6 Things I’ve Learnt about Time Management while being an Intern

Time management – those two little words imbued with so many expectations and strategies, plans, pressures and goals. Sometimes the words seem to haunt me with their wide, ever-gazing eyes, checking my every thought for its relevance and potential for procrastination.

For many the words come with a sense of hemming in, and a pressure that isn’t always conducive to the most creative, or the best work. But we all have to work to deadlines, the publishing industry simply couldn’t function without them. We all have time to manage.

So what can we do to use deadlines to our advantage, and treat time management as a learnable skill, so that everything is done well, and done on time?

Thinking about the various commitments on my plate right now, I’ve realised that my internship with Odyssey has really made me polish up on my own time management. I have set work to do, but there’s no given time or place. There isn’t an office I go to, or hours I have to be there, I simply need to get the work done when and where I can. This flexibility makes my time management all the more important.

Don’t get me wrong, the flexibility is wonderful. It means I can work the internship around my PhD, and my job. My PhD is about 40 hours a week, my job 5-10 and Odyssey about the same.

I’m also dedicated to the idea of time off. But sometimes that feels entirely impossible.

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Sometimes people ask me how I juggle these roles at the same time, and to be honest at times it feels like every task is struggling for my attention at once. But gradually I’ve gotten better at managing my time in a way that means I can get things done but also have the odd day off now and then too.

I thought about all the things I’ve leant since I started with Odyssey and decided I would lay out the top 6 things I’ve figured out about time management during my internship, so here goes.

 

1. Always have a plan

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Or at the very least a “pla.” It can be a shoddy, slap-dash, “imma just get it done” pla/n, but I’ve learnt to always have one. Sometimes mine are very ad hoc, and even just a list of things I need to do, in an order that makes sense to me. Sometimes they are uber detailed affairs, with specific days and time slots. Knowing that I have a strategy laid out seems to relieve some of the weight of the tasks themselves. It’s like the fact that I can stop thinking about how I’m going to do the work means I can just go ahead and do it. Without having this plan in place before, I simply don’t know how to start, and when it’s done suddenly everything seems much more achievable. 

 

2. Don’t be afraid to change the plan

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Having said this, the plan is meant to be aiding you, not binding you. If the plan isn’t working, or worse making your more stressed and stretched out, ditch it, and figure out a new one. (Hint: unfortunately starting tomorrow can’t always be your plan.)

 

3. Do the most urgent/difficult things first

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If you’re doing the urgent and difficult tasks first, you’re much more able give them a good shot and then get them out of the way, leaving you to forget about the deadlines they left looming over your head. While this seems pretty obvious, sometimes it’s really hard not to do the task you enjoy most, or the quickest/easiest job. But in my experience that approach often means it takes even longer, because if you’re anything like me you string out the best part and never get to everything else. Plus, if you do the hardest thing first, then you have the easy stuff to look forward to. Mum was right, dinner before dessert. Although, if the easiest thing is the most urgent then, well, rules were meant to be broken and you better eat the cake.

 

4. Factor in how you need to approach each task

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For me, certain times of the day, and the resulting frame of mind, affect how I approach my work, and how well I can work. For example, I know I can write creatively late at night, but not analytically; I know I can edit early in the morning, but not in the evening; and I know being somewhere noisy/crowded is okay for editing, but not always for writing. Planning the work you’re going to do around where you’ll be, what frame of mind you’ll be in, what time of day it is, will help you to achieve things in the way your brain works best. The way you work is entirely individual to you, and your approach should be similarly so. It’s worth thinking about that first, rather than trudging through tasks when you’re really not in the zone to deal with them. For larger tasks, with lots of different elements, it’s great to break these up into smaller chunks that you can deal with at the right time and in the right zone. I’ve learnt to cater the work to suit me and my mood. 

 

5. Know when you’ve hit the wall

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There’s always a point each of us reaches, when you’ve simply hit a dead end. It might be too late, or too early, or you’re just too exhausted, or confused. But when you’ve hit that brick wall, there’s no use bashing your head against it. So sometimes it’s a great use of your time to take a damn break! Go outside, get some air, have a rest and then come back to it, because when you do, you’ll have a new cognitive sledgehammer at the ready and it will make much quicker work than just using your skull. 

 

6. Finally, don’t let the imaginary weight of your work get to you 

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If you’ve got a plan and you’ve managed your time well, you only have to think about one thing at a time, get that thing done and you can tick it off. Only then can you think about the next one. I find that thinking about everything at once makes the whole list seem completely unachievable and my time is wasted worrying, not working. So take little nibbles, not big bites. Thinking about the bigger picture can be a great thing, but in these sorts of situations I find that it only makes me more anxious and less productive. Scale it down and just think about the job in front of you. Everything else can wait, because those jobs have their allocated time and it’s not now.

