growing a business

This Is An Exciting Post About Planners & Notebooks

Holidays have come to an end, the school year has started and everyone is back to work down this end of the world. I rather like that we roll in to the new year after a long summer break. I feel enthusiastic and ready to tackle some new and exciting projects.

And, with new projects and a new year comes new planning and the thrill of new planners, notebooks and stationery. To say I'm a stationery lover might be something of an understatement. I've always adored notebooks, pens, fresh pages and new beginnings. They promise adventure, possibility and the vague hope that I might be suddenly re-invented and able to finally master the art of juggling a million balls while appearing (and feeling) as graceful as a ballerina.

I'm a very keen planner - not a crazy "schedule my whole life" sort of planner but a "get stuff done by breaking it down into manageable chunks" sort of planner. I haven't always been good at tackling big jobs without feeling completely daunted by them. I think it's something I learnt growing up but I think I learnt it pretty young. I vividly remember looking at our messy playroom as a young girl and wondering how on earth to tidy it. It felt totally overwhelming. But, my mother was something of an organiser herself and I learnt that everything did in fact have a place and if I just started, first by picking up the dolls and putting them in the dolls basket, then the books back to the bookcase and the cars into the car basket, eventually I'd start to see the yellow vinyl floor again and I'd feel hopeful that the end was in sight. I can't say I loved it but figuring out how to tackle a job, step by step, a bit at a time, is pretty jolly satisfying.

So, planning has stuck with me and my love of planners and notebooks and all things paper has grown.

I had a homegrown system for keeping track of what I was doing for Truly Myrtle last year - a squared soft-covered moleskin journal (the black one), a wall calendar with big squares and a clipboard of printed sheets that looked a lot like these ones. I was actually planning to buy this particular pad after seeing my friend Joanne using one but eventually the cost of getting it to me inspired me to make something like it on my computer and print out pages myself as I need them.

My system worked pretty well. I'd use my moleskine to keep notes of everything that came into my head; ideas for patterns and blog posts, notes from meetings, newsletter planning - everything. Then, at the start of the week (or the end of the one before) I'd make a note of all the things I wanted to tackle through the week and roughly plan out on my weekly sheets when I might get things done. I only let myself have three boxes a day so I didn't go nuts and create a jam-packed schedule that left no room to eat or brush my teeth. My monthly calendar was useful to see further out, count back weeks to work out when I need to get things started and have a more visual idea of how much time I had for things.

But, in about August last year I found myself falling into the trap of wanting to pretty up my system and consolidate everything into one place. For a while I resisted changing what was working. I saw the very fabulous looking Get To Work Book hit the shelves and didn't get one. I started hunting around for new planners, lusted after gorgeous leather notebooks, handmade notebooks and notebooks that claimed to transform the way you worked. Eventually, I couldn't resist any more and after convincing myself that Truly Myrtle needed a planning makeover, bought myself a 2016 Get To Work Book and had it shipped to me at no small expense.

The book itself is sturdy, not terribly attractive but the quality is really great. I love that the pages are thick, I do love the ring binding although being a left hander this drives me completely nuts too because my hand drags all over the binding and I can't write on the right side while it's flat open. It's been really well thought out, the monthly review pages are useful, the column at the start of the week for three action items is useful and I love that it starts the week with Monday and the days are laid out vertically across the page. But, I'm really struggling with it.

At first, I had blank notebook phobia. It took a whole heap of nerve to start writing in it. (Silly isn't it? I have rather a collection of blank notebooks that I can't quite bring myself to write in yet ...) Once I started it was fine. I'm not a terribly tidy planner, I don't embellish my books or use stickers and washi tape to make things pretty. I use them like a workhorse and scribble and write and cross things out.  I do have pen preferences though - I like ball points or ink nibs. Nothing that smudges too badly (again, that left-handed thing).

My main frustrations are with the size - it's just feeling too small. Now, this is completely strange because it's larger than the A4 weekly spread that I was using before. But I'm wondering if it's because I'm aiming to do all my note taking, idea jotting and brainstorming in there too? Even though there are pages included for brainstorming and lists, there really isn't room for all of the things I want to write down.

