Time, but time; the difference between professional and personal time management 

Why is my spare time management so woefully inadequate compared to my professional day-job organisation? 

I had a conversation with a colleague yesterday about organising work, time management etc. and the difficulties people have in general organisation. We also work in the social work sphere, an area of work renowned for lack of resources and work pressures. I understand the struggle, and training is woefully inadequate in these areas of planning, organisation and timekeeping.

I’ve prided myself on my ability to organise my work and effective time management. It wasn’t easy getting to that point. As a case worker I struggled for a long time to get organised, being sucked into the death spiral of child protection casework anarchy. Eventually though, I got to a point where I finally got on track, and this grew and developed as I moved into middle management. Now I feel firmly in control, even in crisis.

With personal projects though, I am a little more scattered. The most succes I had recently was with my NaNoWriMo, and that was at he expense of everything else. In terms of actual projects, the one project at a time approach is good, but I have a range of interests and a range of mediums. It sometimes seems more than can be possibly managed. I imagine I am managing my projects quite well sometimes, and perhaps it’s a case of setting the bar too high with unrealistic expectations.

I feel I need to rethink my priorities and about how to manage them. Some aspects, like photography, have been woefully neglected. I have some impending personal changes as well, including university and moving house, so some allowance will have to be made.

Centrally though, I think the biggest problem is that I have not yet fully worked out how to market myself. I have yet to find a way to tie together my professional and personal aspirations into something cohesive, so that’s where I need to start. Having diverse interests is good, but it’s about tying them together into something productive, marketable and consistent. Only then will it be easier to organise my time outside of work like I do at work.

Ugly duck: 3 reasons why Donald Trump will be re-elected

It’s been difficult to avoid Donald Trump these last few weeks. I had expected a blustery start, but not this near-perfect storm of fascist demagoguery. It’s a terrible blend, like a devastating storm; inspiring fear, terrible to behold, and impossible to turn away.

In the midst of this, it’s easy to think Trump is the storm that will blow itself out. A house of cards of his making that he himself will cause to fall apart. Yes, these things are possible, but it is by no means certain, and the centre, the left, and even the hopeful right, would do well to pay heed to the dangers.

So here are my 3 reasons why Trump will win in 2020.

1. Charisma. Not in the beautiful sense of course. Trump attracts like a bludger. He himself has little real talent, but is able to draw others around him to carry him forward. In many respects, akin to Hitler. Butler had skills to be sure, but in many ways he lacked a finesse of governing, and was happy to allow others to do the hard work. As long as Trump is President, he can accept the management of the likes of a neo-Nazi like Steve Bannon.
In this respect he is an ambivalent source of change. Few I think expect great things from him, but hope that his presence will be the catalyst for whatever extreme change they think needs to happen. For this reason, Trump’s rise and fall does not rely necessarily on success. Indeed, in many respects he has failed even as a winner – 2 million less votes than Hilary Clinton. Massive protests and legal challenges have already appeared in excess.

No, as a centre point for change he holds power; even as a useless man he might still be a useful puppet. People might suffer, but do not be amazed how many of those will blame others rather than him. Those that live perpetually in a world of fear, paranoia and hatred, have the most to fear from rationality. It means accepting your life is the lie. Denial is a powerful motivator.

Trump draws attention, even as a poor President and a poorer man. The left and centre and the placid right revel in gravitas, but there are those that either dismiss it, or they mistake other behaviour for the same thing. Those people are the ones that will vote with Trump, even if they know it will kill them. And they believe their vote is rational, even if everyone else says otherwise. They have genuine fears, even if they are flawed, and these can’t be easily dismissed. They need engagement, and recognition. Without a strategy to win them over, the Democrats will founder.

2.The fanatics. There are many that agree with Trump, his vision, his ideals, if indeed we can apply so lofty a title to such lowly beliefs. These people, like Bannon, and Conway, have a vested interest. After so long on the fringes of extremism they have been pushed into positions of power they couldn’t have dreamed of before. 

These high profile fascists are not the only believers though. There are others who will stand by Trump’s racism, knowing full well they are racist and being proud of the fact. There are misogynists, homophobes, and fascists in plentiful supply. They will believe and follow no matter, because they are believers.

It might have been assumed in the past that they were too few, but as the last election showed they are more common, and more united, than people had realised. They are unconventional, refusing to identify by the established standards, as we saw with polling. It makes it difficult to judge their commitment, how much they might waver (in polling we might look for levels of likely voters, but it’ll be hard to track them that way).  Their vote meant something, maybe for the first time in their life. Seeing Trump in power they get to see a part of themselves, and they share in the power. They might be discouraged from voting for Trump if his failures are great enough, but they won’t vote for anyone else.