So I guess the real moral of this list is that you’re the boss of your work, not the other way round.
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Attagirl!

Characters are the author’s puppets, but they’re people too

There are different ways to read a novel. There are different reasons that we read, different levels on which we engage, different things we get out of it.

Reading through editorial eyes, can be a complicated process. Especially when it’s your own work you’re editing…

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When editing a book you tend to think of it as something functional, a creation with surfaces to be polished and tools to be applied. A construction to be arranged and critiqued until well oiled.

In this endeavour everything to do with the novel becomes equipment. The characters aren’t people, they are tools, puppets to be manipulated. The setting becomes a Paper Mache set, to be painted and filled with props. The plot becomes a series of events to be arranged and rearranged until they’re as romantic, or fantastic, or thrilling as desired.

And it’s easy to get into a habit of reading like this, so that even when you’re not editing or thinking critically about a book, but reading it for pure enjoyment, this same approach creeps through.

It’s certainly a useful way of reading. It allows you to consider the purpose of the book, all of its elements and what it has been made to say, to mean. But long ago literary scholarship determined that the creators of a book and the reasons for its creation, although there to be mined from the book if you wished, certainly didn’t need to determine what a book could say, or what a book could mean.

There’s another, completely different way of reading a novel than that of the critical editor. It involves seeing the book as a world in which to immerse yourself, a world of places, and people and events, devoid of a puppet master who controls them. The novel’s world simply exists, without an author having to create it. Viewing it in this way brings it vividly to life, and allows for endless possibilities of perception and meaning.

Like many readers, fan pages and book clubs do, it’s intriguing to consider the characters as people. To think about what motivates them, what is important to them, and how they interact with others. They are beings within themselves. This is of course the logic that accompanies things like fan fiction.

I’ve been writing a book club pack for a novel Odyssey has helped with. I’m putting together a series of questions that can help stimulate discussion about the characters, setting, themes etc. at book clubs. So I thought about what I would want to talk about in relation to this book, or any book really. What was engaging and exciting?

The book I was writing the pack for, The Bishop’s Girl by Rebecca Burns, is really well written. It jumps between various time periods and characters, from a 19th century bishop to a present day archivist, taking the reader on a tense and exciting journey.  A story of history, discovery and genealogy, The Bishop’s Girl also tackles the pressing issues of the everyday, like marriage, kids, friendships and self-discovery. You can find the book here.

With books as well crafted as this one, it seems a waste not to consider the literary tools used to construct it. Similarly though, some of the most captivating discussions about books come out of their ability to create characters and worlds that are so real that they stay alive even after the author has finished writing them. The ability to imagine and debate what could have happened, why events did happen and what they meant, hints at the captivating authenticity of a well-written book. I thought this approach was especially important given the vivid characters and environments that appear in The Bishop’s Girl.

When writing the book club pack then, I tried to work in questions that asked the reader to look at the book as a device, having a function for the reader, but also as a world in which the people, places and events truly existed.

It made me realise the importance of achieving a balance between styles of reading, between critical and immersive approaches, that I hope I can cultivate better in my future reading. Books are incredible in the many different ways they can be read. You can write a whole PhD thesis on a novel, or flick through the sandy pages on holiday, imaging yourself in the character’s shoes. And I will endeavour to remind myself, as put into words by this blog, to remember, and value, both of these styles. May my reading ever be analytical but also fanciful, constructive but also immersive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judging a Book by its Cover

Recently it was revealed that ebook sales, once booming, have now slumped considerably. Simultaneously, more consumer interest is being shown in traditional printed books. In an article titled “How eBooks Lost their Shine” which you can find here – https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/27/how-ebooks-lost-their-shine-kindles-look-clunky-unhip- Paula Cocozza examines why this might have come about. She suggests that you just can’t do all the tangible things like dog-earing a page, or cracking a spine with an ebook, that ebooks are becoming more expensive and thus not worth it, and that things like children’s books just tend not to work as well in ebook form.

But one aspect which I found particularly engaging about her argument was her hypothesis that ebooks simply can’t be as beautiful as their printed counterpart. Cocozza writes “Another thing that has happened is that books have become celebrated again as objects of beauty.” She emphasises that the cover art, the font, even the binding, can be things of great aesthetic joy; something an ebook could simply never achieve.