I'm also finding it a bit cumbersome to find particular pages I'm after. I use the monthly calendar a lot to see where I am and how long I've got for things and although those are easy to find because they have tabs on the edges, I can't keep my weekly spread and my monthly calendar open at the same time and for some reason that's bugging me.

I'm kinda longing for my old familiar system again. Maybe it's still early days and I'm not so good with change?

Also, I've been feeling a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) on the whole bullet journal thing. I used my black moleskine a bit like a bullet journal last year. And hearing/seeing a whole bunch of people talking about bullet journals (including Joeli & Boho Berry) I'm itching to do that again.I've also tried a couple of new things:

  • Yellow legal pads for jotting down ideas that won't fit into my planner - I got the idea from Abbey and they are really great. Cheap, easy to find and not at all precious so no worries about making a mess.
  • Evernote. I'm completely on the fence about this one. I was sceptical about how me and an online system would work and I'm still unsure. I'm using it for keeping notes about my newsletter ideas, plans for pattern releases and podcast interviews. It's pretty clever, I can use it on my computer and my phone and while I'm sure I'm not using it effectively, I actually have no desire to figure out how I should. I totally forget things are written in it. Maybe digital isn't for me?
  • A simple school squared maths book. For keeping notes about what patterns I'm working on, have planned and when I might get them done. I think this might be one too many notebooks now ...

Now I've written all this down, I'm actually laughing to myself. I wanted to change my system mostly because I wanted to consolidate my calendar, moleskine and weekly spread into one planner. Look how many books/programmes and bits of paper I'm using now?

I think I need to go back to the drawing board.

What do you do? Do you have a fabulous system for organising your projects and planning? I'd absolutely love to hear about it.

Designing - On The Needles Or On Paper?

I don't know what I thought designers did before I decided to try being one. In fact, I'm not sure I really know now. I mean, I think there must be as many ways to design a knitting pattern as there are designers. I certainly hear people talking about completely different methods of getting a design from their heads onto the paper.

Some designers talk about "designing on the needles". They try stitches as they go, experiment with shaping, construction and colour combinations and rip back over and over until they get what they're looking for. And then they write it down. Well, then they try to. The most common thing I hear from designers is that when they're designing "on the needles" they invariably make scribbled notes, later forgetting what on earth they've written and not remembering what they've done they have to reverse engineer their design to make sense of the illegible writing (or no writing at all) and numbers (or none at all). "Must make better notes" seems to be a common resolution. It seems fairly universal that we fail to remember specifics of what we've knitted once we've finished, no matter how obvious and easy it seems to us at the time.

Another type of designer plans, swatches and meticulously practices various parts of their design in advance. Writes the pattern and then picks up needles to knit the sample. And "boom" life is easy and they're done. I like that type of designer. I rather long to be that type of designer. Unfortunately, I fear I fall smack between the two types of designers I describe.

I start well, swatch, practice, knit ideas and try things out. Then, I sit down and write the bare bones of a pattern. Often I make charts and knit from those, adding the written instructions later. But, usually, a wee way into my knitting, when I start to see things coming together, I change my mind. I start designing "on the needles". And, it's slippery slope from there into the chaos of scanty notes.

It's easy to get caught up in the ideas and the yarn and the needles and totally forget to write it down. Or, almost worse, make tiny amendments to the existing pattern in front of me, in pencil that is barely legible and smudges easily. And, then make another note - draw an arrow to a blank space on the page and draw a big star in a circle (because that will surely mean I absolutely know that this is the right bit) and scribble something else. Sometimes, I forget completely to cross out the first (now wrong) amendment. Other times I change my mind yet again and with a quick p.t.o. turn the page and write something else that doesn't quite match up with what I had before ... and then the kids run in ... 

My efforts with my computer haven't been that much better. Sometimes I change my mind and decide that actually, what I had first was better. So I want to revert to the original but oh dear, I have rewritten and already saved the new version ...

One of my goals this year is to "make better notes." Hahaha ....

p.s. If it takes me a little while to respond to your comments don't panic. This post will reach you after I've headed off on holiday ... I thought it would be nice to keep my blog posts ticking along so I've written a couple of posts in advance. I'll be back soon!

