Sunday, November 29, 2020

Tips for finishing 2020 strong: #1 FOCUS

The finish line is in sight, but it feels like many of us just need that extra little push (or a fruit mince pie or two) to get us over the line. Over the next couple of weeks I'll be sharing some of the tips and things I'll be doing to stay on track so I can finish this challenging year on a high. I'd love to hear how you're travelling over this last month of 2020, so I encourage you to share your tips and experiences in the comments as we go:-) Here's to the end of this year! 

TIP#1: Focus

I saw this quote today and it really resonated, because I feel like much of 2020 has been spent chasing lots of bunnies - uncertain times seem to draw the bunnies out! 

"If you run after two hares you'll catch neither." - Proverb



Don't get me wrong, most of these bunnies have lead to awesome opportunities, but I can't help wonder if I would have arrived where I was headed sooner if I'd have focused more. This is what I'll be doing in December. I'm working on two main work projects and THAT'S IT! Here's how I'm going to stay focused this month:

1. Remove things from my To Do List

A wise mentor recently challenged me to "remove" some things from my To Do List, rather than adding anything to it, or trying to complete it. It's a genius idea, because it really challenges our thought patterns. We are so focused on trying to get through the list, rather than challenge the necessity of everything on the list in the first place. Removing items from your list could simply mean renegotiating deadlines to next year, or delegating so the job still gets done, and you maintain your sanity. What can you remove from your To Do List?

2. Schedule

To ensure the things I need to do don't get pushed aside, I'm going to schedule them in my diary. This includes self-care activities, such as exercising, sleeping, meditating, eating well, etc. I've planned out the days I plan on running and going to the gym, and will make sure I attend my chiro appointment, etc. When we get busy, self-care activities are often the first to fall by the wayside (especially sleep!), which is why we often fall ill. The work will happen - that's a given. It's the other things keeping the wheels on the wagon we need to focus on.  

3. Less is more

For me, the joy of the Christmas lies in connecting with people face-to-face (which has been challenging this year) by catching up over a drink or a meal. Because a number of the annual events I usually go to at this time of year have been cancelled, the events that remain have become even more precious. I am planning on attending these events with gusto and energy (rather than hoping from one event to another as in previous years), and won't feel guilty for doing so.  

These are the three ways I'm going to focus over the next few weeks, I'd love to hear about your plan of attack for the rest of the year - please share in the comments below...


Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Working from home tips: Abbey Robb, www.abbeyrobbtherapies.co.uk

Those chats in the office kitchen can have more benefit than we initially realised, says Abbey Robb. Here are Abbey's top working from home tips to keep us relaxed and performing at our peak:

1. Make a designated space your office space

You don’t need to have a large house to make this work.  It’s ideal if you can set up a room as an office, or allocate one end of the dining table as your work area, but even if you can’t it’s enough to make sure that you sit in a different part of the lounge room than you tend to gravitate towards when you’re relaxing. Give yourself that visual cue that this area is for work, and other parts of your home are for relaxing and you’ll find it much easier to switch off of an evening.



2. Build a routine into the end of your workday

Spend some time to mentally divest yourself of the work you’ve been doing and leave things neatly organised for when you return in the morning. This is especially important when working from home because again, those cues that signal to us that it's time to mentally switch focus aren't there anymore.

Dr. Adam Fraser, a peak performance researcher, recommends a specific 3-step routine to shift focus and be more present. The three stages are:

Reflectspend a little time finishing up your day, making a list of things that need to be done in the future and emptying all those tasks out of your mind. It can also be useful to ask yourself a couple of questions like 'what did I do well today?' 'How did I get better?' This helps people start to change their thinking away from worrying about the future to having a sense of satisfaction for their efforts.

Rest - take a little time to do something that helps you rest. That might be going for a walk, doing a crossword puzzle or making yourself a snack. Find something that works for you to give yourself a bit of mental space and relaxation.

Reset - take a few moments to orient your thoughts towards your home life, your goals and values and how you want to show up there. Allow yourself time to shift priorities and focus on what your intentions are. Maybe you want to really connect with your partner, spend quality time with your kids or celebrate something with a friend.

3. Manage your stress levels

If you don't already have practices in your life that support stress management, find something that works for you - exercise, a hobby, meditation, or journaling. Often we unconsciously divest ourselves from stress through interacting with the social connections that we have at work without even thinking about it. Those chats in the office kitchen are more important than most people realise!

Abbey is an award-winning Integrative Therapist and Clinical Hypnotherapist. She specialises in helping people effect fast and lasting change in their lives. Learn more at www.abbeyrobbtherapies.co.uk



Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Working from home tips: Natasha, Snacks With Bite

For many of us, working from home means we have acquired additional time that was previously allocated to commuting to and from work. We love Natasha's tip of using this time for exercise, which becomes an excellent transition period between work and home time. Natasha shares more of her helpful tips below: 



1. Stick to your normal work routine as much as possible! 

Get up at the same time as you would a normal workday, put on some make up, get dressed into smart casual clothes. This is all about mindset and ensuring you have cues that tell your brain you are at work.

2. Have a workstation set up

This is important to me, as the WFH line between work and home is blurred. My office/desk area symbolises work and when I am way from my desk I am at home. At the beginning of working from home I never really got the time to shut off, my computer was in my lounge room and I found myself jumping on to check email late into the evening. It's about quality not quantity, and a clean, relaxing and inspiring work space has really helped me remain productive. It also helps that I have a Snacks With Bite snack box at my desk, so I don’t go wandering into the kitchen and get distracted.

