30/12/2016

Friday Favourites: The Mslexia Writer's Diary


As I explained in How a Messy Creative Learned to Love Advanced Planning, my journey towards a more organised life began with a diary.

This year's diary
To be exact, it began with the Mslexia Writer's Diary, which I have been buying and using for eight years now. Here's why it fits my needs so perfectly and why I keep coming back to it year after year.

1. It's got the basics down.

Week to view on the right, space for notes on the left. There's enough room for me to record appointments and plans for every day, and if I need to I can expand on the opposite page. It also has pages for 2017 and 2018 at a glance, a menstrual calendar, and the traditional weights and measures section, which is surprisingly useful! I also love that it's spiral bound, meaning that it's easy to open and keep open, and there's an elastic band to hold it closed.

Week one always looks so tidy!
2. It's a writer's diary.

Each year there is a different theme (this year it's 'The Human Mind') and there are several pages at the start of the diary exploring this theme in-depth. There are also monthly passages from books and exercises on the theme, and each week, quotes from authors alternate with book recommendations. At the back of the diary there are 28 blank pages for notes, and I have been known to scribble over the contact section as well.

Other useful features for writers include a manuscript layout guide, a submissions diary, a key to editing marks, a resources list, and 'The Writing Year', which has details of upcoming competitions and festivals. I'm really excited about the 'Plan Your Pitch' section in this year's diary, it's not especially relevant to my creative writing practice but the list of anniversaries and notable dates will come in handy for planning my blogging!

Last year's diary - surprisingly unbattered considering how long it spent squished in my satchel!
A testament to how well-designed these are.
3. The 'Books Lent and Borrowed' section

I love that this is a feature - so much so I decided it deserved its own tribute. This is extremely useful for keeping track of books I've lent family and friends, and making sure I don't forget what I've borrowed! It's a brilliant bookish bonus.

Waiting to be filled with titles and names!
Do you use a paper diary? Do you stick to the same one every year or do you change it up each time? Let me know in the comments or tweet me!

You can buy the Mslexia Writer's Diary directly from Mslexia. 

28/12/2016

Charity Shop Wednesday: New Year's Eve, Part 1


This week my Charity Shop Tuesday post is on Wednesday because I had to retake some photos! Oh, the blogger's life. Anyway, on with your irregularly scheduled content:

I love my boyfriend, but, if there's one thing I miss about being single, it's spending New Year's Eve with my friend Barinder. We lived together at uni and even afterwards we made a tradition of always celebrating NYE together. We went to the most random bunch of places:
  • We tried to go to see the central London fireworks, but were too late to get a good spot, so instead we said Happy New Year on the street. After a failed attempt to find somewhere in central London, we ended up in a pub in New Cross,where the music was terrible and the people worse. We left about 4 am, we would have left sooner except that we were waiting for a man who wouldn't leave us alone to go to the toilet and give us the chance to get away clear!
  • A cocktail club that had just opened - we got a Groupon for two drinks, but the first drink was the least alcoholic punch of all time (they may have let it sniff some vodka, that was all). Thankfully, my second drink was a very rumtastic mojito. We left when they started playing Shania Twain, and moved onto Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes, where some backpackers tried to chat us up and I taught Barinder my 'dance' to 'Telephone' by Beyonce and Lady Gaga, which basically involves acting out the lyrics.
  • Beach Blanket Babylon - a couple of years before it was on Made in Chelsea. They didn't have a cloakroom so we had to leave our coats with the guest-list woman. It was very pretty but men kept squeezing my waist as they moved past me. I counted, it happened 11 times.
Despite all the random stuff that happened and the high price of everything on New Year's Eve, I always had loads of fun. We'd always end up giggling and taking silly pictures, fending off weird men, and finding our way home in the small hours.

Another one of my NYE traditions - and one that endures, even now, is wearing something new-to-me for New Year's Eve. It would be far too expensive to buy a new party dress every year, so I hit the charity shops. Check out last week's post for all my tips for thrifting party dresses.

At Beach Blanket Babylon. Also I am a ghost.
In fact, in the picture above I am wearing no less than four items from charity shops: a black dress that you'll see in next week's post, the purple shrug that I'm going to write about today, some clear plastic bangles that I bought after a bunch of bloggers got obsessed with them, and a muffler. The latter will also feature in a future post, it's at my parents' house so I need to rescue it first!


