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Word. Notebooks – It’s Going to be a Good Year

8 Feb

word-notebooks-list-masters
It’s February? Where did January run off to? What about all those projects I never finished from 2013?

Then there’s an “Aha!” in the back of your mind : Word. Notebooks, the task-masters. Our staff loves them not only for their hipster style, but also their built-in organization system that rocks our busy multi-tasking world. It’s like a life-hack in a pocket-size notebook that has the power to turn your 2014 into a year of goal obtaining, to-do crushing, never forgetting something fabulousness. Here’s a sneak peek at the way you can tackle your lists with the Word. system :

European-Paper-Blog-Word-Notebooks-Detail

They’re honest, simple, and have great style – what a genius idea to keep you inspired to get organized this year. Shop Word. Notebooks right here »

PS – For a limited time, all orders under $75 get a flat rate $4.95 shipping! And of course, all orders $75+ get free standard shipping. Enjoy!

11 Time-Saving Techniques for at Home or On-the-go

6 May

In this day and age, we all want a few shortcuts to make our lives easier – whether it’s chopping all the vegetables for the week on Sunday so we can just toss ingredients together to make healthy meals during the week, or packing our car with our workout gear so we can take that hot yoga class after work. Here are a few tips I use to create more time in my life:

  1. I keep a yoga journal and a One Line a Day journal by my bed with a pen. That way I can always get at LEAST one line written, even if I am feeling uninspired or sick. I know that I can always write at least ONE line. It removes the pressure of having to write more and the feelings of disappointment if I can’t.
  2. I prep my Thermos and tea bag and put it in my work tote the night before. All I have to do is grab my bag and head to the car! I get my hot water at the train station, but you can always set your coffee machine timer to start brewing your coffee or boiling the water in time for you to head out the door.
  3. I keep a change of clothes – a pair of yoga pants and a top – in my car along with my yoga mat.  If I happen to have the time to squeeze in a class, I can!
  4. I schedule a half hour in my afternoon to create and go through my To-Do list for work and for the stuff I have to do at home. I ensure that each task is manageable and if it is a long term goal, I break it down into smaller steps to achieve that goal. Right now, one of my long term goals is to write and illustrate a fairy tale for my daughter. My subtasks or steps include: buy notebook to scrawl out my ideas, search the web for fairy tales to read for inspiration, create the main character, create her best friend, etc. Checking off each step shows me I am coming closer and closer to my final goal.
  5. My best friend, an aspiring chef and food blogger, preps a week’s worth of food on Sundays so she can have healthy meals on the go during the week.  It saves her time and money being able to grab a healthy packed lunch instead of heading to the cafeteria for greasy unidentifiable meat. If a week’s worth of food sounds like a lot, try to make a few snacks for the week instead and build up from there.
  6. As I take the train to and from work, I use one of those hours to just meditate and have some Me Time; then I use the other hour to email myself lists of things I need to get done at home or at work.
  7. I have found that carving out time for myself, actually putting it into my calendar like an appointment ensures I stick to it. Would you blow off a doctor’s appointment that was scheduled? No, so don’t feel like you can or should blow off time for yourself. Carve out time for YOU, whether that is indulging in a bubble bath or just taking a nap.
  8. In my day planner - I use a traditional paper one – I keep track of everything: my work assignments, birthdays, meetings, yoga classes, etc. I find that having everything easily accessible allows me to get a good overview of my day or my week. That allows me to schedule my time appropriately. You can use a pad of paper and a pen or your smartphone, but make sure you carry your list of things to do with you so you can slowly take the steps towards fulfilling all the goals on it.
  9. After each outing with my daughter, I replenish her diaper bag with all the essentials so it is ready to go the next time we go out. I don’t have to run around at the last minute and make sure she has bottles or a change of clothes; I know everything is in there.
  10. Whenever I make homemade pesto, I make extra and freeze the unused portions in an empty ice tray.  I can easily pop one out and use it in soups or for a quick homemade pasta dish.
  11. Whenever I find nice candles, or a cute tea towel, or a good bottle of wine for a decent price, I immediately pick it up. Having these small gifts on hand takes the pressure off going to someone’s house empty-handed whether it’s for a birthday, house-warming or another event.

These are just a few of things that I do!  What time saving techniques do you have?