3.Duff opposition. This is simple; the Democrats end up with a poor candidate. It’s arguable that Hilary Clinton was a poor candidate. In many respects she was an excellent choice – experienced and intelligent – but there was plenty to undermine her appeal. The emails were part of the problem, but they were part of a wider problem. For years the Republicans and the right in general had been busy attacking the Clinton’s credentials. HRC dealt with much of it well, but she underestimated it’s impact. The emails fed the mistrust, but they didn’t create it.

The Democrats have had a poor record in the past with other candidates, largely underestimating their opponent (like Gore and Kerry), or simply not being up to the task (like Dukakis). They have to pick well. Aim too high, misjudge the political landscape, underestimate Trump, all these could cost them, and the world, dear.

So that’s my 3. Not the only reasons of course, but to me they seem to be the most pertinent at the moment. The subtleties of politics can distort the issues, and other things will influence change (I haven’t considered Putin or his motivations and what may happen there for example), but the bigger and broader issues will always apply. It’s going to be a long four years, and if results like Brexit and Trump have shown anything, it’s don’t take things for granted.

Book Worm: researching a new personal project

You’d think, with all the masses of other writing to do, I wouldn’t be keen on taking up a new project. Maybe give it a few months, hold off, focus. Well, yes, it does make sense, but I’ve always been restless, and this is a project that’s been on my mind for a few years now.

So what is it?

Here’s the one liner – It is a book about Australian country communities and how the decline of rail has changed them.

I need to work on that. It imparts the dry, objective, description, but it lacks sexiness. It’s frumpy. It needs spark.

The working title is ‘The Beaten Track’.

The why’s and what for’s? I suppose I first had the idea living in Mount Gambier in South Australia. There was a derelict station and train line running right through the city (I believe some of it is now converted to public pathways – very smart). There were lots of little towns dotted about that at one time or another had a busy railway, mainly servicing industry. One little town, Kalangadoo, certainly caught my eye.

After travel in Tasmania, with disused train lines weaving their way up and down valleys, and the Western Australia, I came to see that the trains represented an era gone. At that point I began to think about these small communities and how much life must have changed since the industry, and the trains with it, vanished.

So my aim is to develop a book, using interviews with locals and photos, to tell the story of some of these small towns. For many towns the railways vanished decades ago, so if I’m still to reach those who were around at the time now is a good time to start.

Firstly, I need some research. I have zero knowledge about trains, their history or the context of Australian history. I need to know if it’s been done before, or whether there’s an avenue to introduce something a little different. So tonight I paid a visit to the state library in Perth. My little collection of books I reckon constitutes the near entirety of what has been written about trains and their communities. I’m sure more written material is available, particularly online, but the library was a good place to start.

I’ll need to look at the practical elements of a book like this, how to organise it, get testimony, interviews etc. All in good time.

For now I’ve got plenty to get me going, and start the project off. Choo Choo! 🚂🚞

The Big Read: Reading through my novel first draft

I had a moment of empathy for despairing USA citizens and, bizarrely, Cory Bernadi, asking myself “How did this happen?”

While US voters get to wonder about their political naïveté leading to the election of the orange demagogue, and Cory asks himself “how did I misjudge President Trumble so badly?”, I read my novel and ask “How did I write this?”

As the first part of the rewrite, I am reading through my novel. I’m making no corrections or changes at this point, as I’m only making broad notes about themes and issues cropping up. I spend about half an hour reading, then make some notes, and then another half hour and so on. As I read I get to see all the little errors I made, the confusing sections where attribution is severely lacking in dialogue, and sections where I clearly lost my temper and gave up (one line said [what happens here? Fuck.]).

So far I’ve got through about a fifth of the novel, and I’m barely past the inciting incident. It makes me wonder how much I may have underwritten the later sections, but I’m getting ahead of myself. You can’t judge a piece of art by only seeing a section of it, so I just need to be patient. Perhaps the story will organise itself.

I see some strengths. I like the flow of the story so far. There’s action and crisis. I could probably do with more conflict amongst the main characters, but there’s enough. I hope by the end the spirit of the story is holding up. There’s still a long journey ahead.

Rewriting the rewrite

Yesterday I was trying to decide which short story to work on at writer’s club. My choice was made, due partly because the story was already drafted, but also on account of not having other stories uploaded to my cloud…ok, I’ll admit it, the second reason was the real reason for my choice.

So my selected story was the Darken Path, a fantasy horror about a woman who flees into a haunted wood.

The story had already been rewritten a few times, but required some work on the dialogue, passive voice and some repetition. 