3. Use your commute time wisely

A good portion of my day used to be commuting to work. Now working from home, I have started using my commute time to exercise. The commute home was where I would decentralise from the workday and switch into my personal time. I have really benefited from exercising; it really helps with stress and boost my mood.

Natasha is the CEO of Snacks With Bite, an Australian based healthy snack delivery subscription service for home and offices. 

Monday, November 23, 2020

Working from home tips: Alison Roberts-Tse, Dance Dispatches

I'm an early riser, and a big advocate of allocating some time for myself in the morning, rather than jumping straight into emails, which is also one of Alison Roberts-Tse's working from home tips. "As a freelancer, as well as an employee who has been working from home during the pandemic, my top three tips when working from home include":



1. Wake up a little earlier for a bit of ‘you’ time before logging in

Although you may be tempted to roll out of bed just before you need to sign in and begin your work, it’s healthier to allow yourself a bit of personal time before you dive into your business inbox. Normally, you’d mull over personal issues during your commute to and from work; but without one, you should schedule some time to decompress.

2. Leave your snacks in the kitchen

The benefits are two-fold. It will prevent absent-minded over-eating; and it will encourage you to get up throughout the day. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to stay glued to your seat. Even short breaks away from the screen allow you to stretch your muscles and give your eyes a chance to rest.

3. Keep your desk clean

There’s a good chance that your home desk is covered with personal items, as well as your necessary work from home kit. A cluttered desk makes focusing difficult, so when you ‘transition’ to work every day, remove items that are potentially distracting.


Alison Roberts-Tse is the founder and editor of Dance Dispatches, a digital publication that celebrates dance around the world.



Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Working from home tips: Dr Melissa Keogh

I am a huge fan of setting alarms in my phone - not just for appointments, but as a trigger for other beneficial activities throughout the day. This might be a motivational mantra, or a reminder for a self-care activity, such as meditation or exercise. I love Melissa's use of alarms to structure her day, as well as her other working from home tips below:


1. Have a daily routine for work days and set multiple alarms to help you stick to it

For example, set four alarms a day to remind you of a) your shower at 8am, b) to log on at 9am c) have lunch at 12.30pm and d) log off at 5pm.

You may be more likely to keep to your routine if you’ve already made a personal promise to yourself, in this case, by way of setting a number of alarms.


2. Get fresh air and twenty minutes of sunshine every day where possible

The D- Minder App can help you determine how much sun is good for you without burning.


3. Have at least 2 hours of wind down time before sleep

No computers, no emails, no phones. Get someone else in the home to change your passwords until the morning of you have to.

Dr Melissa Keogh is a Sydney based clinical psychologist in private practice, writer/columnist and media commentator. Learn more at www.drmelissakeogh.com.au

Working from home tips: Nikki Thomas, Winning in Work

Turning on the TV for a bit of background noise might seem like a good idea when working from home, but it can be one of the biggest distractions. Nikki Thomas suggests listening to music instead. Here are some of Nikki's other tips when working from home:


1. Write a to-do list and stick to it

When working from home we can get distracted by the things around us, but in order to stay productive write a to-do list for the day with your urgent business items and stick to it.


2. Turn the TV off 

So many of us put the TV on in order to have some background noise when working. Choose to listen to music or a podcast instead to stay more productive.


3. Set a reminder to move from your desk 

Without distractions from colleagues we can work for hours without a break. So set a reminder every 45 mins to stretch, grab some water and move away from the screen. It will benefit your well-being in the long run and help reduce burn out.

Nikki Thomas is Founder of Winning in Work, a coaching, training and workplace collaboration consultancy helping people love the work they do and do the work they love. 

Monday, November 9, 2020

How to make decisions: Flip it


While waiting for my coffee one morning, the conversation with my barista turned to the topic of decision making. 
 

What do you do when you have two or three choices, but can only have one? 

Our conversation was in relation to our kids having a certain amount of pocket money to spend, but they can only buy one thing. “Flip a coin”, my wise barista announced confidently. “Heads = this, tails = that. If you’re disappointed with the outcome, then pick the other thing.” 

The penny quite literally dropped. Very true, I thought - either way you’ve made a decision by forcing your gut to make the call. Deep down we all have a preference, but are often influenced by other factors: what others will think, price, the “sensible” choice, etc. 

This strategy can be used for anything from kid’s toys to what to do on the weekend, what outfit to wear, or where to go on holiday. 

Try it! The Next time you’re stuck between two options, grab a coin and flip it...you might be surprised what happens. 

How do you work through decisions? 

Friday, November 6, 2020

FREE TEMPLATE: Weekly Planner

I feel a bit light-headed each time I look at the calendar and realise there are only 8 weeks left of 2020! 

I have some pretty major deadlines to meet before the end of the year, including completing the manuscript of my new book (more on that to come!). 

I usually write my To Do List in notes section of my phone, so it is always with me, but this week I realised I needed to step things up. Because I'm sending a lot of time at my desk, I decided I should revert to a paper list for a couple of reasons:

1. It is always in front of me and will keep me on track when I'm prone to procrastinate. 

2. There is something super rewarding about physically "ticking" something off your list, rather than just deleting it from a note or app on your phone - you can see your progress.