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Meet the Writer: Akhila Jagdish is a writer and a senior editor at The Crafted Word, an editorial services company. She loves making lists, collecting journals, reading, drinking wine and cooking. She is always looking for a good book, a new pen or a yoga class! 

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A Handful of Tools & Tips To Help You Organize Your Office

26 Jan

Organize Your Office with the best of the best at EuropeanPaper.com

1) Moleskine Folio Professional Filers (Set of 3) (12 x 9.5)
2) Exacompta Exacard Wirebound Business Card Holder (8 x 6)
3) Blackwing Luxury Large Notebook & Folio Cover (7.5 x 10)
4) Exacompta Exaboard (9.25 x 13.25) (Rhodia pad included)
5) 2013 Planner Sale (with savings up to 35% off!)

Tip #1: Label EVERYTHING!

You know that feeling when you first get a label-maker and you just can’t put it down? Revitalize your office and give yourself an energy boost by picking it up again. Go through old folders that can be re-purposed, finally stick a label on that junk-box you threw together on the top shelf, and label the spines or covers of your notebooks for easy reference.

Tip #2: Start Nesting

Sounds odd, right? Nesting is basically the act of purging the things that distract you and clutter your office, while finding homes for the necessary items like your pens and pencils, folders and notebooks, and other office items. Putting things in their rightful place on a daily or weekly basis will keep your office tidy and you’ll finally remember where you put that darn business card of a friend you’ve been meaning to contact.

Tip #3: Add a Pop of Color

Whether it’s a nice, bright file folder, or the funky lamp in the corner of your office, remember to have a couple vivid hues surrounding you to brighten your mood. Try to keep all the colors cohesive though, as we’re not suggesting you work in an office decorated like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (unless you’re an avid fan). If you work inside the majority of the day, color will remind you to smile from time to time. (And don’t forget to actually pop out for a walk around the block a couple times a day – nothing is better than exercise and a bit of fresh air.)

Have a quick tip for office organization? Add it in the comments below!

The Not-So-Elusive Key to an Organized 2013

21 Jan

This time of year, every venue offers you tips to organize your life, improve your situation, save money, save time, lose weight and be happier. Most advice involves buying more, doing more, or finding time and labor-intensive ways to do more with less. Let me offer another option … LESS.

Period. Own less. Do less. Be responsible for less. Enjoy life more. 

Collectors vs. Hoarders

Organizational fanatics usually collect lots of things, but they keep everything organized, so they fool themselves it’s somehow better than hoarding. I still struggle with organizational delusions. That stopped when I started to notice how much of my life was being absorbed by organizing, maintaining, and handling all my many “things.”

Now, I’m taking action.

Baby Steps

I’m creating a better 2013 for myself by eliminating things. I’ll always write long-hand in addition to my digital creations. I will always swoon at the smell of ink and paper, run my hand over sheaves of nice stationery, and want to take every writing utensil I see for a test drive. I know this about myself, so I’m learning to work with it instead of against it.

Being a writer and a tech geek means I collect more “stuff” than most. Paper, pens, pencils, desk supplies, cords, chargers, accessories and ways to carry, store, and organize it all thrills me! It is my biggest hurdle. Once I started paying attention, I realized I always reach for the rollerball in my purse when jotting notes and I always reach for my special fountain pen when I’m at my desk. All my other handwriting implements remain untouched.

When on the road, I reach for the best no-tangle charge cord for my phone/tablet and the small, most powerful charger block – so why do I sort through the dozen or so that collect in my computer bag and purse? I always grab one tech bag … so why do I own a slew of them? Some girls have shoe collections; mine are books, writing implements and tech gadgets. I own two laptops and a desktop, but always grab the same light-weight ultrabook, even when I’m working at home.

Rather than having a dozen notebooks and journals, I’ve trimmed it back to a small stock of excellent quality composition books and a luxury leather cover to make using these workhorse notebooks a pure visual and tactile delight.

The more things I have, the less I appreciate each individual thing.

Stuff = Time

Stuff requires time: YOUR time. First you must determine what you want, then locate it, make the money to buy it, mentally justify the purchase, deal with the packaging it comes in, find a place to store it, and begin feeling a grain of guilt when it sits there unused. It’s a huge responsibility. Pretty soon, the grains pile up and you find yourself in a buried. 

