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It's one of my goals, and indeed one of my sanity-saving actions, to write every weekday. It doesn't have to be long, it doesn't have to be powerful, moving stuff, and most of all, it doesn't have to be perfect - it just has to happen. Last year I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (personal hero) and for any creatives out there wondering - yes, you need this book. This was definitely the beautiful, articulate kick up the arse I had needed to get started on a passion project of mine that I had always shied away from - the typical reasons held me back: 'What if I'm not good enough?' 'What if it's shit?' 'What if everything I do is total tripe and I get humiliated by putting myself out there?'

In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert basically takes those fears and exposes them for what they are - lies and road blocks. There are always going to be a thousand reasons not to do something, and if you're in that headspace, go and read that book immediately. But to those of you that are willing and ready to fuck it all off and say: 'To hell with it, I'm doing it!' - I'm so glad you got here. I wanted to list some of the things to do, or bear in mind, that made it easier for me to be a consistently crap writer every day, and show up anyway.

EMBRACE THE BRAIN DUMP:
I absolutely loathe the phrase 'brain dump', but sometimes, that's exactly what it is - have you ever had so many thoughts in your mind that you can barely keep track of them? I'm right there with you. In my worst moments, these thoughts can bundle up on me and manifest in anxiety or worse, an anxiety attack.

One of the ways I've found to combat this is to just write - open a notebook and let the pen do the work. Take all of the intellectualising out of your writing process and let whatever happens happens - the freer the better! Ironically, it takes discipline to let yourself go, so if you find this difficult at first, stick with it. Some people find the idea of the Morning Pages, which Julia Cameron discusses in her book 'The Artist's Way', to be very accessible. The idea of writing when you're still not fully conscious and weighed down by your day is an attractive one, and I've definitely had really fruitful writing sessions half asleep! You'll find your way of letting it happen but that's the trick: let it.

WRITING ISN'T A DESTINATION:
I think a lot of us can be guilty of holding the process of writing to being some sort of holy ritual - the tortured artist alone, in front of a keypad, furiously working away at their piece, burning the midnight oil and watching the world go by. Writing happens everywhere. I've woken up and written the first and closing sentences of a story in the Notes app on my iPhone. We've all seen beautiful prose and poetry captured on Twitter in perfect chains of 140 characters or less. Writing can be the ten line poem you jot down on a napkin in Pret. There isn't a 'right time' or 'right way' to get to work, and I think the sooner we realise this, the more we can be open for inspiration to hit us whenever. Isn't the worst thing ever sitting in front of a screen and waiting for *it* to happen? Not to get to 'woo woo' on you, but you act as a vessel - the ideas come when they do. So be prepared - carry a pen and a notepad, make sure you have a note taking app on your phone. Wherever you're at - stay willing. Open yourself up to be inspired.

BE PLAYFUL:
One of my favourite things to do is prompt myself - once I took myself through the alphabet, writing a 500 or so word piece based around a word that began with the letter 'a', 'b' and so on. It was really frustrating at times and restrictive, but at other times the words just flowed, and it was so rewarding to enjoy the ups and downs of that process. Something I've never done, but I think might be quite fun - spend one week writing down ten prompts a night, one each on scrap paper. By the end, you'll have 70 different prompts. Draw a piece of paper and stick to that prompt each night for the next 70 nights. You would've completed over two months solid of daily writing without even thinking about it!

LEARN THAT A CRAP PIECE DOES NOT MAKE YOU A PIECE OF CRAP:
I think Elizabeth Gilbert basically says in Big Magic, 'I encourage you to go out there and be average'. And there's a really loving reason why she says this. Writing regularly, like working out, is so much more about forming the habit and committing rather than nailing the form and output every single time. Of course you're going to write atrociously sometimes. Of course there will be days when you feel really frustrated with yourself and things just aren't clicking. That's what being creative is! But for every 10 of those days, how great does the day when you nail it feel?

MEASURE YOUR WAY:
This might be a personal one, but I am a goal-oriented person - I do better with stuff I can measure and tick off (my love of the tick box shall be saved for another post). One way I keep myself accountable and motivated? I promise to write minimum 1000 words each time I sit down to write. I'm not overly concerned with these being the *right* or perfect words, I just know I have to hit that marker, and then I can go ahead with my day and carry on as normal. The editing process I go through at the beginning of my writing sessions usually clears out the extraneous stuff from this process. It doesn't always work - some days I don't hit the 1000, some days I easily stream out 2000 or even 3000 words. But the marker is set, and I use Word Count Tool to help me account for that. It's not a perfect science and it won't work for everyone, but I've found it invaluable.