This shrug is a classic example of one of those items that seems like a good idea at the time but turns out to be slightly rubbish. It's purple! It's glittery! It's...itchy. Oh, metallic thread. I assumed that after New Year's Eve I'd mostly wear it in the summer, but because of the itchiness I don't want to wear it next to my skin. And it's not warm enough for winter with those short sleeves.

I should make more of an effort to work it into outfits, because it's so purple I can't bear the idea of redonating it. I suppose I could have a go at lining the sleeves. What do you think?

20/12/2016

Charity Shop Tuesday: How to Buy Party Dresses from Charity Shops

'Tis the season to be sparkly, so today I thought I'd share some of my tips for thrifting party dresses!


How To Buy Party Dresses from Charity Shops
  • Start looking at the start of December, when charity shops put out the dresses they've been saving all year. It's also good to check in May/June, which is when they get them out for school prom/university ball/wedding season.
  • If you're shopping outside of these times, do ask the staff if they've got anything in the back that you might be interested in. When I volunteered at a charity shop we used to keep all the nice stuff that wouldn't sell in the current season in bins/hanging up in the back.
  • Most charity shops will put all their formal and party dresses on the same rail, but it's worth checking the casual rails in case something's been misplaced.
  • Check carefully for stains. Dry cleaning is expensive so people often donate stuff that's got a few marks on it.
  • That said, take 'dry clean only' instructions with a pinch of salt - google the fabric to see if it really has to be dry cleaned. I've bought lots of 'dry clean only' clothes in charity shops that have washed just fine by hand or on a low spin cycle in cool water.
  • Plain dresses can easily be dressed up with accessories, or embellished - add beading, sequins, ribbons - do whatever you want to make it your own.
  • Many fabrics can be dyed - so if the dress isn't quite the right colour for you, check the label.
  • A looser-styled dress can easily be altered if it's too big. If you need to, you can even get someone to sew you into it once you've got it on!
  • If you're like me and are too small in the bust to hold up a strapless dress, you can add straps to strapless dresses, and/or sew a strapless bra inside the dress to help it stay up (here's an example from Skunkboy).
  • If you buy a dress with a full skirt that's got a bit deflated, you can wear a tulle petticoat underneath - or, if you don't want to buy a petticoat, another skirt or two.
Let me know in the comments if you have any more tips! If it's workwear you're after, I share all my tips for shopping, both in charity shops and for new clothes, in my course Planning Your Work Wardrobe.

16/12/2016

Why Being a 'Mood Dresser' Doesn't Work


As I explained in How a Messy Creative Learned to Love Advanced Planning, I am not a natural planner. I enjoy being creative and following my whims - especially when it comes to getting dressed in the morning! In an ideal world, I would be a mood-dresser. I would choose every outfit each morning so that it fit my mood perfectly.

But as fun as being a mood-dresser can be, I decided to become a planner instead. Mood dressing is just too stressful, and here's three reasons why:

1. If I don't know exactly what mood I'm in, I panic

Often, I wake up with an outfit idea in my head, or put one together when I'm in the shower. Often, but not always. Most days of the week, I just want to look and feel good and I don't really care what colours are involved and what silhouette I'll end up with. It's those mornings that would lead me to stare at my wardrobe, trying to decide what I wanted to wear and how to put together an outfit. After five or more minutes of staring, I'd panic and put on whatever combination first sprang to mind.

Once I was dressed, I'd start feeling uncomfortable and unhappy with the outfit. A glance in the mirror would confirm my suspicions were correct. Something about it didn't work. The colours weren't coordinated, the silhouette was wrong, I looked too casual. So I'd decide to change skirt or swap cardigan - only to make the outfit worse! Inevitably, I'd glance at the clock, panic again, change back into the first outfit, then go to work feeling self-conscious and dissatisfied.

2. It's time consuming

All that staring and panicking and changing takes up an enormous amount of time. Mornings are rushed enough without wasting time worrying about something as superficial as clothing.

I believe that it's better to get this small detail taken care of in advance so that getting dressed can be as quick and pleasant as possible. Once the outfit planning is out of the way, mental energy is freed up for other purposes.

3. It doesn't take practical considerations into account

My moody, creative mind didn't have the slightest clue what clothes are clean. I'd frequently decide that my heart was absolutely set on wearing one particular item, for example, a pink top. Then the real trouble would begin, as I'd discover that none of the clothes I usually wore with that pink top were clean and would have to come up with a new combination on the spot.