Purging Toward Freedom

The best part of an elimination purge is tossing projects that have been around, unfinished, for years. I realized the things I wanted to do in my 20s no longer really fit the “me” of today. Give yourself permission to change your mind about projects, hobbies, and pursuits. I don’t feel guilty for old unfinished projects now. I tossed them out. Instant relief.

I’ve discarded books (BOOKS for goodness sake!) in my “to read” pile. If I’ve not read those stacks in the last few years, it’s probably because I really prefer the ones I actually have read. More guilt gone.

Despite my love of the printed word and actual ink on paper, I read ebooks more often, especially those I will only read once. That eliminates physical clutter and I can keep a huge library of books on a variety of topics without dusting, storing, or organizing them. My physical library has been reduced to my leather-bound classics and reference books.

I’ve had art supplies for years that I want to use, but never did because I was busy managing all the other obligations in my life (many of them the result of juggling too much stuff). I’ve sorted and pruned my art implements and now have the time to use them. It’s nice!

Take the plunge!

Life is too short to spend all your time dealing with things that don’t matter, aren’t perfect, or you don’t enjoy. If you decide to take a purging approach to your new year, let me advise you to keep only the best quality of the things you really love. If that means tossing a dozen so-so items and buying one awesome one, do it!

It’s difficult to purge, but you will love the results! I promise. I’m living proof.

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Meet the Writer: Angela Allen has been creating online content for small business clients since 1999, when she had to use a painfully slow dial-up connection. Now, she specializes in real estate topics and organic content marketing for entrepreneurs on a gloriously high-speed connection. When she’s not writing for WickedWriter.com clients, she enjoys the discipline of living small in her high-tech cabin deep in the woods of Kentucky, blogging on WickedBlog, and enjoying the pure tactile titillation of going “old-school” and writing with a fountain pen on luxury paper.

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Link Love: Productivity Tips & Resolutions Help for the New Year

18 Jan

We could all use a bit of a boost this time of the month. Resolutions were made, and perhaps are not as present in your mind as they were right after New Year’s, so take a moment to peruse the links for inspiration, motivation, and a brief moment to relax and read!

Lost Coast Post: How To Complete a 365 Challenge

FastCompany: 11 Productivity Hacks From Super-Productive People

365 Letters: 2013 Letter Writing Topics

Forbes: Ten Resolutions The Most Successful People Make And Then Keep

Plannerisms: Fitting your Goals into your Schedule

Frugal Guidance: Use Evernote to Remember ANYTHING, Frugally

Recording Thoughts: Super Simple GTD Approach For Traveler’s Notebook

Lifehack: 10 Things You Need to Learn to Live a Super Happy Life (h/t Ms.Logica)

Kaizen Journaling: 45 Things You Can Write In Your Journal

A Penchant for Paper: My Productivity System

How to Write With a Fountain Pen

12 Jul

How to Write with a Fountain Pen by Cole Imperi for EuropeanPaper.comIf you are looking for something new this school season (whether you are in school or not!) then you may want to look at a fountain pen. Fountain pens come in all kinds of makes and models, colors and styles and each produces a different ‘look.’

No matter what fountain pen you have; whether it’s a $2 drugstore find or a $1,000 special edition, it’s important to understand what the tool was designed for so you use it properly. It’s also useful to find other people who use fountain pens and ask them for their tips and advice. That said, here are my tips for how to write with fountain pens (and I’ve been writing with them since I was in grade school … and my collection of them is overflowing):

A Fountain Pen is Not a Ballpoint Pen

Image courtesy of Cole ImperiBallpoint pens require pressure in order for them to work. Pressing down and sliding the tip of the pen across the page produces an line of ink. It’s the pressure that turns the ‘ball’ that allows the ink to adhere to the paper. That said, a fountain pen does not work the same way. Now, that’s not to say you can’t hold and use a fountain pen the same way you do a ballpoint, but recognize they work in totally different ways. You can literally just rest a fountain pen on paper and glide it very gently across the page and you’ll get ink flow.

Relax Your Grip

Most of us grip our pens pretty tightly. When you use a fountain pen, don’t grip as hard as you normally would. Try writing with the pen mostly ‘resting’ in your hand. Allow the nib to slide across the page. There really is no need to press down and drag the nib to release ink (unless you are going for that effect or are using something like a flexible nibbed pen).