The Comparison Game

"Comparison is the thief of joy" - Theodore Roosevelt

I never really understood this quote. I mean, I understood the words but it didn't resonate with me. I couldn't relate to it, didn't understand it in my bones. But this last year that's changed, I began to know properly what it meant and it was the first topic that leapt onto my list of things to talk to you about.

Comparison has never previously been something I've battled with. I don't know why. I never wished for different parents when everyone else did, I didn't covet my friends' wardrobes or holidays, I don't feel less than enough when I visit friends in their amazing homes nor lust for a lifestyle that I'm not living. And, I'm not some sort of saint. It just never ever occurred to me to compare. I wonder if it's because as a kid I truly absorbed my mothers mantra of "you can have/do anything, if you just put your mind to it" and I grew up believing that if I really wanted whatever it was that someone else had, it was a choice, not a problem. I really don't know. What I do know is, that if I visit a home that I adore, I'm more likely to be motivated to come home and enthusiastically clean mine, than I am to feel bad about my old sofa and dated decor.

So, this past year, when I have caught myself playing the comparison game, comparing myself and my designs to others, it's been as devastating to see that side of myself as it has been to feel the crushing emotions that comparison brings. It's awful. And, I started to truly see comparison for what it is. The thief of joy.

I want to tell you that I've figured it all out. That I have a tried and true method for putting comparison back into it's box and moving on full of self-worth, confidence and joy. But I don't. This thing is a gremlin that hides behind the curtains for a bit then jumps out and bites even when I'm feeling particularly good.

I'm trying to dissect it. Trying to unpick it and make sense of what's happening. I've talked about it with my mum and she expressed surprise to hear that I was feeling intimidated and unsure after comparing myself with others. She said it wasn't the me that she knew. That made me feel better. Maybe if I can get some distance from this feeling, see it as something that's affecting me, rather than a part of me, I might work out how to beat it. Because after all I am the same person. I'm not wallowing in self-pity and worthlessness - it's just that sometimes, I'm caught off guard.

I've worked out when it mostly happens. First thing in the morning when I reach for my phone and scroll though instagram and someone young and fabulous posts a picture of their  beautiful new design. Now, before we roll our eyes and talk about the downsides of scrolling through social media to start my day, I want to point out that it doesn't happen every time. Just sometimes. And more often than not, whatever they're doing is not something I would wear or design myself. So what is it all about?

I wonder if subconsciously I'm feeling nervous about my age? Maybe it's all part of being aware that I am moving into a new phase of my life? Maybe it's the frantic pace of social media and the feeling that life is moving so fast? Maybe it's my nerves around figuring out my style? Or maybe, like my mum suggested, it's about my naturally competitive nature? I'm  competitive in a quiet sort of way. I love to see others succeed and feel super excited when they do but at the same time, their success makes me feel motivated to do well too. I guess that explains the whole cleaning my house thing I talked about.

My best guess is that it's a combination of factors and perhaps I need to figure out how I'm feeling about being the mother of teenagers, how I can hold on to the pace of life that I want, how I can be gentle with myself about experimenting with ideas while I figure out which ones best represent "me" and how I can turn the negative energy I've been feeling into positive action. But mostly, being kind to myself and changing some of the self-talk that happens when my joy is stolen. I need to start talking to myself like I'd talk to a good friend.

Thank goodness, I know I'm not alone. I hear a lot of talk about comparison in the creative world and I expect it's particularly relevant there because, to my surprise, I've found that producing creative work and making it public is a terrifically vulnerable thing to do. Self-doubt must come with the territory.

Before I go, I wanted to thank you all so much for your incredibly kind response to my last post announcing my return to blogging and my intention to talk about the uncomfortable feelings I've been experiencing. You are amazing and I'm so completely thrilled to have such a generous and fabulous community around Truly Myrtle. Thank you!

Now, tell me you understand Roosevelt's quote too?!

Embracing The Crazy

I really thought my blogging days were over.

As 2015 drew to a close I pretty much decided that I wouldn't blog anymore. I started making plans to move to a new website that didn't have a blog attached to it and instead put my time and energy into designing, podcasting and my newsletter. I talked about it to other designers and they said that this past year I've turned from a blogger who sometimes designs into a designer who sometimes blogs. I agreed.