Even if I was having one of those glorious mornings where I woke up with an outfit idea in my head, I'd usually find that I couldn't wear exactly what I had imagined because the tights in my mental picture were in the wash. So I'd have to swap them for another pair, which would mean that the matching cardigan would also need to be replaced and more and more time would be wasted.

Mood dressing would only be a practical choice if I had an extra half hour every single day for choosing outfits - and if that half hour could not be used for any other task!

In the real world, there are better things I could do with that time, ways to spend it that leave me feeling satisfied instead of frustrated. That's what lead me to create my system for wardrobe planning, and develop it into a course that can help you too.

My favourite thing about my Planning Your Work Wardrobe system is that you can adapt it to give yourself just enough flexibility to keep your inner mood-dresser happy, while still having a functional plan that will see you through morning after morning. So - are you a mood-dresser, a planner. or something in-between?

13/12/2016

Charity Shop Tuesday: Party Skirt


This is the first in a series of three Charity Shop Tuesday posts about party wear. We're kicking it off with perhaps my favourite find of the three, the ultimate party skirt.

One day I saw a big bright blue skirt in a British Red Cross shop and thought it was beautiful. I looked at the label, but it was at least two sizes two big for me. I started to walk away, but then the neurons started firing.

Shiny polyester? Check.


Layer of tulle beneath? Check.


Unfamiliar Next logo? Check.


Is it Eighties? I hoped, desperately. Please let it be Eighties! I picked it up, took it to the changing room, my heart all a flutter. Let it be so. Please, let it be so.

It fit perfectly. Thank god for my familiarity with Eighties sizing. It always pays off. I felt like I could twirl around in it for hours. I bought it, filled with glee.

What I love about this skirt is everything, except for the fact that the label tells me it can't be washed (it probably can, but I haven't yet dared try it). I love that it's so big and sticks out - it begs to be danced in. I love the colour. I love that it's so dressy - I can pretty much wear any kind of top with it. It's glamorous enough that I can wear a t-shirt and it'll look fantastic. Jumpers look full-on festive. In fact, I almost prefer to dress down with it, as it makes the skirt look even more fabulous.

The only problem is that as it hangs in the smaller wardrobe, away from the dresses, I sometimes forget it's there. Maybe I should make this post my home page so that I'm constantly reminded.

What's your favourite party outfit? How do you feel about full skirts? Yay or nay?


09/12/2016

Friday Favourites: Google Keep

I didn't plan for my Friday Favourites to be exclusively about apps, but as it seems to have gone in that direction, I decided to talk about an app that I find really helpful for organisation and productivity

I first downloaded Google Keep as an alternative to the default note-taking app, Memo, on my old Samsung Galaxy SII, as I wanted something a bit more flexible, that would allow me to make lists to check off. Since then, they've added one useful update after another.

One of my favourite things about it is that you can save notes in several different formats. As well as straightforward text and lists, you can also draw, add photos, and record voice/sound notes. You can pin notes so that they always appear at the top. It has the Archive function, like Gmail, so you can remove old notes from the main view without deleting them, just in case you need them later.

Google Keep can be opened in-browser as well as in-app, so I frequently use it to make notes when I'm out-and-about that I will then look at and make use of on my PC.

Here are three of my most frequent uses for Google Keep:

1. To-buy lists

I tend not to use it for to-do lists, as I prefer paper systems for those. But it is really useful for quickly making a shopping list or keeping track of things I need to buy.

2. Transferring a single photo from my phone to my computer to put in a blog post

I add a photo note, hit sync, open up Google Keep in my browser, and there it is.

3. Notes on writing projects

I've been using Google Keep to write scenes for novels and short stories for years. If inspiration strikes at an awkward moment, I can quickly type up the scene on my phone, and then later copy paste it from Keep into the main document I'm using for that project.

I also used it when I was working on my Planning Your Work Wardrobe ecourse - both for preliminary notes and for longer pieces of text. One day I was on the bus when suddenly I knew exactly what I wanted to write on the course landing page. I opened up Google Keep so that I could save that perfect copy before I forgot it, and then I could easily refine and polish it later on my PC.


Above you can see a pinned photo that I used for the cover photo on a Facebook event for #drinkYA (a YA fiction social/networking event I co-host), a note to remind me about a short story I want to write, and two to-do lists. One of the lists is for today - I can check everything off now and archive it - and the other is a note of things to do to promote my ecourse. There's also a reminder to look for a 'bad lip reading' Star Wars YouTube video my colleague told me about!