Just Getting Started? Write Smart.

If you are just getting used to a fountain pen, it’s best to start writing things when you have a little time. Scrawling out a shopping list on the dashboard of your car in front of the grocery store that’s about to close is not a very good time to start using a fountain pen. When you are just getting the feel for it, make sure you have some time on your hands—or at least enough time to write a little slower.

It’s also important to spend some of that initial time just holding the pen in different ways as you write. You will probably have a preference for how to hold it but only after you play around a little to find it!

Write Often

Now, I know I just said above that you should take time to write, but I mean especially at first. Once you get the feel for it—the feel of it in your hand and how to hold it—by all means open the floodgates! The more you write, the better you’ll get. You may even begin to notice changes in the appearance of your handwriting (for the better!).

Try Lots of Pens

One day, you may find yourself with a fountain pen collection. This is normal and happens to anyone that finds they enjoy the ‘experience’ of a fountain pen. The reason people who like fountain pens generally have at least two or three at a minimum is because each pen has its own personality. You’ll find that you prefer certain pens in certain seasons of the year, or for certain activities. Right now, I use my white LAMY Safari for general daily notes and list making. I use my vintage Prosperity Pens 14kt nibbed flex pen for letter writing and I keep a Kaweco Sport in my purse. In a month or two, I’ll bring out my Pilot Cavalier and my Sheaffer Agio (I love these pens in autumn and winter!). A fountain pen enhances the actual act of writing, and the more you write the more you’ll notice certain pens are ‘better’ at the time than others. Fountain pens are an expression of the mood you’re in.

Take Care of Your Pens

As you use fountain pens more and more, you’ll pick up your own habits. However, I’m going to say this and I may upset some true diehard fountain pen aficionados, but if the only thing you ever do is flush your pens regularly with water and let them thoroughly dry, you are set. I essentially treat my antique pens the same way I treat my new pens and I’ve never had a problem.

Do Your Homework

Whether you are buying a cheaper fountain pen or an expensive one, make sure you do your homework. Read about the pen, the company that makes it, and customer reviews. Search blogs for reviews on the pens you are interested in. A few minutes of research is time well-spent on a writing instrument you’ll treasure and use forever.

Do you have a fountain pen tip to share? If so, please add them in the comments!

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Meet the WriterCole Imperi is a business owner and a proponent of the handwritten word. When not at Doth Brands, a Branding & Identity firm catering to the health, wellness & deathcare professions where Cole works as Owner and Creative Director, you might find her on her yoga mat teaching yoga or behind a laptop writing for Simplicity Embellished, a letter-writing and lifestyle blog.

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Editor’s Note: This is the fifth article in the How to Write series. Read the others here:

How to Write: Sympathy Notes

How to Write: Ideal Business Correspondence Notes

How to Write: Friendship / Appreciation Notes

How to Write: Thank You Notes

Learn to Love Planner Shopping With 5 Guidelines to Choosing Your Ideal Planner

5 Jul

Nothing is better than the thrill of picking out a new planner.  What color, type, and brand should you get?  However, with so many planners to choose from, which one is right?  As exciting as it is, it can also get overwhelming, and you may just pick up the first one you see.  But that may not be the best idea.  If you take the time to pick out a good planner, you will relish using it.

Planners and Datebooks on EuropeanPaper.com

When picking out a planner, you should take several things into account beforehand.  What size do you want?  How about a planner for business or personal use?  What kind of design do you prefer, something classic, or something that reflects your personality?  How much money are you willing to spend?  Do you require special function areas – like a pouch, contacts, To Do list, or a notes section?  Do you want a refillable one?

So many options exist, so let us get started!

Size

I generally start with the feature that is the most important to me – size.  You can get planners that can fit into the back pocket of your jeans, get tossed into a small purse or the size of a book!  How do you plan on using your planner?  Do you keep your life in your planner?  If so, something sturdy and relatively bigger would be easier to write all the details in.  Do you prefer to keep your planner at home?  I keep stamps, maps, stationery, pictures of my family and random musings in the pockets of my planner.  So I wanted something that I could toss into an everyday purse!  And on days when I want to streamline, I take index cards and write out my day so I can keep track of my life.