While the criticism and dialogue surrounding books tends to focus on what’s inside the cover and what is typed across the pages, Cocozza reminds us that what’s on the outside, this time, does in fact count. The visual appeal of the book is something we experience, in different measures of consciousness, each time we pick it up, open it, close it, and put it down again (despite the often long period of not putting it down in between).

The physical cover of a book is something that can be incredibly striking and meaningful, and this new appreciation of printed books and their clothing is encouraging us to finally allow ourselves to judge a book by its cover.

Social media is certainly on the bandwagon. In fact, there are whole Instagram pages dedicated to displaying the beauty of bookcases, reading nooks and books themselves.

On the gorgeous page Foldenpagesdistillery (https://www.instagram.com/foldedpagesdistillery/) books (always closed and with their covers on display) are integrated into carefully constructed scenes. The backgrounds tend to either mimic the setting or themes of the book itself, as with the tartan and rustic items surrounding Outlander by Diana Gabaldon below…

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Or create a setting which evokes the act of reading itself, the space adorned with flowers, hot cups of tea and reading paraphernalia, like notebooks and glasses.

The colours and shapes of the cover art are mirrored in the surrounding elements of the photo. Here the significance of the cover is truly recognised and considered. It’s not just the ideas inside the book that are important, but also its physical form.

The page Bookotter (https://www.instagram.com/bookotter/) is full of character and similarly adorns the book with objects which relate to its fictional world, reconstructing the narrative in real life objects and images. Again the images and colour scheme of the cover art are mimicked in the surrounding objects, like the wooden board that pairs with the hazel eye, or the pink flowers that match the titular font. This page often brings the natural world, usually in the shape of plants, into shots like this one:

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Another breathtaking page is OliverSkyWolf (https://www.instagram.com/oliverskywolf/) who seems to forever walk around with a book held out in front of him. He captures striking scenes, again often within nature, where the backgrounds imitate the colours and resonances of the book’s cover.

Like this one for example:

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On these Instagram pages book covers integrate themselves into our world, and the foreground book and background world interact with each other through colours, shading, shapes and feeling. The books come to life in a setting which expands the cover into life itself.

In our evermore visual world of social media, so dominated by the immediate distribution of images, it makes perfect sense that Instagram pages like these ones have come to revel in the physicality, the aesthetics and the beauty of the book.

And it’s not just the book itself, its the whole library. A Buzzfeed article simply lists images of beautiful home libraries – https://www.buzzfeed.com/tabathaleggett/home-libraries-that-will-give-you-serious-living-room-goals?utm_term=.tpn0KrXBG#.qj56rbvw7

And they are stunningly beautiful. These home-decorators have used their books to decorate and embellish their rooms. Something I noticed about these different rooms is that without the books it would just be a fairly ordinary space. A lounge room, a bedroom, a study. But in these spaces the books are the focus, their arrangement on the shelves is not just storage, it is expression and style. The delicate shaping of the shelves, the use of light and focus, the arch over the reading chair – all these techniques take books as a design tool in their own right, as pieces of art.

There are multiple methods by which books are displayed – by author, by genre, or the beautifully visual choice of by colour. My personal favourite is the colour-coded wall below, designed by 7 Interiors. It’s so beautiful I can feel tears welling up. I mean who needs art when you have a bookshelf like this?

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I thought about my own apartment and the time I’d spent making my bookshelf look good. And actually, I realised, I’d spent probably the most time of all decorating that one small space, figuring out how to separate the books, how to display them, and which ornaments to adorn them with. Two of my favourite things in the apartment sit on top of my bookcase: my fern and my typewriter. It’s the area that I think looks the best in my whole apartment, and while I would like to take the credit for the breathtaking decorative skill, I’m sure about 90% of any aesthetic beauty is simply down to the books themselves, their colours, shapes and images.

There’s something very special about cover art that takes what a book is about and means and reconstructs it into a 2D image. It must be eye-catching and different. It must be commercial but also aesthetic. It must fit the genre and style but also make its mark so that particular book will standout. It’s a complicated process. The clothing that a book wears can become a work of art in itself, visually stunning and semiotically loaded.

With the decline of ebooks, and the resurgence of printed books, coupled with the highly visual, online culture we live in, this really is the time to appreciate and explore the beauty of our bookshelves. And even better, we now have yet another reason to keep buying books: they’re great for decoration.