I've tried quite a few of the different note-taking apps out there, but the reliability and features of Google Keep have made it my favourite. Do you use Google Keep, or do you prefer a different app? Let me know! I'm pretty attached to it, but if there's something better out there, I'm open to giving it a try!

06/12/2016

Charity Shop Tuesday: Buying the Same Thing Twice


About nine years ago, I bought the shirt in the photo below, new. It's jewel-purple, comfortable, and flattering. I loved this shirt so much I wore it for my BA graduation.


I did not love it as much as that pink bag, but both were to meet a sad fate:
  • The pink bag, being made out of cheapy fake leather, eventually disintegrated. The only part of it that's still intact is the pocket, which I cut out of the lining with a view to reusing it elsewhere.
  • The purple shirt, being made out of polyester, melted one day as my mum was ironing it for me. The collar was left with a weird blackened and twisted patch. My mum suggested we remove the collar off. I suggested I cover it up with something. Cue literal years of procrastination.
In the meantime, when I found a bright pink version of the same shirt in an Oxfam shop, I had to pick it up.


They are identical, except that I still have the belt that came with the purple shirt, and the pink shirt's belt is missing.

You'll note that the purple shirt now has a sequinned collar - that's how, after the years of procrastination, I decided to cover up the melted bit. I finished sewing on the last of the sequins a couple of days ago and I'm very happy with the result. It's not perfect, but it's wearable once more.


The sequins are also recycled - they're from an old top of my mum's that was unwearable after the elastic stopped working.

This isn't the only item I've bought in two different colours, but it is the only one where I bought the first new and the second from a charity shop. In every other case, I bought both items from a charity shop, but never at the same time.

Have you ever bought the same thing twice? I love that I can find items I loved again in charity shops!

02/12/2016

How a Messy Creative Learned to Love Advanced Planning


I have always thought of myself as a creative person.

I was a kid who was very proud of the fact that she could write acrostic poems that rhymed. Whenever my parents dragged me to a DIY store I would go around collecting samples of wallpaper and paint chips to use in collages. As I grew up I discovered other crafts, and started writing more and more, and my idea of myself as a creative person solidified.

For a long time I believed that creative = messy and disorganised. Creative people don't do routines, I thought. Creative people love things to be spontaneous and unpredictable! I didn't challenge these beliefs, even when my responsibilities threatened to overwhelm me. I love being busy, so I said yes to everything. My life got chaotic and I frequently forgot social events and meetings at university.  Once I double-booked myself and then slept in and didn't go to either meeting! It was embarrassing, but more than that, I hated that I'd been so unreliable - having prided myself on being resolutely reliable. I always turned up and got things done when I said I would - until I didn't.

There was no way I could remember everything I was supposed to do, when I'd decided to do so much! I didn't want to cut back on my commitments, so I got a diary, and everything changed forever.

I'm still a massive fan of the Mslexia Writer's Diary after seven years!
Being organised was wonderful. I knew exactly where I was supposed to be when. I put all my events and activities in my diary, and I never double-booked myself again. My brain was suddenly free to devote itself to a higher purpose - I found that I was more creative now I wasn't struggling to remember dates and times. I could see upcoming deadlines, and I started to plan for them, rather than letting them catch me by surprise.

Over the years, I've gone from just having a diary to having a range of systems I use for different purposes. I have routines to make everyday life simpler, and processes for planning elements of my life to make them easier.

Sometimes people comment that the way I live seems very rigid and controlled - but it's exactly the opposite! With routines and scheduling and careful planning, I have actually set myself free to do more of all the things I want to do! I can think critically about how I use my time and make adjustments so that I can focus on particular projects or spend more time with loved ones.

I'm not perfect - I cannot keep my desk tidy and have to clear it out and rearrange everything every few weeks - but I am more productive and happy than I've ever been. I frequently find myself advising other people on organisation, and I'm happy to share my tips. I've found that advanced planning brings advanced peace of mind, and isn't that something everyone could benefit from?

I've decided to write more about organisation, as it's benefited me so much. This post is the first step, and my second is my first ever ecourse: https://www.udemy.com/planning-your-work-wardrobe/?couponCode=1010JAN16, which goes in-depth into the system I use to plan my outfits for work when I'm going through a busy time or just want to give myself more brain-space in the morning. I'm using it right now, because the temperature in London is below zero and planning all those layers first thing in the morning is too much!


Let me know in the comments how you feel about being organised - is it something you've embraced already, or do you feel like you need more guidance?

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