Design 

Ahhhh, design.  You can find planners with Hello Kitty designs to planners that are a solid black/brown/red.  Design reflects personality.  I personally chose a black planner but I have added my own personal touches to it, by adding pictures, and inspirational quotes on the inside. I can still be professional while maintaining my own personality!

Money

Planners can cost from a simple $1 to leather, refillable planners that retail at $500.  How much money are you willing to spend is entirely dependent on your preferences.  You can find a moderately priced, sturdy planner for around $30.  Make sure it has everything you want and then shop around; there are some amazing planners out there for a steal!

Special Functions

What are the little extras you want?  Most planners come with the standard contacts/addresses area and perhaps a page or two for notes.  Do you want a pocket to stash business cards, notes, stamps, stationery?  Do you want a special projects page?  If those extra features matter to you, make sure you look at planners that have those first.

Refillable

Another option is getting a refillable planner and just update the inside paper sections every year.  Those can be convenient and, if you invest in a good quality planner early on, can last you for years.  You can add pockets for business cards and envelopes for your everyday bric a brac, too.

At the end of the day, the planner that you pick is the one that speaks to you.  As long as it holds everything you need it to hold, you have picked the right one.

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Meet the Writer: Akhila Jagdish is a writer and editor in the process of starting her own editorial services company, The Crafted Word. She loves making lists, collecting journals, reading, drinking wine and cooking. 

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5 Tips for Effective Travel Planning With Your Academic Planner

15 Jun

With hectic home lives and crazy work schedules, planning a trip can seem like a daunting task. However, an academic planner can help you do all the legwork well in advance – so all that’s left to do is enjoy the journey! Plus, since an academic planner is built to accommodate summer, it’s the perfect planner to outline summer vacation plans.

Block Out Dates

The first step to using your academic planner to plan your travels is to pick the dates and block them out on your planner. Because you’re able to work far in advance with an 18-month planner, you can plot out all the trips you’re planning and prevent accidentally double booking yourself. Cross out the dates or highlight them in a specific color so that you don’t overlap commitments.

Schedule To-dos

Once you have your trip dates blocked out, use your planner to schedule the entire trip’s to dos. Start with the date of the trip and back up. For example, if you want to start pricing flights four weeks before you travel, flip four weeks before your departure date and write, “Price out flights.” If you want to wait to book the flight until two weeks before (for enough time to check for that last-minute screaming deal), flip two weeks after you put the pricing note and write, “Book flights.” Follow these same steps for each task – booking a hotel, renewing your passport, buying traveler’s insurance, and so on.

Track Your Budget

You know how much you have budgeted for your trip. Jot that amount down on the day you depart. Each time you spend money on the trip – paying for the flight, buying a new bathing suit, or picking up sunscreen – subtract that amount from the total. You can even calculate estimates for your expenses as you plan the trip. For example, back up to the date you decided to start pricing flights. Use that page to write notes on how much the flight will be on various airlines so that when you go to purchase the tickets, you have a budget reference. Bonus: If you don’t spend as much as you anticipated in the planning stages, you’ll have a balance to use for extra souvenirs!

Create Lists

In addition to planning your dates, to dos, and budget, you can use your academic planner to create lists for each aspect of your trip. If you jot the lists on the day you need to do them, you’ll stay organized and won’t forget crucial information. On your planner page for the day before you depart, start a packing list. Even if the trip is eight months away, if you think of something – don’t forget extra camera batteries – write it down.

Get Creative

Use the notes pages in your planner to get creative. Paste images of your destination on the notes pages to motivate and inspire you. During your trip, use the pages to journal or scrapbook about your adventures. And when the trip is through, add your favorite pictures from the trip and archive the planner.

Using your 12 or 18-month planner can help you plan your trip down to the details in advance. You won’t be scrambling around the night before your flight leaves, trying to remember everything you wanted to bring!

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 Meet the Writer:Maggie Marton is a freelance writer who lives in Bloomington, Indiana, with her husband and their three darling dogs. View more of Maggie’s work at MaggieMarton.com

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10 Ideas for a Journaling Jump Start

8 Mar

Today, journals come in so many designs, materials, and sizes that there is something for everyone. Once you’ve found the one for you, however, you might find yourself with pen or pencil in hand, staring at the blank pages and thinking … now what? What do I write?

