find myself:

  • still working hard – but smarter
  • reading plenty – and enjoying it oh so much
  • committed to producing two books and two zines this year at a minimum

I feel I’ve finally found the balance between necessary work, creative work with a purpose, and creative work just for fun. 2016 is already shaping up to be busier than ever, but – I hope – full of joy.

What about you?

Have you transformed your reading habits during 2015?

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions to be more creative during 2016?

Please share in the comments below!

Why Having Ideas Is Like Chasing Butterflies

ButterflyI’m making good progress on my book challenge. Three months into the project means I’m a quarter of the way through, which is slightly scary: I’ve gone through 50 years of literature in what seems like no time.

It’s been incredibly illuminating. As I mention in my rationale for the challenge, my aim is not to write standard book reviews; it’s to see what immediate, practical changes I can make to my life as a direct result of reading each book. I’m trying to catch myself right at ‘The End’ and reflect on what has stayed with me; to ask myself each time, “in what way am I now a different person?”

I’m finding that, for every thought that stays with me, there are hundreds more that simply fizzle out. By the time I reach that final page, I know that, drifting out there in the universe of unfinished things and unformed plans, are the wraith-like remnants of once-important flashes of meaning that, ultimately, didn’t have the stamina to make it through and fix themselves in my brain.

For me, this is part of the fascination of my project. I’m aware, as I’m reading, that every page holds some new wonder, some new connection, some new insight into life – and yet, I also know that the human brain is only capable of retaining a certain amount of information at any one time.

I’ve deliberately set out to make this a ‘real-life’ rather than an academic scenario. No matter what crops up that I might want to remember in future, I’m not making notes; I did enough of that at university, and the point of this challenge is to get me up to speed with simply reading again. Not over-thinking, not sucking every last nuance out of a sentence before moving on to the next: just reading, enjoying the story, and moving on.

And yet this isn’t proving to be as easy as I’d hoped.

The problem is rather unexpected. It isn’t that I spend time mulling over the meaning of a bunch of words. It’s the fact that practically every paragraph gives me a gaggle of new ideas of my own that I want to run off and pursue.

Imagine doing the gardening: pruning, weeding, planting, all according to plan, all in tune with the seasons. Now imagine being distracted, every time you bow your head to the soil, by a flight of rare butterflies, colours blazing, wings a-shimmering, sailing past your head and somehow, all as one, breathing a tantalising melody that hints at the strange, far-off places they inhabit – and which you too, if only you put down your tools, can find if you follow them into the wild blue yonder…

Yes. This is what it’s like inside my head when I’m reading. And I can’t believe I’d forgotten that this is what books do to me. They transport me to all sorts of strange places by means of my own creativity, which takes what I’ve just read, feeds on it, and rebirths it in my mind as something new and totally unique to me.

And these newborn babes of my imagination, they scream and they cry and they wail for my attention – and how can I not give it to them? I may not write down notes on what I’ve learned, for I can always read the book again to pick up the sense of it. But I can’t ignore the calling of my inspiration, for she is an erratic little madam and, if neglected, may well choose not to grace me with her unique revelations again.

And so I am not making the progress with my reading speed that I’d hoped – but it is not for the reasons I might have assumed. I am giving in to the lure of the ideas and letting them take wing – much like those imaginary butterflies – and I am following them wherever they might lead.

The last ‘practical change’ I made to my life as a result of reading a book was not something serious or worthy. It was to open a new vein of creativity, specifically with regard to my cat’s blog. It wasn’t what I was expecting, and I’m certain it won’t be what others were expecting either.

That’s the joy of reading. Books can take us to places we never even dreamed of. I’m only three months in to my book challenge, and already I’m beginning to notice a difference, to see the world that is opening up both within my head and without. I can’t begin to envisage where I might find myself come December.

But I am feeling very excited at the prospect.