 

Reader Consultant – The Job of Tomorrow

Yesterday I went to the library to pick up some books that I needed and while I was there I got talking to a librarian. She was helping me order in a book and we just got chatting. We started out discussing my thesis topic and then moved into young adult literature, and before we knew it we were deep in conversation about all our favourite books. We talked about genres, authors, best sellers, audio books, big books, small books, relatively unknown books, all sorts of books. We talked for an hour, until I realised that my parking was about to run out and I had to sprint back to my car, having not even gotten the books I had gone in there to get.

Luckily, all was well. I got back to my car on time and came out fine-less. But the real victory here was that I (inadvertently) got to do some Odyssey publicity. While chatting away to this woman I had never met before she asked me if I knew any books that her and her kids might like. And I did! Because we’d really gotten to know each other in that hour, I knew exactly what she was looking for, the genre, the age group, the themes, the writing style, basically exactly what would appeal to her and her kids. I told her to go out and get the first two books of a series Odyssey is publishing by Cindy Cipriano, called The Circle and The Choice (they’re wonderful kids fantasy, you can find them here… http://odysseybooks.com.au/portfolio-category/childrens-books/)

And it was a great feeling being able to do that, to suggest something I thought her and her family were really going to enjoy. I got a little bit too excited and wrote down the titles in an only just legible hand. It was like telling someone about your favourite restaurant, except better because books stay with you way longer than even the greatest pizza. As Carrie Bradshaw famously said, literature will feed you more than any food ever could, well she said Vogue, but you get the idea.

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This interaction lead me to ponder all the different ways that people find new books to read. As part of a small press it’s always something to think about – how are people going to know about our books? How are we going to get books out there?

I considered how I normally find books to read. In my case, and I’m sure I’m not alone, there just always seems to be a constant pile waiting. And while you to take books from it, it never seems to get any smaller…. The piles are just never-ending.

books

But I think the most common ways most people find books to read is through sites like Goodreads, blogs, vlogs, catalogues, bookshops, advertisements and social media. Basically, online.

But I think there’s another big, really important one that we often seem to forget, the old word of mouth. Old fashioned, human recommendation. Someone just saying to you, “Hey, I liked this book, I think you might too!” There’s something uniquely convincing about someone who knows you, telling you to read a book. Books are a deeply personal thing and only people close to you are really going to be able to know what you’ll like (or a librarian that you’ve only known for an hour but really seemed to bond with…)

Thinking about all this made me remember an essay I read recently by Margaret Mackey called Northern Lights and Northern Readers: Background knowledge, Affect Linking, and Literary Understanding.” It looks at how the reading of novels is so deeply affected by experience, perspective and memories. It argues that how we interpret what we read is entirely constructed by who we are, that while readers may get similar things out of books it is never entirely the same. Essentially, books are a completely individual experience.

It makes sense then that the most important, the most moving, books I’ve ever read have been recommended by the people in my life who are close to me and understand me, like for example Far From the Madding Crowd, recommended by my Dad, or The Secret History, recommended by my lovely friend Alice. A lot of the books that I’ve read because someone told me I would enjoy it, have quite literally changed my life. These books have completely rewritten the way I think about the world.

Perhaps it was also that these books were recommended to me at the right time, when I was in the right place in my life to enjoy them, when the people around me could see that I was ready for them. If I’d stumbled upon them at the wrong time maybe they wouldn’t have had nearly as much of an impact.

Books are most enjoyable when they fit a certain time of life or experience – they can help you through a breakup or whisk you through a summer holiday. And that’s something people are great at – at taking that random life information and helping craft a suggestion from it, information like: “I’m going to Barbados, I need a holiday book but nothing to holiday-y, if you know what I mean, I don’t want any romance right now, I don’t like crime, I need strong independent female characters, and I hate talking animals… any suggestions?”

Yeah, just try typing that into Google.

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What I realised after pondering all this, is how invaluable personal book recommendations are. And moreover, that whenever we recommend a book to someone else, whether it’s a holiday read or some dense literary fiction, we’re thinking about who they are, what they want and how they would experience it. We’re thinking about their tastes, preferences, previous reads, moods, all these different things about them to find a book to match them. It’s a much more complicated and personal process than any internet site could hope to replicate. And in the process, we all become what I have named ‘Reader Consultants’, those who consult their clients about what books would suit them best.

I mean, why isn’t Reader Consultancy a thing? (It’s definitely not, I checked). But it should be! Much more exciting than financial planning, is the new, bibliophilic planning. Sounds fancy, huh! If Odyssey is looking for a new Reader Consultant, my hand is way up.