Having set up a template that works for me, I'd love to share it with you, so have created a free printable.  Drop in your email address and I'll email you the link for the PDF >>>

GET IT HERE


Let's crush these last few weeks together and make the most of a challenging year! 

Thursday, November 5, 2020

You never lose

 "I never lose. I either win or learn." 

- Nelson Mandela


A really nice thought to keep some perspective on life when things don't go your way. 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Working from home tips: Dr. Matt Marturano, Orchid Holistic Search

You're in the middle of cooking dinner and that familiar "ping" of an incoming email sounds on your computer or phone. "I'll just quickly check that" you say, and before you know it, dinner is burnt and it's 9pm! Sometimes the boundaries between work and home can become blurred, especially now we're working from home more regularly. It's very easy for our internal dialogue to slip to, "I'll just finish this last task...". Dr. Matt Marturano completely relates to this, and shares his top tips for working from home below: 


1. Set work hours 

When working from home, it is especially easy to find yourself working at all hours of the day and night, with the unintended consequences of neglecting the other important areas of your life. This is why we recommend setting a clear schedule for the hours in which you will be working, and sticking to it.


2. Make a dedicated work space

Having a space in your home that is dedicated to work will help you to stay focused, and to also prevent work from spilling over into your private life. Of course, it's ideal if you have an entire room that you can repurpose for use as an office. (You may also be able to deduct a portion of your mortgage or rent payment, utilities, and other expenses from your income tax if you do this!). If you don't have a separate room to dedicate to your home office, then look for a quiet space somewhere else, and invest in room dividers - or even some curtains on a mobile rod - to set the space apart from the rest of the room. If at all possible, avoid working in your bedroom as this can interfere with your ability to get a good night's rest.


3. Learn some basic computer maintenance and cybersecurity

Working from home also entails taking on a new job - that of being your own tech support. Being able to know how and when to update your devices and troubleshoot common issues, like loss of web connectivity, can save you lots of time and headache. In addition, we recommend to learn some fundamentals of cybersecurity, as attacks on home office networks are increasingly common, and generally easier to pull off. For example, make sure to set a secure password on your router, and regularly update the firmware. Also, familiarizing yourself with how to use a virtual private network (VPN) and enabling two-factor authentication (2FA) on all your sensitive accounts, will greatly reduce your vulnerability to cyberattacks.


Dr. Matt Marturano is the Vice President of Orchid Holistic Search, where he has developed a proprietary six-dimensional approach to candidate evaluation based on the principles of holistic health assessment. Dr. Matt is a Michigan native with a keen interest in systems theory, who in his spare time enjoys playing the piano and planning his next global travel adventure. Connect with Dr. Matt on LinkedIn

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Working from home tips: Anthony Wedderburn, www.allhealthmatter.co.uk

Anthony Wedderburn believes that taking regular breaks is important for our physical health, as well as our mental health. Sitting for long periods is not good for our concentration, and in extreme cases can also lead to long-term health issues, like blood clots. Here are Anthony's top tips for working from home: 


1. Work to a schedule/list 

This will help you clarify what you need to do in the day, which will reduce stress levels. You will be more positive and productive. 

2. Take regular breaks  

You need to have a break from the computer and your desk every hour for 5 to 10 minutes. This will prevent medical problems, such as eyestrain and promote a clear head. I suggest you should make yourself a cuppa, practise yoga and mediation, or a walk around your garden. 

3. Create a happy clutter free work area 

You should make sure you have an abundance to light, and a desk and chair which has been positioned correctly to prevent back pain and other related problems. I would have a few plants around to make you feel like you are outside and you should be happier and calmer. 

Anthony's website, All Health Matter focuses on health and wellness. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

How to get stronger

I have been running for months - shorter distances, longer distances, mixing it up with speed training, you name it, but every time I ran I felt...weak. No matter how much training I did (3-4 sessions per week), I didn't seem to be making progress.

This week I ran a route close to home that I haven't run for a number of weeks, but I can track the time and distance easily. And guess what?! I shaved 2 mins off my previous time! Now that might sound like a lot, but I'm rejoicing in every second. FINALLY. All the hard work is starting to pay off, which made me think of this quote from Marie Forleo:


Hang in there. You will get there in the end.


Thursday, October 22, 2020

Just ask...

"Maybe the universe isn't giving you what you want, because you haven't asked for it." 

- Brendon Burchard 

What do you need to ask the universe for to move your life forward?

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Working from home tips: Lori Cheek, Cheekd

 Lori is a woman on a mission, so staying disciplined when working from home is key to her success. It's all about starting the day right and managing your time. Here's how Lori does it:


1. MORNING RITUALS… begin your day with movement

As soon as I wake up, I start the coffee maker then I roll out my yoga mat and do 30 pushups, 100 sit-ups and 3 rounds of one minute planks followed by a quick stretch. It takes less than 20 minutes and not only does it get my heart pumping and immediately wake me up, it gives me a calm start to the day! Then I grab my coffee, crack open my laptop and begin the entrepreneurial grind already 200 calories lighter!

2. GET ORGANIZED (DAILY)!

When I get to whatever will become my desk for the day, I Organize My Workspace. Having a clean workspace helps me focus and feel structured. After I organize everything, I settle in with a cup of coffee and try to relax for 15 minutes before diving into the hustle. Then, I prioritize my day’s to-do list and map out the rest of my day!