It’s happened to everyone at some point whether in personal or professional cases. That’s where we come in to help. Need inspiration of where to start? Use these ideas to jumpstart your pen across those white and empty pages:

  1. Count Your Blessings: Too often we let the things we are most grateful for slip by without being fully appreciated. Start writing down three things you’re grateful for each day. It will help you to not only take note of these moments in life, but to actually watch for them and give them the attention they deserve.
  2. Make Lists: While grocery lists are rarely exciting enough to merit a place in your journal, keep lists of everything from what musicals you saw this year to what fishing lures you like best to what tricks you want to learn on your snowboard. Each list can inspire you to develop the items more.
  3. Set Goals: Writing down goals is considered the most important step to actually accomplishing them. Whether you start small and write down what you want to achieve today or this week, or if you go big and write down what you want to achieve this year or in your lifetime, you have so many pages to break down the goals into individual steps.  Check back often to write how you’re doing.
  4. Record Dreams: Sometimes dreams are unbelievably insightful—and other times, they are just crazy images inspired by too much bad television and a questionable glass of wine before bedtime. Writing down what you remember about your dreams can help cement the lessons you might otherwise lose.
  5. Note Quotes: A journal is a great place to write down quotes or sayings and refer to them later for further writing inspiration, a pick-me-up, or sharing with friends and family.
  6. Review Books/Movies/Performances: Write down your opinions about the book you just finished, the movie you just watched, or the performance you just attended. What did you like best? What do you wish was done differently? What was just completely WRONG? Did someone surprise you? You could even include pictures or your ticket stubs as extras!
  7. Remember Moments: Just like a camera, a journal can hold onto moments—fun times with your friends, worldly observations, outlandish ideas—that you will want to mull over again later. Write them down quickly and if you want, revisit that moment later to respond to it, simply reminisce, or flesh out the details.
  8. Marking Birthdays/Anniversaries: How about a special journal you bring out once a year for your birthday or anniversary? You can write down what you did, where you went, who was there, what gifts you gave and received and all of those other details. Important dates come and go too quickly in our lives not to grab onto the details so we can look at them again next year.
  9. Keep Contacts: Use a small, portable journal for writing down the names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and web sites of the people you network with at parties, work, stores, and other locations. Pull the journal out of a purse, messenger bag, or back pocket and get that contact info before the two of you go in different directions, so that later, when you are at home, you can get in touch. Always jot down a couple of words next to the name to jog your memory of why you wanted to follow up.
  10. Monitor Expenses: Are you number-minded? Wondering how much you spend on eating out or filling up the gas tank? Where does that weekly paycheck keep disappearing to? Write it all down in your journal. If nothing else, in a couple of years, when you look back at it and see what gas prices used to be, you will get a good laugh.

Open up the cover, uncap the pen or sharpen the pencil and fill in that first page. A journal is yours to create—so start writing! What words are ready to go on your page? What moments do you want to capture? Use your journal and go!

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 Meet the Writer: Tamra Orr is a full time writer and has written more than 300 books for readers of all ages. She is also mom to four and writes an average of 50 letters or more a month.

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5 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block

1 Mar

Writers love to discuss writer’s block. Is it real or is it just fear? Is it a symptom of being creatively drained or of being undisciplined? Regardless of which side of the discussion you side with, there is one truth:  Whether you’re an avid journaler, a dedicated letter writer or a professional writer, we all get stuck once in a while. No matter how hard you try, sometimes those blinking cursors and blank pages stop us in our tracks. Next time you get stuck, try one (or all!) of these five tricks to overcome your block.

Tips for Writer's Block by Maggie Marton on EuropeanPaper.com

Obsess … With a Timer

It’s okay to fret about being stuck. It’s normal and healthy – as long as you don’t let it derail you completely. So spend a few minutes obsessing, but set a timer to keep you focused. Set the timer for nine minutes. Spend that time doing nothing but obsessing. Think about why you’re stuck. Is it the project? Do you have other, perhaps more important, tasks that you should do first? Let your mind wander. When that timer goes off, use one minute to refocus. Take a couple deep breaths, open a new window or flip to a new page, and start writing.