RECOMMENDED READING:
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
On Writing by Stephen King

Towards the end of last year, you might have read some fairly non-committal posts about a difficult time I was having. Whilst I didn't (and don't intend to) go into explicit detail about those months, I do feel like in the interest of being my truest, nastiest self, it's time to open up a little more about the not 'sexy' stuff.

There are times throughout life where you'll come to question yourself - not in a doubts and worries way, but in a deeper, foundation of who you are and who you want to be in the world kind of way. When you're in them, it feels all-encompassing and never-ending. It can feel like it's going to go on forever. Maybe it does - maybe it's all part of a cyclical process and we just experience different ways to move through pain and hard times. But these moments can dredge up every little thing from your past that you thought you'd put to bed, but hadn't. They can hurt and punish you in ways you're unprepared for. And it can seem as though your world is coming apart.

If you've lived through, or are going through this right now - this one is for you. On this 'Blue Monday', I hope writing about what helped me get through a very tough season in my life helps even in the smallest way and if you take nothing else from this, please, please know you're not alone. Please talk to people, even if you feel like they're sick of listening. They're not. One good thing about reaching a limit or 'rock bottom' is you'll be surprised at the unexpected ways life will show you to get back up again.

YOU'LL WANT TO FIGHT ALONE - YOU CAN'T.
During the time that I moved out of my own place and into a rented room, I realised how much I had leaned on unspoken support from people in my life, and how bad I was at asking for help once that support had gone. From friends I had never thought of came the biggest help - a car ride to shift stuff from one place to another, a day spent eating almost every item on the breakfast menu, an offer of a walk at work, just to 'clear the air'. Lean on people when you need them, but know when to distinguish those moments. Sometimes you can get too in your head - others are there to help keep you in the present moment. Coming out of your hiding place, in a physical and emotional sense, has to happen in order to let healing happen.

REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE.
This might seem in opposition with the point above, but alone time can be good too. In fact, it was exactly what I was looking for last year. After crying for too long, when there was nothing left to cry about, I made a list. A list of where I wanted to get to within myself, and how I thought I might help myself get there. My list went something like: love myself, value myself, make myself proud. And to do that, I got back to writing every single day (my favourite and most effective form of therapy)*, I took up meditation and I made sure to write down my personal goals and get focused on my life again.

TURN OFF UNHELPFUL NOISE.
Another important step for me was taking half days to put my phone on airplane mode and disconnect from social media. I know some people don't need to do this or feel uplifted by being connected to others via these platforms, but working in social and then living on it in my free time was draining me of energy and making me feel inferior. In every perfect, styled picture I could only see how much I'd failed, and how distant I felt from my own life. No one makes posts about not eating because you don't feel comfortable going down to the kitchen, or brushing your teeth at work because that feels most like home to you. But that was where I was, and every day I was reminded of that in stark contrast to the lives of other people I followed who were happy. Getting away from that was so, so necessary.

IF THE ROOT OF YOUR PROBLEM IS A PERSON, HONOUR THAT.
For me, I was engaged in a toxic cycle that was taking me further and further away from who I was and keeping me trapped in behaviours that weren't real. I could pinpoint this down to one relationship in my life and one of the most painful things about that time was coming to the realisation and, eventually, acting on it. It isn't easy cutting someone you care about out of your life, but if they aren't making you feel good about yourself (or worse, if they're actively making you feel bad about yourself) or adding to your life, it's time to get gone.

BE ACCOUNTABLE, BUT DON'T BLAME YOURSELF.
In those weeks, I acted in ways I'm not proud of. I was absent, I wasn't a supportive friend, I lost my temper and blew up at people I love dearly and could see myself doing things that weren't in line with my values. It was easy to feel shit about myself. It was easy to blame, or guilt-trip. But by keeping yourself in that mentality, you perpetuate the cycle and keep yourself down, trapped in bad behaviours and bad thoughts. No one is perfect, we're all just trying to deal with our own shit in our own way. Try to remember that you're only human, and give yourself a break. That doesn't give you carte blanche to be an asshole, but if you've done wrong, apologise, make things right with those who are truly worth your time and move on.