3. SCHEDULING… schedule everything

I've learned that the best way to get things done efficiently is to schedule everything. Put even the smallest of tasks on your calendar and if you don’t complete it, keep rescheduling it until you can mark it as completed. It can sometimes make your schedule appear overwhelming, but once you start knocking things off the list, it feels pretty productive.

4. GET OFF SOCIAL MEDIA… the biggest barrier to productivity

One of my favorite productivity/ organizational hacks comes with the help of an app called Stay Focusd When working from home, Facebook and Twitter can be a major distraction. StayFocusd helps avoid these distractions by restricting the amount of time you can spend on them. The Google Chrome extension lets you set specific time restrictions on certain websites with a 10 minute default option. Once your time has been used up, the sites you have selected to block can’t be accessed for the remainder of the day.

Lori Cheek is a NYC based architect turned entrepreneur, Founder and CEO of Cheekd - a hyper speed Bluetooth mobile dating app that removes the “missed” from “missed connections." After working in architecture, furniture and design for 15 years, Lori came up with an idea that lead her into the NYC world of technology and dating. She completely threw away her design career and is no longer building structures, she's now building relationships. Connect on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter


Working from home tips: Gregory Golinski, YourParkingSpace.co.uk

Pre-COVID, we used to joke that the best thing about freelancing or working from home was being able to work in our PJs if we wanted to. Fast-forward to life in the times of COVID where the reality is very different, and working in our PJs is not something Gregory Golinski would advise:


"My tip for employees/freelancers working from home during this crisis is to get dressed in the morning and never work in their PJs.

If you want to be successful when you work from home, you must dress the part. Sloppy dress makes you feel sloppy and lazy. Dress as if you were going to the office in the morning and you'll be ready to conquer the world."

Gregory Golinski is Head of Digital Marketing for YourParkingSpace.co.uk

Monday, October 19, 2020

Working from home tips: Ilena Di Toro, Just Movie Posters

Prioritising your work is important when working from the office, but even more so when working from home to ensure you stay on track and don't get distracted. Here are Ilena Di Toro's other working from home tips:



1. Do the tasks that have dollar signs attached them first

Now that you are at home, it is tempting to do put off doing your work because the boss isn't around. While you do have flexibility as to when the work can be done, if you don't do the work, you don't get paid. So do the work from your employer first, then as a "reward" for doing your job, treat yourself to other things, such as a snack or watch a television show or movie.

2. Email/call your boss with regular updates

For the times that I have done work remotely for my company, I email my boss on Sunday evening with the work tasks I am planning to do, and she would respond on Monday with any additions/subtractions or just general approval. If any idea or question came up, I would either call her or email her if I didn't need an answer right away. Doing those things show that I was on top of workday tasks.

3. Don’t work in your pajamas

While you don’t have to wear a suit or even your usual work attire, you are at work and you need to have an “on duty” attitude. Clothes help you to have such a mindset. While comfortable clothes, like a sweatshirt and jeans are fine, you don’t want to go too casual. Imagine that your boss wants to do a video chat and you don’t have time to change. In case you don’t know, your old university T-shirt won’t cut it.

Ilena Di Toro is the owner of Just Movie Posters.Com Her website sells theatrical, video/DVD release posters, mini-posters, odd sized posters and movie poster postcards for films such as American Reunion, Bridesmaids, Mulan (animated), Transformers and more. She has been working from home since 2014 and promises she is not working in her pajamas.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

You can't have your cake and eat it too

I've recently enjoyed exploring the benefits of the keto diet (as well as low-carb versions of this), and other lifestyle choices to prevent weight gain, support mental health, reduce inflammation, and slow the aging process. I was initially drawn to the title of the book, The 7 Principles of Stress: Extend Life, Stay Fit and Ward off Fat by Ori Hofmekler, but soon discovered this book is packed with interesting research and recommendations. One part that really resonated with me was the food combinations, which makes perfect sense, reminding me of the old saying, "you can't have your cake and eat it too". The below is an excerpt from the book:   

Right food combinations:

The right food combinations support insulin and resistance to stress. Note that protein and vegetables are the "ultimate combiners" that mix with every food group. Right food group combinations include:

- protein and sugar

- protein and starch

- protein and fat

- vegetables and sugar

- vegetables and starch

- vegetables and fat

- vegetables and alcohol


Wrong Food Combinations

Wrong food combinations impair insulin and inhibit resistance to stress. Such combinations include: 

- fat and sugar

- fat and starch

- starch and sugar

- alcohol and sugar

- alcohol and starch



Vegetables include all leafy greens, tomatoes, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, crucifers, sprouts, beets, cucumbers, pumpkin, and squash. Proteins include protein-rich foods such as eggs, dairy, marine foods, and legumes. Fats and fat fuel foods include nuts, seeds, avocados, peanuts, cocoa, whole dairy, and related butters and oils. Sugars include fruits, honey, molasses, maple syrup, and rice syrup. Starches include whole grains, potatoes, yams and related flours. Alcohol refers to distilled liquor, beer, wine, and alcoholic ciders." 