The dialogue was quite stilted. I’d originally opted to go for a more formal approach, but this had the impact of making the story seem like a costume drama (to quote some feedback). There were a lot of contractions to put in. There was also good opportunity to clean up pov and give some more description about the main character’s thinking.

I was able to scythe large sections of text that went on about the same thing, giving room for me to work on some sections that are underwritten.

I still have my seemingly endless battle with words like ‘suddenly’, ‘very’ and ‘seemed’. No matter how much I chip away, there always seem to be more.

So I think I’m at a point where I can wrap this one up pretty soon. I’d like to start submitting stories this year and force the pace on some unfinished pieces. With luck it’ll be the start of my publishing journey.

Which shirt shall I choose?

Which shirt shall I choose? That’s easy – black…to match my soul…

Ahem! The more pressing question today is, what short story shall I work on tonight?

It’s Writer’s Club (the first rule of Writer’s Club is, you do not write about Writer’s Club…I am a rule breaker). 

Shall I start again? The shirt thing was a ruse, a segway into a wider topic. So, tonight is Writer’s Forum (I just call it Writer’s Club for fun). We just sit and write. No doubt we look a little odd to onlookers. People come with different projects to work on, or sometimes not, winging it as they go. Some faces stay the same, others come and go. Sometimes people come once and we never see them again, often, I think, because they realise that it isn’t a group where we talk about writing, we actually do it. For many faux aspiring writers nothing is scarier than the idea of actually writing something.

Getting back on track, we write. We have a 5 minute warm up – sit ups, press ups, running on the spot, that sort of thing…not really (chortle). We write for five minutes on a random topic. This works. It helps develop creativity (which I think works well under pressure), and gets us into the habit of writing.

The rest of the writing is undertaken in 25 minute chunks of work, taking a break, and then another 25 minutes, and so on.

I can manage a fair whack in an evening.

Tonight though, I need to pick a story to work on. After weeks writing my novel I would like to take a step back and move onto something else. One of my disappointments last year was the long series of unfinished stories. That has to change. 

The stories on selection are:

The Red Door – fantasy genre – a story about a group of strangers who are forced, one by one, through a mysterious red door and return dead with horrific injuries of battle.

The Little Guy – abstract drama? – s story about a couple that find a small man living in their post box. As he starts to grow larger his importance grows, while the husband of the couple diminishes in stature and relevance.

The Darken Path – fantasy horror – a woman flees a mob into a haunted forest but it transpires she is being drawn towards a dark and malevolent spirit.

I’ll no doubt make up my mind by the time I get there, and I might have a couple more options as well. Tomorrow’s blog, I’ll let you know how I go.

Crisis Management 

Checked my work email this morning to find a number of crises developed overnight, so already I’m the fan of destiny prepped for the bowel discharge of fate.

Time is short on this morning’s bus ride, so this is a short blog entry about prepping for crisis.

1. Keep the routine as much as possible. I exercise in the morning before work. It would be tempting to forego this and head straight to the office, but the short term benefit of an extra hour would be extinguished by the long term break in routine. Better to exercise, be refreshed, and come into work all set.

2. Reprioritise, don’t panic. Crisis does not equal disaster. There may be a number of options available. I had planned on a number of things today, but clearly I’ll need to reorganise. This is different from ignoring what I plannned today – some of it will be quite important. If I need to move things to tomorrow or later it should be controlled and assessed, not simply dumped. That way I maintain control.

3. Communicate with the team. Not everyone will be needed to respond, but everyone should know what the situation is, and depending on the seriousness of the situation be able to reorganise and reprioritise their work. This means holding a quick briefing – I call these Scrums – of about 5 minutes to give everyone the details. This helps the team anticipate need and plan their own workload to help their colleagues.

So there are 3 quick nuggets for managing crisis. Incorporate it into your routine, not the other way round. Have an organised reorganisation of work priorities. Communicate with the team. All this will help develop a cohesive and disciplined response.

Social Work 101

I was brainstorming some ideas yesterday for articles to write. While I’m keen to build a fiction portfolio, I would also like to maintain a professional one too. I’ve got skills and experience (I would like to think), and it seems sensible to make use of them. I suppose there’s also a small practical reason, and that’s writers don’t make a lot of money. Maintaining a professional career is sensible for all sorts of reasons.

I managed a short list of about 30 single or two word ideas. My next plan was to build on these and maybe merge some into workable descriptions. I thought I’d start with a one-liner (25 words or less description of the article) before expanding to a more detailed paragraph.

As it happens, while doing this exercise, I remembered that I had toyed with an idea for a social work book a few years ago, called Social Work 101. The idea was to write 101 tips for aspiring social workers, based on practical issues that arise soon after qualification. Usually the problem being a ‘they didn’t teach us that in our course’ issue.