EVERY DAY MIGHT NOT BE GOOD...
... But there is something good in every day. Try to practice gratitude as much as you can - it might seem wanky and lofty, but I promise - if you can find just one thing and note it down (mentally or physically), it can really make a difference. You'll just have to try it and trust me on this one.

I really hope you remember to take care of yourself first, and then others, and if nothing else, please don't forget to ask for help if you need it. I'm also here if you ever want to talk - in the comments, or privately via email. I'm extremely good at sourcing memes and puppy videos.

*Hi - just a note to say, writing might not work for everyone and that's okay! If you prefer something a little more physical, have you tried out Yoga With Adriene? She's a total babe.

Over Christmas, one of the things I worked on was building up a regular reading time in my day, every day, and it seems to have stuck (fingers crossed!). I got through around four books in the month of December, so I thought I'd write some little baby reviews of what I've read so far, and let you know what is currently in my 'To Read' pile! Let me know if you like this format, and hopefully I can keep this up throughout the whole year to check in.

WHAT I'VE READ:

HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD
J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany
⋆⋆⋆
Spoiler-free review! It hurts me a little to only give this script a three star rating, because anyone that knows me will know how much I love the HP books and how much I love JK Rowling. Having seen the play, I should have known that the script was never going to live up to the experience, and whilst it was so lovely to relive some of the fantastic moments, there's nothing quite like being there. It was an extremely special day and you'll have to trust me, the words on the page are so much more when brought to life.

GONE GIRL
Gillian Flynn

I wasn't sure whether to give this a two or four star review, and that's more or less how I felt about the book. I didn't know whether I REALLY liked it, or just felt ambivalent about it. The writing was compelling in places and once this book hit its stride it became a real page-turner, but the lack of empathy I had for either character kind of meant that the book didn't affect me as profoundly as it seems to have others. I enjoy falling in love with characters and this book was sort of the antithesis of that. Also, I've heard a lot of people were upset about the ending, but it seemed to me about the cleverest outcome. Definitely one I'm unsure about, but I'd recommend it just to be able to hear more opinions about it!

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN
Paula Hawkins

I found this book a lot more instantly gripping than Gone Girl and whilst I didn't like any of the characters (again, it's a story of an anti-hero), the read was a lot more pacy and easy-to-digest. I found the narrative voice a lot easier to get along with than that of Gone Girl, and I also liked how the story was constantly moving - it didn't sit and dwell too long on any one event. It's also, on a side note, a TOTALLY inaccurate representation of Witney, somewhere I lived up until recently, but it's quite endearing to have certain references be quite close to home. I'd say give this a read, if only to find out for yourself what all the fuss is about.

TEACHING MY MOTHER HOW TO GIVE BIRTH
Warsan Shire

Top marks for this stunning book of poetry - Warsan Shire landed on my radar as a result of being used in Beyonce's 'Lemonade' movie last year, and I'm so happy to have been introduced to her. Her voice is so developed and so assured, so beautiful and haunting and captivating to read, I read through this in around half an hour. Sensual, honest, raw and carnal, the imagery she conjures up is animalistic, familiar and unfamiliar. The experiences she speaks to I feel connected to in some way, the references to Arabic in the language were like speaking to a long lost family member. I consumed this book and would happily do the same with any other poetry of Warsan's I was able to get my hands on.

BLINK
Malcolm Gladwell

I'm almost done with this January read for the book club I'm part of and I have to say that I have loved it! The book discusses in some depth the power of making blink-of-an-eye decisions, of gut feeling and how, very often, it can lead us right. I've found it so interesting and without wanting to spoil any of the book, it has been particularly eerie to read certain passages considering what is happening within American and British politics at the moment. A very thought-provoking read and a nice, digestible length so the concepts aren't too lofty or intimidating. Pick it up if you'd like a non-fiction read!