This list makes it blatantly obvious why processed food is so bad for us. With these combinations in mind, I now feel I make better food choices for myself and my family. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

RECOMMENDED READ: How to Grow Old: Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life by Marcus Tullius Cicero

I've just finished reading How to Grow Old: Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life by Marcus Tullius Cicero. It has been on my reading list for a while, and is a short, easy read. Incredible to think something written in 44BC has so many gems of wisdom relevant to our current lives. This is one quote that particularly resonated with me:  

"And as much as we should care for our bodies, we should pay even more attention to our minds and spirits. For they, like lamps of oil, will grow dim with time if not replenished. And even though physical exercise may tire the body, mental activity makes the mind sharper."


I would highly recommend this book to anyone, of any age. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Working from home tips: Daniel Caughill, The Dog Tale

Freelancers and people working from home quickly realise how easy it is to blur the lines between work and home time. Daniel's shares his advice on how to combat this:



1. Build walks into your daily schedule

When I first started working from home, it was common for me not to step outdoors between Sunday night and Friday evening, and it takes a toll on your ability to focus! Nothing brings clarity like a good mid-day walk.

2. Schedule a hard start and end time to your day

The lines between work and home life can quickly become blurred when you work from home, so it's best to stick to a hard start and end time so you don't find yourself answering work emails from bed at 11 pm.

3. Build household chores into your schedule

One of the perks about working from home is the ability to start the slow-cooker mid-day or to straighten up the living room during lunch. But if you don't create clear times for doing various tasks, your home will constantly be beckoning you with distractions. By building these chores into one master schedule for your day, you'll know when to do these tasks and when to say no.

Daniel is a professional journalist, marketer, and one of the co-founders of The Dog Tale.

Monday, September 7, 2020

RECOMMENDED READ: Caging Skies by Christine Leunens


Caging Skies, by Christine Leunens is set in Vienna during World War II, and the story is told from the perspective of Austrian Hitler Youth enthusiast, Johannes. 

Johannes’ parents secretly hide a teenage Jewish girl, Elsa in their house without telling Johannes. After a few weeks of observing his parents erratic behaviour, Johannes realises something isn’t right and discovers the girl hiding in a niche (wall cavity) in the spare room of his house. 

This book brims with themes and emotions, including Johannes’ mother’s guilt over the loss of their daughter (Johannes sister). This may be one if the reasons why his parents take Elsa in. Then there is the relationship between Johannes and Elsa, which changes as the characters mature and the story progresses. Friendship develops into love, but then obsession, particularly when Johannes' parents both disappear and he is left to support Elsa and his ill grandmother. 

As the war progresses, Johannes realises the control he has over Elsa (who remains hidden in the house), especially when it comes to information. So when the war ends, Johannes delays sharing this news with Elsa, for fear of loosing her. 

I enjoyed the changing dynamics of the relationships between the characters, as well as the resilience they all displayed in various ways to survive this unimaginable experience. 

I listened to the audiobook version of this book, and even though the narrator, Tim Bruce, has a British accent, his pronunciation of German words and names was on-point. 

I personally never tire of listening to war stories told from different perspectives, and Caging Skies did not disappoint. The book was also the inspiration for the movie, Jojo Rabbit, which is presented as a black comedy. Directed by and staring Taika Waititi, as well as Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson and Rebel Wilson, I never thought I’d be chuckling along to kids throwing Grenades or Adolf Hilter’s advice offered to young Johannes. But I did, whilst still feeling like the story had been treated respectfully - a mighty challenge for such a sensitive topic. 

Selected and read as a book for our book club, we were divided on our thoughts towards Johannes’ character and actions throughout the book. However, we all universally agreed that Caging Skies was beautifully written. Leunens paints paints a vivid picture of life during this period, whilst capturing the character's reactions to daily challenges with compassion. A highly recommended read. 

What are you reading at the moment?

Sunday, September 6, 2020

WRITING TIPS: The art of writing dialogue by Sandi Wallace

This is the first post in our latest blog series, Writing Tips for Writers. Australian crime writer, Sandi Wallace, has very generously shared her tips on the art of creating dialogue (and set the bar tremendously high for this series!). We hope these tips inspire you to "play" with more dialogue in your writing - enjoy:-)

Whether you write short stories or novels, genre or literary fiction, dialogue is an essential element. Do it well, and it brings your story and characters off the page and satisfies your readers. Do it poorly, it jars, and your readers lose interest.

Picture a day in which you don’t speak to any living creature. You don’t even talk to yourself, internally or out loud. You manage to fill your day doing things, but there is no personal drama, reminisces, jokes, debates, arguments, flirting or other interaction. Your day of solitude would be full of description, but probably seem quite bland no matter how beautifully you wrote it up.

Imagine how natural yet meaningful dialogue could transform that narrative into dynamic story. Instead of that day of silence, you interact with others and it gives meaning to what you’re doing. Perhaps that interaction creates obstacles to what you need or want. Or challenges your thinking or actions. It might give access to vital backstory. Draw out emotion, reactions and actions between you and the other person (or people). Now you, as characters, shift into truly believable people. And readers are hooked deeper into your story.

While dialogue is realistic and seems natural, it is quite different to everyday conversation. In conversation, a chunk of what we talk about is relatively mundane, and the whole exchange can be little more than a way to pass some time.

We don’t have time to waste in storytelling though. Every word on the page must need to be there. It must move the story forward or develop the characters and enrich the story for readers. If it doesn’t, delete it.