I couldn’t find the list on computer, but luckily had a hard copy. More ideas basically. I mention this because it reawakens the idea in my mind to develop a book, but it’s also a rich stock of ideas I have ruminated on in the past. For now I’ll focus on articles, and this list gives me more options.

So, getting back to subject, once I’ve developed those paragraphs I can start researching online. It’s possible someone’s written about the topic previously (although social work is not awash with publications), or give me ideas for a new angle. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the ‘Top 10 tips for…’ type of article either.

I could publish the articles myself online, on this blog for example, but that’s not a direction I want to go in. This isn’t about a regular stream of work (I’m paid a good wage for that). This is about a professional project on the side.

I’ll peruse the 101 list to get some more ideas. I’m conscious that I’m more focused on planning activities right now than actually doing them, so I need to move this forward lest I get sucked into eternal planning and no delivery.

Project Planning

You know that saying ‘fingers in lots of pies’, I always think ‘just how big are your hands?’…and ‘I’m not eating one of your pies.’

Well, my fingers need to spread pretty far at the moment (gross).

Shall I start again? I feel grossed out and I’M the blogger.

Projects. I’ve been planning projects. It turns out I have a host of them. In addition to editing my book, I have another book to write. I need to reorganise my photography website AND develop and implement a plan for regular promotion of my work. I’ve got AARGH number of short stories to finish, plus other writing projects etc. There’s painting, which I really want to develop this year. Plus there’s other writing projects. Oh and university, I have university.

I’m also moving house, because nothing promotes effective project work like packing all your belongings into boxes and moving them somewhere just to unpack them again.

I know what you’re thinking – ‘he’s insane, crazy, Donald Trump x10.’

Well it’s possible, but anyone’s welcome to my house so there is that difference.

Yes, it sounds like a lot, but I have managed to develop a pattern of working thanks to my book writing, so I think I’m in s good position to adapt. Realistic goals are needed, taking account of time and personal events (like holiday, which I realise will need some serious early preparation- road trip!). So that’s the work ahead this week, breaking it all down into manageable chunks.

Bring me your pies!

Hemingway was right (& I finished my novel)

The first draft of anything is shit. Hemingway.

So why am I quoting the great one? Well, I finished my novel…after a fashion.

First things first. I finished my motherfucking novel!! WHOOP WHOOP!

Ahem. Let me define ‘finished’ before I get too carried…oh my god I fucking finished it!…away.

So, it’s not finished, not really. As a first draft, it’s done, but there are sections that need rewriting, some chopped, others need finishing. That’s obviously the nature of a draft, but there’s some serious work to be done. Nonetheless, it has a start, middle and end. There is a clear set of events (the plot) and story. The characters are distinctive enough (for now).

I could describe all the things I reckon are wrong, need changing etc, but that will come in time with rewrites. For now, I’m just going to bathe in the celebratory glow, albeit briefly, and reflect on what I’ve gained and learnt from the experience.

This all started out of a NaNoWriMo, and just kept going. To persevere to the end really was something, if I’m honest, and I found myself pleasantly surprised at how much I looked forward to writing more and more.

I found an appreciation for simplicity and action. Too often I ended up in sections that merely described the characters going from one place or another. These were hard to write, and often fizzled out. Once I introduced a sense of action, or tension, then it became easier to write, and much more enjoyable.

Planning out the plot ahead of time made it possible. I did very little character background, inventing it as I went, or relying on brief descriptions. I wrote little world creation, again developing as I went. I didn’t write in chapters, I wrote in sections, with strands of events occurring before moving onto the next. That all help make the writing simpler for me. There’s a trade off that there’s probably more I’ll need to work on, but at least the whole thing is done, and I’ve minimised the risk of endless world building without actually writing.

I’ve learnt how important it is that I like my novel. I enjoyed the story, while accepting it’s flaws. It’s the type of story I would like to read. I think this is why I wanted to persevere.

There’s a way to go. My first job is to get some distance from it. Just get a breather. I want to be clear headed for the rewriting.

My next task will be to read the whole thing all the way through, from start to finish. I won’t make any corrections, or take any notes while I read. Only after I have read a particular section will I take down some notes. Then, I’ll break the story down into clearer sections and, eventually, chapters. This will help me identify the bits I need to rewrite, add or delete, and start the draft process.

So there’s work ahead, but fuck me if I didn’t just write a novel. Yes, it’s shit, but it’s also beautiful. You know people say babies are ugly, but adore them at the same time? I think this is similar…and without the poo and that weird white gunk babies seem to produce (hey, bonus!).

So there it is, my first novel. I’m pleased. I’m proud. And I look forward to the rewrites and watching the book grow.

Holy fuck I really did write a book. Awesome.