Dig Into Your Past (and Present and Future)

If you just can’t think of anything to write, start with your past. If you’re working on a daily journal entry, try to remember the names of your elementary school teachers and how they made you feel. If you’re struggling with a piece of fiction, start with the worst day you can possibly remember from when you were a child. Describe the people, the smells, the scenery. Apply those same principles to the present (how did I feel this morning during my commute?) and to the future (what is the best thing that could happen to me in the next five years?).

List, List, List

This is my go-to strategy anytime I feel stuck. Start a list. List anything: groceries, your friends’ names from junior high, things you’re grateful for, goals for the year, things you’d buy if you had a bottomless bank account. Get creative with your lists! Try your favorite books in alphabetical order or aim to list 101 of something.

Create Sentence “Starts”

On a sticky note or the back page of your journal, draft a handful of sentence “starts” that you can refer to when you get stuck. Some good options:

  • Nothing makes me happier than …
  • If I could change one thing about my family …
  • If I found a $50 bill on the sidewalk, I would …

Make a list of 10 to 20 that you can refer to whenever you feel blocked. Use it to start a journal entry or a piece of fiction.

Walk Away

This last-resort trick is for when you’ve tried everything but nothing’s working. Stand up, turn around, and walk away. Take your dog around the block. Make a cup of tea. Watch a daytime talk show. Sometimes the pressure can be too great, and when you’re focused on the fact that you’re stuck, it can be really difficult to find a way to get unstuck. Let your smarty-pants subconscious do the work for a while. The important thing here is to stay away from tasks that will keep you away from your work. Pick something short and something mindless (that laundry’s not going to fold itself) so that you don’t divert all your brainpower away from your writing. After a short break, do some stretches, take a couple deep breaths, and then get back to it.

Everyone gets stuck. In any creative project, it’s only normal. The difference between being successful and unsuccessful is to let a little block stop your progress!

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 Meet the Writer: Maggie Marton is a freelance writer who lives in Bloomington, Indiana, with her husband and their three darling dogs. View more of Maggie’s work at MaggieMarton.com

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10 Letter Writing Tips

31 Jan

Writing a letter might seem like an art that no one follows anymore, like speaking Latin or doing the jitterbug (and where else can you find a comparison between those activities but here at EPC?), but there are many enthusiasts still out there. You’ll recognize us if you look closely. We sit in coffee shops with pens and paper in front of us instead of laptops. We walk into office supply stores and head over to the fountain pen ink refills instead of the printer ink refills.  We know how much an extra ounce costs, the price of an international stamp, and how much we can squeeze into a first class priority box before it explodes.

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Yes, I am one of them (and proud of it!), and I write hundreds of letters every year. My free time is spent with pen in hand talking with friends near and far. When I walk out to the mailbox every day, I know more than bills and advertisements are waiting for me.

Of course, to GET letters, you have to SEND letters. So, here are the 10 best letter writing tips I know, based on hundreds of letters written (and received) every year. These tips refer to both personal and professional correspondence.  The first six tips are must-do’s; the second four are options to consider.

  1. When you are going to write a letter, make sure you have enough time to do so. A rushed letter feels like a rushed letter, and typically, handwriting takes longer than you remember. If you aren’t sure you can find a free half hour or hour, combine your writing with other activities like watching a movie, waiting for the dryer to finish or sipping that morning cup of java.
  2. As you begin writing, refer to your last visit, conversation or letter with that person. Mention where you were, something that was said, or another statement that reconnects the two of you.
  3. Date the letter. I know that might not seem very important, but when the person reads the letter, re-reads it, and keeps it for ages, that date is very important. I recently dug through some old boxes and found all of the letters my mother wrote me while I was in college. She is no longer living, so these letters are truly precious to me. I organized them in the order she wrote them and put them in folders. The dates were essential.
  4. Write legibly. I know, I know. Duh, right? But you wouldn’t believe how many people have almost illegible handwriting. They either try to be fancy or they simply haven’t dusted off their penmanship skills in a long time.  If you have trouble with cursive, print. If that doesn’t work well, type. Make it easy on your reader.
  5. Ask the person questions.  A letter that just tells a person all about you-you-you and then says goodbye at the end is not much fun to read and often very difficult to respond to. Ask the person questions, such as: How is work? How are the children? Where have you traveled? What are you reading lately? They can be as simple or complex as you want to make them, but obviously keep your reader in mind regarding the type of personal questions you may ask. This will inspire the person to want to sit down and write back to you.
  6. Follow the simple rules of good writing. Always double-check that you spelled their name correctly and make sure you have the right address for the envelope. You aren’t being graded here, so you don’t need topic sentences and appropriate transitional phrases between paragraphs (yes, I used to be an English teacher!), but make sure you aren’t writing in such a manner that others can’t understand what you’re saying.