But writing dialogue isn’t simple. There are rules to know and follow. It is an art-form that needs to be practiced. The magic will come from you, the writer, through your characters.


These are some of the key points to consider when crafting dialogue:


2. Make it clear who is talking, but show rather than tell, if possible.
Where it is necessary to name the speaker, keep the tag simple with Jack/Jill said, he/she asked, or other tags that don’t detract from what they are saying, which is the interesting part.

3. Avoid very long dialogue paragraphs.

4. Break up lengthy dialogue with cause and effect talk between the characters or with action or reactions.

For instance, an expert might be giving my character Georgie, who is a journalist, technical information for one of her investigations. He has plenty to impart, but a monologue is boring to listen to in real life and equally so in a novel. So, they’d bounce off each other. Georgie would interrupt with questions, the expert might ask if she’s following, and Georgie would react to the horrible thing she’s just learnt or run a hypothesis in response. The expert’s paragraphs could well be several lines, while Georgie’s might be a single word, a sentence, or a non-verbal response.

6. Give the characters unique voices and be consistent. For instance, use their quirks of phrase or non-verbal gestures (but don’t overuse them).

Someone’s pet phrase might be, “Are you with me?” Another might say, “It’s not for me to say, but…” as they launch into gossip, or call everyone “doll” whether they are male or female.

7. Use colloquial language and slang appropriate to the character – ordinary or familiar, rather than formal or literary speech. Not too many of us actually say “whom”, for instance.

8. Jargon might be difficult to understand, so weave in information that explains it directly before or after the first usage of that jargon, or avoid using it.

For instance, say my character Franklin, who is a country cop, is dreading the various experts about to arrive at a crime scene. I’d write something like this…He muttered to Howell, “Look out – PS.” If the approaching bloke wasn’t from professional standards, it’d be one of the other specialist units. Homicide, maybe.

9. Minimise or cut the mundane, like greetings and farewells. Jump in late, leave early is a dialogue motto worth remembering.

10. Characters can waffle. Repeat themselves. Lose track. Forget the point. Get interrupted. It is okay for this to happen if that serves the development of the character or the story. Take care not to let the scene run on for too long though.

11. Punctuate correctly and consistently. For instance, internal dialogue is often italicised, while spoken dialogue should be contained within quotation marks.

In Australia and the UK, we generally use single quotation marks around dialogue in novels or short stories, while we use doubles for blog posts, and doubles are used in America. Placement of other punctuation marks, like commas and full stops, can also vary in the region you are writing for. In Australia, we generally place this punctuation within the quotation marks, but there are exceptions. 

12. Use a new paragraph to indicate a new speaker. There are exceptions for this too.

For instance…
“What about–“ Georgie’s question was drowned by Kat’s, “Have you slept? You look terrible.

13. Not matter how fabulous the dialogue is, if it isn’t essential, delete it. 

14. Say it out loud. Does it sound natural? Is it awkward? Are there too many repeated sounds? Is it saying the same thing twice? Is it clear who is speaking? Or on the flipside, are there too many dialogue tags?

I hope this post has inspired you to practice the art of writing dialogue. Here are six activities you might like to have fun with.

1. Study dialogue in some of your favourite books or by the authors you hold in high esteem.

Look at the punctuation. The dialogue tags. Other methods they employ to show who is talking. How does this dialogue differ to a real-life conversation? Is it as easy to read aloud as it is to read on the page? Does it sound natural, believable? Have the characters got unique voices and turns of phrase, or do they all sound the same? Do they use everyday, familiar language, slang, common contractions? Or, if they speak very formally, does that suit them? (If they are an English professor, formal language might fit, but it’d sound wrong for a cop on the beat.)

2. Record a conversation between you and a family member. Transcribe that exactly, as if you are a court reporter.

Ensure each new speaker has a new paragraph and include a tag for each change of speaker to specify who said what. Report any non-verbal actions or reactions without interpretation.

3. Write that same conversation as a scene in your story or novel.

Come in early, leave late, and embellish it as much as you like because it needs to be interesting, sound natural and have a point. Delete some of the dialogue tags. Include intermittent tags and responses, reactions and actions of the other character so the reader knows who is speaking.

4. Choose a comic strip or a section of a graphic novel with speech bubbles.

Write that conversation as dialogue in a short story or novel with quotation and other punctuation marks, dialogue tags and non-verbal reactions.

5. Go back to the books you used for the first activity to study internal dialogue now. Internal dialogue is the character’s exact thoughts as they think them.

For instance, instead of, Franklin was wondering when backup was going to arrive, which is passive, I might write…

Franklin fixed on the dusty road past the gate. Where the hell is backup? He needed ten pairs of hands here to his one.

His internal thought is italicised. And as it is captured while it is happening to him, it is in present tense, while the narrative around it is in past tense.

How do your favourite authors manage when the character is thinking? Do they use internal dialogue? Do they italicise the character’s direct thoughts? Do they add tags, like he thought? Or is a tag unnecessary because it is already clear who is having that thought?

6. Write a scene that includes both dialogue between two characters and some inner thoughts of one of those characters.

In writing this scene, make the internal dialogue the direct reaction of one of the characters to what the other person is saying, where it wouldn’t pay for them to say it aloud. Or maybe they think it, self-censor, then can’t help it and say it anyway!

Happy dialogue writing.