WHAT I'LL BE READING NEXT:

SWING TIME
Zadie Smith

THE MUSE
Jessie Burton

GIRL UP
Laura Bates

Boxing Day sales have kind of become a weakness for me the more I grow into this whole adulthood thing and get wise to the heartbreak of 'stuff I wanted before Christmas postal dates magically halve in price after December 23rd'. Yes, the cynic in me hates that the 'January sales' creep earlier and earlier every year and the number of advertising emails you receive about said sales borders on harassment at this point but dammit, there are deals to be had!

A biggie for me is usually the Space NK sale, which I get early access to as an Ndulge member. I usually enjoy a good Christmas Eve browse through cult brands like Diptyque and Kevyn Aucoin, pick up a few bargains and lay my merry head down ready for Santa. So this year, optimism and card at the ready, I browsed to find...

Two things. Two. And yes, I could be very holier-than-thou and say it was all down to maturity and discipline - I wish that were fully the case - but actually, the selection just weren't that great.

I AM very happy with what I did get though. The Christmas Diptyque candles are usually included in the sale and literally the last scent left in the selection was Liquidambar which, coincidentally, was the only scent I liked from this year's collection. I snapped up the miniature version for £17 for my desk through winter - I'm very much looking forward to this spicy infusion of nutmeg, cinnamon and brown sugar scenting the house!

Another Christmas stock I always keep an eye out for at discount is the Aromatherapy Associates collection. I love the bath oils I have from this brand and really do find their blends work like medicine - nothing quite makes me feel as relaxed as their Deep Relax bath oil, nor does anything wake me up like the Revive Morning blend. So when I saw the Star Jewels set on sale for £17, I added it to basket quicker than you can say 'scrub-a-dub-dub'. I am SO looking forward to pamper nights with these.

So there you have it - short, sweet, but a lovely treat. Did you pick up anything in the Space NK sale?




TO EAT: JOSIE'S

We started our day in Winchester starving to the point of hangry, so as luck would have it, Josie's, which had come recommended to Jaye and I, was centrally located and right next to where we parked in the city. 

Josie's fare is simple and scrumptious - think avocado toast, hot chocolates with lashings of cream and multitudes of squirty sauce flavours to choose from, and fluffy banana bread and pancakes. Just look at those bakes! It took all we had not to leave with pocketfuls of snacks, or waste away our whole day trying every item on the menu. The vibe was chilled and cozy, and prices were reasonable. A definite must-stop before hitting the shops in the centre!

TRY: The caramel banana bread with vanilla cream, or the croque monsieur.




TO SHOP: CONSORTIUM

A little ways down the road from Josie's was the beautiful Consortium - with bags of kerb appeal, there was no way for me to pass this one by. Adorned with bright, patterned scarves, cute wall art and copper wire baskets and fairy lights a-plenty, this is a perfect pitstop if you're looking to do some gift-buying or pick up some knick-knacks for your home. I'm a big fan of their pieces of furniture dotted about the shop - make sure to visit the rooms towards the back!

PICK UP: Quirky illustrations and prints, birthday presents for friends, and cute cards and stationery.


TO SEE: WINCHESTER CATHEDRAL

Any post about Winchester wouldn't be quite complete without the cathedral, and this one is a real gothic beauty. The heavy fog on the day we visited actually quite complimented the building, which seemed to rise out of the mist like it was a part of the spectacle. I got a quick peep inside - our time was limited, so we didn't fork up the £8 to head indoors - I'd happily come back to have a proper nosey around. The stained glass windows and beautiful stonework I saw looked well worth the entrance fee.

CHECK OUT: Bookworms such as myself will be totally geeked-out to know that the Cathedral is actually the final resting place of Jane Austen. When Jaye told me this I think my eyeballs almost popped out of my head.





TO SHOP: THE HAMBLEDON

I'll be honest, the exact words that came out of my mouth as we strolled around this shop were: 'I have found my heaven'. This shop brings together so much of everything wonderful - ban.do stationery, cute banners and decorative touches, coffee table books and travel guides, luxe chocolate brands, more niche beauty and candle brands not carried by your average shop. It's a beautifully curated place, and feels like an Aladdin's cave of delights - go upstairs and you'll find a notebook you didn't know you needed, head down and there's a bouquet of faux blooms to adorn your side table with. It's the perfect quirky lifestyle store - enter at your own risk, and gird your purses.

PICK UP: Faux blooms, decorative drinks straws and pom-pom banners, and REN skincare.
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