Those were the “must-do’s” of letter writing. Here are four more tips to consider implementing as you write more.

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  2. Include fun little tuck-ins. Getting a letter is fun – getting a letter with surprises tucked inside it is even better. It can be photos, newspaper clippings, comics, bookmarks – whatever you want. These little extras can make letter writing even more enjoyable.
  3. Respond to letters quickly, but not TOO quickly. If your letter is in response to one sent to you, don’t let it sit around for more than two to four weeks before answering it. If too much time goes by, the person may forget what he wrote or think you have decided not to respond at all.  If I haven’t heard from someone in more than a month, I also send a quick postcard making sure all is well with them. On the flip side, it might sound crazy, but I wouldn’t recommend responding to someone the day or day after you get a letter. That might be so quick that it makes the receiver feel pressured.
  4. Finally, if all of this sounds wonderful but you’re stumped on who to write to, do some homework and check out organizations. If you don’t have family and friends that would be interested in writing letters, go to the The Letter Writer’s Alliance and The Letter Exchange online. They both offer wonderful connections to other crazy letter writers like me. EPC also lists web sites for letter writers to connect (check out the blogroll in the right column of this blog). Believe me—we are out there and waiting by our mailboxes. Write!

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 Meet the Writer: Tamra Orr is a full time writer and has written more than 300 books for readers of all ages. She is also mom to four and writes an average of 50 letters or more a month.

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Foolproof Tips for Organizing Large Projects in Your Planner

25 Oct

My planner is my lifeline. I bet you feel the same about yours, too. Without diligence, though, it can become a mess: over-stuffed with sticky notes, lists and meeting notes jotted on random pages; receipts stuffed in the front cover; phone numbers scrawled across the margins.

Get Organized with EuropeanPaper.comPlanners should keep us on track, but our planners can derail our best intentions simply because we’re not using them effectively. You use your planner to set goals, budget your time, and schedule to-dos. For bigger projects, a planner allows you to map the tasks associated with the successful completion of those projects. Yet, when it comes to those bigger projects, many of us make one mistake with our planners that can cause last-minute scrambles or even missed deadlines.

Whether you use a daily, weekly, or monthly format, there is a simple fix to this common error: Schedule backwards. With this process, you can focus on a strategic action plan rather than a seemingly endless list of to-dos.

You receive an assignment, so you mark the due date in your planner. It seems logical, right? But if you continue to plan for projects to run smoothly and on time, you are setting yourself up for failure by only putting in the deadline date.

Let’s say your boss gives you two weeks to put together a sales presentation. On the day it was assigned or on a separate sheet of paper:

  • Break the project down into all the individual tasks associated with completing that project (gather numbers from team, create slide deck, meet with accounting, write talking points, etc.).
  • Batch similar tasks together to conserve time where possible.
  • Number the tasks (or batches) in the order in which they need to be completed.
  • Next to each task, write down the amount of time you estimate that the project will take.

Flip to the day before the due date. Write on that early date that the project is due. That way, if snags or problems occur, you’ll have some padding built in, and if all goes well, you’ve given yourself an extra day to run through your talk. And if you’re working on a project with other people, it’s smart to plan for an additional padded day just in case you have to pick up slack for team members.

With the list of tasks, schedule backwards. Place the last of the numbered items on your calendar, moving backwards in time. Pad each task by a few hours or even a day, if your schedule allows. This also helps define priorities in your planner, so when you come across scheduling a task on a day you have another project or event, you can move the task ahead or star it as a high priority.

Bonus: Because you pad the deadlines for each project or task that comes in, when things do run smoothly, you’ll find yourself with pockets of empty, unscheduled time. Use those moments to clean out and organize your planner so that you start your next project with a clean slate.

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 Meet the Writer:Maggie Marton is a freelance writer who lives in Bloomington, Indiana, with her husband and their three darling dogs. View more of Maggie’s work at MaggieMarton.com

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