Cheers,

Sandi 

Australian crime writer Sandi Wallace is a self-confessed addict of crime fiction in print and on screen. She has four rural crime thrillers and two collections of gripping short crime stories published so far. Sandi’s crime-writing apprenticeship comprised devouring as many crime stories as possible, developing her interest in policing, and working stints as banker, paralegal, cabinetmaker, office manager, executive assistant, personal trainer and journalist, and she has won a host of prizes for her long and short crime fiction. Sandi’s latest release is rural crime thriller Black Cloud, in which a routine police welfare check at a farm in the small community of Korweinguboora has a shattering outcome. She is currently at work on a standalone psychological thriller.

What is Beauty?

 "Love of beauty is taste. Creation of beauty is art." 

- Ralph Waldo Emerson. 



Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Working from home tips: Gabor Fograsi, Linkedin Coach

Gabor is a Linkedin Expert, who worked from home prior to the pandemic. These are his top tips for working from home:



1. Get a proper desk, chair, and a huge monitor for your laptop. 

I know, most workplaces are not paying for these, but this is where you are spending 10 hours a day, so you might as well make it comfortable, and ergonomic. In the long run, this chair-desk-monitor combo can help you avoid medical problems, such as eye-problems, headaches, and spine issues.

2. Get a comfortable mouse and an expensive keyboard too.

These will also make you more productive, allow you to work faster, and prevent medical conditions.

3. Get dressed

Some experts tell you to dress up as you'd go to the office. Shirt, dresses, the whole nine yards. That may be an overkill, but definitely get changed from your pyjamas, do your hair, wash your face. Try to look decent, as people will see you on calls, and your looks will shape their opinion of you.

4. Communicate with your colleagues more frequently, be present in discussions! 

It's very easy to be silent, and not present in the virtual office life. And that is the way to be forgotten, losing promotion opportunities, or your job. You'd like to avoid this being said at a management meeting: "Oh, Steve? I haven't heard from him for a while now, I'm not really sure what he is doing."

Gabor Fograsi is a Linkedin Coach, helping people to get noticed by headhunters. Learn more at www.linkedintribe.com

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Can't or won't?

In her book, Everything is Figureoutable, Marie Forleo talks about the concept of can’t vs won’t. There is an infinite difference between these words. Consider where have you have used them before... 

  • I can’t get up early to go to the gym 
  • I can’t go for that promotion 
  • I can’t apply for that job 
  • I can’t make that call
  • I can’t loose weight
  • I can’t run a marathon 

You know how it goes. Marie suggests replacing can’t with won’t. Seriously - try it. The meaning completely changes!


For me, the difference is that
can’t is controlled by someone else, and won’t is controlled by us. And that’s ok. Maybe you won’t go to the gym early in morning because you have small children who wake up multiple times during the night. So when else could you go to the gym, or how else could you incorporate exercise into your day?

You won’t apply for that job of promotion because you don’t feel you have the skills to meet that position. So get qualified.

What’s the worst that could happen if you make that call?

Weight loss and marathon running all start with one small change or step. 

What was the last thing you said you can’t to, and if you changed this to won’t, what would change? 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Working from home tips: Brooke Simmons, Pursuit Communications

"When I decided to start my own PR agency 12 years ago, the space that was “my office” was a corner of the family dining room with a desk behind a screen for “privacy”.

It was, at the time, sufficient, but I knew it couldn’t be a long term solution. We moved shortly after and I then upgraded the space to a former bar area. (Translation: another corner of a dining room, but slightly larger).

The new space felt more like a “space” and I was determined to make it work and I did, with thanks to my parents. But there were distractions and it wasn’t until I purchased my own place and had a dedicated room to finally close the door on, at the end of the day.

Working from home in whatever space you have can have its challenges beyond the “space” you’ve allocated." - Brooke Simmons



Here are Brooke's top three tips:

1. Use the time you’d normally commute to read, catch-up on news, or exercise 

(if you’re well enough!) catch up on personal emails. Be productive with this time.

2. Start at your regular time

Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you should slack off. Show your employer how productive working from home can be!

3. Dress comfortably but appropriately

I can’t stress this enough on my “at home” days, I still dress my top or bottom half, so if on the odd chance I’m called to a meeting, all I have to do is change into a nice blouse or get out my jeans into a corporate pair of trousers.

Brooke Simmons is the founder of Pursuit Communicationsa full-service public relations, social media, event & influencer management agency. GENERATING PROFILES AND AWARENESS. SUCCESS IN MOTION FOR YOUR BUSINESS



Friday, August 28, 2020

Exercise your mind

 "Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body." - Joseph Addison


Wishing you a wonderful weekend filled with exercise - for the mind and body!

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Working from home tips: Jamie-Lee Kay, The Other Straw

 Mindset is everything, in whatever we choose to do. Jamie-Lee Kay's working from home tips are all about getting your head in the right place... 


1. Get rid of negative emotions

If you are suffering from stress or anxiety, it's a great time to start practicing yoga and/or meditation to help change your relationship with negative thought patterns. These practices can help shift your perspective to lean towards positive thoughts and emotions, and as a result, lead to greater productivity and motivation. There are many great apps available to help get you started. My personal favorite for meditation is Headspace and for yoga, Glo.

2. Challenge yourself

If you have some spare time up your sleeve, then consider up-skilling. From SEO, to social media marketing there are so many (free) courses available online to help challenge your capabilities and skills. 

