Archive for March, 2020

Struggling to write? Tomatoes to the rescue…

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I am very easily distracted – and, as I am my own boss, I don’t have a manager breathing down my throat to make me do the work.

But despite that, I’ve written 20+ books. My secret?


To be more accurate, POMODOROS – named after old-school tomato-shaped kitchen timers which typically counted out 25-30 minutes of cooking time. The idea behind this simple technique is that by dividing any task into 25-minute bursts, we can make it less daunting and therefore more doable. And that includes writing books. Not to mention any other kind of activity – school study, admin, housework or whatever you sometimes avoid doing…

We all get moments when we’re struggling to find focus, especially with a big challenge like writing a novel. Pomodoros make me feel less stressed. I use a free timer on my laptop desktop – this one, if you’re interested – and begin telling myself I only have to complete ONE pomodoro or 25-minute cycle. 

The benefits of 25-minute tomato cycles

  • It’s a short, doable chunk of time – most people, even if they’re busy, can find 25 minutes for something they really want to do.
  • Creative work can be hard to quantify – you might write a scene or section, only to edit or delete it later. But time is a quantifiable thing, so you can measure your progress in pomodoros or 25-minute chunks. I set myself a certain number to complete every day.
  • The process also builds in a 5 minute break after the 25-minutes, before you move onto another pomodoro – neatly dividing your working time into 30-minute sections.

How it works for me:

  1. I set the timer going on my desktop – it’s running right now, and it shames me into not going off and making a coffee/painting my nails/checking Facebook.
  2. I actually enjoy totting up my completed pomodoros, and even exceeding my target.
  3. Mostly, I find it also reduces the pressure on me to produce high quality work or writing in a first draft – so long as I keep going, I have succeeded, however poor the writing seems.
  4. Because, as I’ve learned from 17 years as a published author, good writing involves editing – and you can’t edit a blank page

A definite benefit for anxious writers and those with vivid imaginations

I’ve written recently about how I struggle especially in anxious times, like now – you can read my 3 strategies for dealing with uncertainty by doing nice things in this post.

But when it comes to working, we need a different strategy.

I’ve been using the technique for over 10 years now. I would definitely recommend it – let me know how you get on…

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March news + how to stay calm

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How is your 2020 going so far? I’m loving the signs of spring down here in Brighton – my window box is looking pretty colourful right now!

Writing-wise, I am working on my second Eva Carter novel, but as a born worrier, I keep getting distracted by the news. It’s the downside of having a vivid imagination. Even as a teenager growing up in the 80s, I was convinced we were all about to face nuclear Armageddon.

If you’re anything like me, it can be hard to step away from online news and forums. But this month I am making an effort to do exactly that – so I thought I’d share my strategies for staying sane in scary times.

It’s something I’ve researched a lot, both personally and professionally. I’ve written about anxiety and depression, as well as experiencing both, so I hope this might be helpful for you, or maybe someone you know?

   1: Swap #breakingnews for #calmingfocus

News sites and social media can feed your anxieties. While it’s good to share concerns and know you’re not alone, I find that checking in too often is addictive and counter-productive, especially when things are out of our control.

My solution is finding activities that are calming and focused – it might be reading, or running, or crafting. Anything that means your mind and hands are kept busy so you can’t scroll constantly on your phone. Take some time now to work out which activities you like that can be the perfect antidote.

I have five activities that help me calm down: running, doing tapestry kits (easy ones!), playing VR games, following yoga videos on YouTube and reading.

Running helps me destress & focus on the here and now…

Once you’ve worked out what might help you, make sure you have what you need to hand – and if you find yourself scrolling or getting worried, reach out for your #calmingfocus activities.

 2. Start small – schedule 15+ minutes of calming activities into your day.

Scheduling short periods of calming activities will help. Take some deep breaths before you start and try to do whatever you’ve chosen in a thoughtful, calm way: read slowly, savouring the images and language. If you’re walking or running, focus on the sound and feeling of each step. If you’re crafting, enjoy the textures and the rhythm of each stitch.

At first, it can be really hard to switch off – but I find my ability to become absorbed in something creative, comforting or focused improves, the more often I do it.

Focusing on practical, enjoyable activities helps soothe the mind.

3. To stop stress taking control, try the ‘worry o’clock’ technique

This is a technique I suggest in my 5:2 Your Life book – it’s one I use myself and have found very useful, especially when concerns feel overwhelming and stop you focusing on other tasks or routines.

Basically, you decide to postpone any worries till a time you choose. Maybe ‘worry o’clock’ is 7pm for 15 minutes. if you find yourself worrying about anything – from global warming to COVID-19 – write it down and decide you won’t think about it till 7pm.

At 7pm, read through your list and work out what you can control – and what you can’t. Take action: for example, read the latest government advice, or research carbon off-setting. Make a conscious effort to set aside everything you can’t control.

At 7.15pm, your worrying is done for the day. 

Personally, I found this incredibly helpful. If anxieties surfaced, I’d add them to the list, knowing I would have time to problem-solve later.

If you’re a worrier too, I hope these ideas might help – or share this page with a friend.

It’s not a magic wand for anxiety – I still have a tendency to catastrophise at times. But returning to these techniques helps me calm down…

For some light relief, you could always read my novel, The Self-Preservation Society, which is loosely based on my own anxieties – the character, like me, is an expert worrier until life and love gets in the way…

Please say hello on social!