That change is good. I do feel like I'm a designer now rather than a blogger. It took a while and I still secretly wait for people to giggle when I say "I design knitting patterns" ... but I've grown into the idea and (mostly) I can say stuff like that without getting too flustered. I've had a ball this past year designing and publishing my patterns. My instagram following has grown enormously and it's a great space to give you daily snippets of what I'm up to. I've started a podcast to talk to you about what I'm making and introduce you to some of the cool people I'm meeting and my newsletter has been a fun place to talk to you about my passion of handmade clothes. All in all, I have grown other ways to talk to you and I decided that my blog had become a little redundant.

But over Christmas I had second thoughts. 

I was reflecting on how it's been a fascinating journey growing into a fledgling designer, starting a business and beginning this next phase of my life. And it really is the next phase of my life. I left my paid career in mid-2002 when I had my first baby and, until March 2015, I was a full-time stay at home mum to my growing family. I absolutely loved staying home. I never regretted stopping work, I completely embraced motherhood and homemaking. I made wonderful friends, threw myself into volunteer work that could involve my babies and small children and felt like I was growing enormously and doing something really valuable and important.

Even though I was ready for a change when my youngest baby started school and I was excited to be taking Truly Myrtle into new and exciting places, I wasn't prepared at all for the huge changes I would experience personally this past year. I feel like I have gone though a complete metamorphosis and I'm not sure it's quite over yet.

I've struggled with feelings of inadequacy, compared myself to others, relished in getting my brain whirling faster, despaired at how quickly the hours fly, doubted myself, felt incredibly vulnerable, devoured all the small business information I could get my hands on, loved planning, organising and getting work done and wondered a lot about exactly who I am now, am I good enough and what on earth I'm trying to say. But, I didn't really feel like talking about it because it was all a bit raw and to be honest I thought it seemed a bit silly. I worried I needed to be a super duper professional and slick designer and talking about my challenges was not relevant and would be shooting myself in the foot. I told myself I had to suffer in private and just get over it.

And then, over Christmas I was suddenly struck with the urge to write some of this down. Talk in a bit more detail about some of the revelations I've had. Share with you some of my trickier feelings and talk about a whole bunch of other stuff too, like my new favourite needles and the ways I've found to soothe wrists that are sore from knitting. I don't know what changed. Maybe I'm tired of trying to be something I'm not. I'm a loud, chatty, opinionated and passionate person who talks a lot and has absolutely no qualms about sharing my personal struggles if it helps people feel better about theirs. I suddenly realised that it if I was going to invest blood, sweat and tears into Truly Myrtle I better do it as I really am. Honestly. Does it really matter whether you decide I'm neurotic, deluded and more than a bit nuts? Will you still buy my patterns? I don't know. I guess I'll find out ;)

So, I'm coming back. Blogging has been so good to me and I'm not done yet. It's helped me grow to love writing in a way I never expected. Once upon a time I sat in school and thought I wasn't a good writer. I didn't like it much - all I wanted to do was art and maths. And then I ended up doing a law degree (go figure) and I learnt a little of how to write from my boss in the UK who opened my eyes to the idea of writing with my own voice.  Years went by before I started blogging but over the past three or so years, slowly but surely, regularly writing in this space became a really helpful way to think aloud and clear my thoughts.

I've made a long list of topics I'd like to talk about. Some are a bit esoteric. I'm not sure whether to pick and choose from that list or just start at the top and work my way down. I guess I'll see how I feel on any given day. Of course, I'll inevitably also write about what's right in front of my nose because that's what I really love to do and one thing I'd like to do is rethink how I respond to you. In the past, I've written back to you via email and it's been lovely to get to know lots of you a little more privately. But, I'm going to start writing to you right here on the blog, in the comments. So if you're feeling brave enough to tell me your ideas and thoughts about what I'm talking about, do! And, if a conversation develops right here in the comments, that'd be great too.

Righto, to kick things off I'll give you a post next week - and then hopefully, once a week after that.

Talk soon xxx