3. Limit your time on social media and reading the news

Hearing so much dark news can be really exhausting, and take a toll on your motivation and productivity. If you can, allocate daily, set times for scrolling social media and reading, watching the news.

Jamie-Lee Kay is the CEO and Co-Founder of The Other Straw - a social enterprise replacing single-use plastic straws with reusable, ethically-made bamboo straws. Connect on Linkedin, Twitter, and Instagram

10 books you must read

The older my children get the more I think about what wisdom I can impart on them, which will help them most throughout their lives. Whilst I don’t have all the answers (and probably never will), fortunately there are plenty of others who have been down life’s path and have plenty of wisdom to share. Where does one find this “life advice”? In books of course! I’ve read a few in my time, so here are a few of my top picks so far*. 

*Disclaimer: There are many, many more I would recommend, but these ones deal with the big (but often common) topics, which I hope will answer many of their questions about life.  


 

1. The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason 

I hate math. Throughout high-school I always struggled with the subject, and by the time I did my Higher School Certificate the teachers and I were at peace that I just needed to do the level of math which would allow me to pass my final exam. And so began my studies of the subject, Maths In Society. This was one of the best things to happen in my last year of high school (after my first boyfriend, for different reasons of course…). I learnt how to do my tax, accumulate compound interest, build a house, calculate distance, and so much more useful stuff than substituting a bunch of letters for numbers (known to everyone else as Algebra). The Richest Man in Babylon is the perfect book for people like me who “don’t do figures”, but need to know what happens if you don’t take care of your money (spoiler alert: someone else will take care of it for you, usually by swindling it out of you). Written as a series of stories and parables, this book is packed with life lessons, but remains engaging and entertaining from beginning to end. It’s a story… about money. 



2. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert 

This non-fiction book intimately details parts of Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey as an author/artist. There are so many gems in this book, and I guarantee everyone will get something different out of it. The key take-aways for me were Elizabeth’s confirmation that you don’t need to use your art as a career. It’s completely ok if it’s something you do on the side (as often as you can), whilst the bills are paid by waiting tables or doing whatever you need to do to get by and still create. This really resonated for me, because for years I have seen my writing as an all-or-nothing pursuit. Society suggests if you can’t make money out of it, why bother, right? Wrong. When you love something and feel compelled to do it, then do it. Even if you have to support yourself in other ways until you “make it” or so you can continue to do it “on the side”. As soon as we attach money to making art, our motives change. We start to pre-empt what people want – what’s “commercial”. This is where fear kicks in. Fear of being rejected, fear of not being able to make enough money from our art to support ourselves, etc. Remove the fear, and we’re free.  



3. A Fortunate Life by A.B. Facey

The book everyone (especially Australians) should read to understand the adversity people experienced and resilience they demonstrated. We’ve come a long way over the last century, but the irony of the title demonstrates this man’s gratitude - despite the hardships - for his experiences and “life lessons”.



4. The Diary of Anne Frank

Everyone should read this book at least once in their lives. Ideally as a teenager, then as an adult, to get two completely different perspectives of how Anne and her parents dealt with an incomprehensible situation. 



5. High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become that way by Brendon Burchard

This book changed my life, because it changed my perspective. I’m a big believer that the “lens” we choose to look through in life (and yes, it’s our choice) completely influences our experience within the world. 



6. Getting Things Done by David Allen

David Allen’s brain works in a completely different way to mine. His systemic approach to organization and productivity is on another level. Packed with case studies, actionable frameworks, as well as inspiring quotes, this book will set a rocket under your backside. Biggest take-away for me was making decisions about activities. They don’t all need to be done straight away, but decide what, how, when and move on.  



7. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin 

This charming book documents Gretchen Rubin’s “epiphany” on a bus one rainy afternoon, to dedicate a year of her life to a Happiness Project. Every month she selected a different theme: Boost Energy, Remember Love, Aim Higher, Lighten Up, Be Serious About Play, Make Time for Friends, Buy some Happiness, Contemplate the Heavens, Pursue a Passion, Pay Attention, Keep a Contented Heart, and Boot Camp Perfect. Gretchen is an avid reader, and The Happiness Project bursts with inspiring ideas, anecdotes and beautiful quotes, which will encourage anyone to create their own Happiness Project, even if just for a week or a month. 



8. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

This book is often described as the first “motivational/self-development style book. Drawing on stories from renowned “successful” people such as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and many others, this book details a number of different strategies these people employed to get where they did. Whilst money is often the motivation for many of the actions suggested in this book, these principles could easily by applied to any area of life. 



9. Success Habits by Napoleon Hill 

Written in the same engaging style as Think and Grow Rich, Success Habits is delivered in a radio-program style (originally a series of radio talks delivered in Paris, Missouri), or like a collection of short lectures. Packed full of gems derived from personal anecdotes, delivered in a conversational style, this book brims with inspiration and motivational advice on every page. 



10. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (or in fact anything by Du Maurier)

It’s impossible for me to pick a “favourite” Daphne Du Mauier book, but Rebecca is a fantastic introduction to Du Maurier’s style. Du Maurier has an innate ability to create atmosphere and suspense from simple things, such as birds or an apple tree. Her character development is on-point, as is her approach to dialogue and the relationships that evolve between her characters. You can’t go wrong with any of her books. 


What would make your Top 10 Book List? I'd love to know - comment below...