Hi, I’m Kate, Odyssey Intern and Reader Consultant. It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

 

 

Life Hacks for Writer’s Block

This week I want to write about something painfully close to my heart, that evil terror, the dreaded writer’s block. We’ve all had it at one time or another, whether writing a novel, an essay, a letter, or even a blog, where it seems physically impossible to coerce you mind and your fingers into creating something even vaguely coherent.

So I thought I could compile a list of potential antidotes that can be referenced if need be (fingers crossed for never). So I racked my brain for what has worked for me in the past, and also went on an online hunt for the most convincing ways to get your writer’s groove back.

And behold, a ten-step solution to writer’s block woes.

Number One: The deceptively helpful act of doing nothing at all

When a piece of writing is driving you absolutely crazy, I think sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away. By giving yourself a little distance you leave behind the negative or convoluted ideas that are distracting you from what you’re really trying to do. With that distance sometimes the crux of the issue, what you’re really trying to say and how you can say it becomes much clearer.

Number two: The opposite of what I just suggested

Sometimes if you’ve tried walking away and it doesn’t work, or you can’t stop thinking about it or you don’t have time to give it a rest, what can work is to just keep writing. Even if you know it’s terrible and clunky and awkward, if you just keep writing at least you’re somewhat closer to getting something down and you can go back and edit what you’ve got.

Number Three: The mighty and unquestionable power of colour-coding

In a second year creative writing lecture I remember my lecturer saying that one of her favourite authors uses colour coding to figure out who her characters are, how they interact and where the story is going. She plans out the series of events by the colour of their emotions. This is something I’ve found really helpful when writing. If I know the emotional colour of what I’m trying to write it’s easier to find the words that describe it.

Number Four: Saying it out loud to a helpful ear

So many times I have been so grateful to a friend that has listened to me trying to explain, and this is for two reasons. The first is that by trying to say out loud what you’re attempting to write you’re forcing yourself to vocalise concepts that you may never have put explicitly in words – you’re forcing your brain into using language without the pressure of writing it down, then you can write it down (don’t tell your brain that). The second reason is that the person you’re telling can contribute real, valuable and fresh insights about what you’re saying and how you could say it. I can’t count how many times a friend simply explaining something back to me in their words suddenly makes my own idea so much clearer.

Number Five: Changing the way you’re writing it

Sometimes a blank computer screen alone can be enough to scare away any decent ideas or sentences that may have popped into my head. When faced with this problem sometimes it helps if I write it somewhere else. A nice colourful notepad or an old lecture pad can be a little less daunting.

Number Six: Changing where you write

The place I can be most productive is never ever constant. Some days it’s the library, sometimes a coffee shop, sometimes just being at home is the best thing to get the creative juices flowing. I’ve learnt that if I’m really struggling to get something on the page a good start is to try going somewhere else. Another thing I’ve noticed is that there’s a correlation between where I can write and what I’m writing about. For example if it’s something particularly personal, or something I’m quite self-conscious about I will work best at home, but if it’s something I’m more confident about I’m more likely to be able to write in a café or public place. Catering the setting to the writing can helpful.

Number Seven: Reading a book/piece of writing you think is really good

Often when I know what I want to say but I don’t know how I want to say it I think about how my favourite authors would have done it. I read a book that I love and let it inspire me. The writing might not be the same genre or style as what you’re writing but it reminds you what good language is.

Number Eight: Reading a book/piece of writing you think is really bad

There’s no such thing as bad writing, but writing is so completely objective in so many ways that there’s always things your going to read and think really aren’t very good. Sometimes I find that reading something too inspirationally jaw-dropping makes me spiral further into the abyss of my own inadequacies. Where as if you read something that you think’s a little crappy you’re suddenly filled with the confidence that you can do better.

Number Nine: Listen to a song that matches the mood of what you’re trying to write

Sometimes I think of writing as like a workout, but for my brain; it’s mental cardio. And just like you need a motivational workout playlist, sometimes you also need a motivational writing playlist. By using music to get you in the mood of the thing you’re writing, you make yourself more likely to emulate it with your language. Sometimes I find specific songs inspire me to write something that I would never have thought of otherwise.

Number Ten: Stop thinking about what the critics will say

Critics will always have something to say, no matter what you write, and if you’re pandering to critics before you’ve even written anything you may never write at all. I think the best things I’ve ever written I decided I would never show anyone. By convincing yourself that it doesn’t matter, that no-one will read it, that it’s just to pass the time, you might be able to allow yourself to write exactly what you need to, not what you think other people might like. Writing at it’s core is about using language to express yourself, so you owe it to yourself to give it a full-hearted, uninhibited go.

So there you have it. I hope this list will be helpful, if only just to me!