Ambitions vs. Obstacles: My Year in Review

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Eating brekkie outside in the sun – a high point of self-employment during 2014.

Writing about a year is weird. A year isn’t a ‘thing’. It’s 12 months, in which a lot happens. How to sum it up? Why do we even feel the need to?

I don’t know, but for some reason it feels cathartic to do so. It allows us to move on from the themes of the last 12 months, and see the New Year as a fresh start. For that reason, it’s a positive exercise I think. And it gives me an excuse to finally write something here again after a long break.

I’ve loosely organised my 2014 annual review chronologically to make it easier to follow – although in some cases there is overlap between the sections.

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Before You Quit Writing, Read This

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

Thomas Mann

Before You Quit Writing, Read This is a new collaborative book from Dave Ursillo and The Literati Writers (of which I’m a member) which is now available on Amazon Kindle.

The purpose of the book is to share our personal stories so that we can encourage fellow writers who might be considering quitting to keep going.

Digging Deep

My contribution is called I’m a Writer, Damn It! and it’s a very personal piece.

Dave challenged us to really dig deep and write about something we haven’t revealed publicly before.

So I delved into some difficult childhood memories, and told a brief story of my life, including the times when I wrote and the fallow periods when I did anything but.

“The act of writing is itself an act of understanding. By putting pen to paper, you’re engaging in a very reflective and sometimes even confrontational practice of facing your own truth: everything etched within your soul.”

Dave Ursillo (Before You Quit Writing, Read This)

My intention was to let any struggling writers out there know that I too have struggled. I spent many years not writing and without much hope of ever achieving my creative dreams. I almost gave up. But I’m still here, writing, publishing and even getting paid for it.

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It’s Covered

One of the things that made this such a great experience was that Dave put this project together in a highly professional way, from bringing in illustrator Mars Dorian to create the cover, to hiring a professional editor to give each of us feedback on our contributions, to preparing publicity material.

Edited Highlights

As a professional writer and content creator for a variety of clients, I’m used to receiving feedback on my work, however it is a different matter when it’s something so personal.

It took me a day or two to digest the editor’s comments and to accept that making those changes would definitely improve the piece, such as being clearer and more transparent about what I was trying to express. It was a great thing to experience and has definitely made me think more carefully about how I write.

Breaking Through The Fear Barrier

The day before the book was due to be published, I read over my piece again and was suddenly seized with a terrible fear that what I’d written could upset my parents. I had never discussed some of those memories with them directly and I didn’t want to them to misinterpret what I had written.

I shared my fear with the other Literati Writers and got some very supportive responses and advice, which really helped. But the fear remained.

“FEAR is a bastard. He has this way of wrapping his cold, sinewy hand around your heart that takes your breath away, sends a chill down into your guts, and causes you to freeze up. He takes the joy you get from writing and ruthlessly smashes it to bits, making you second-guess your abilities.”

Jessica Glendinning (Before You Quit Writing, Read This)

I’ve read other writers and content creators talk about this type of fear gripping them, and the general consensus seems to be that this is what happens when you break out of your comfort zone and start sharing something real, something that truly matters, and that will actually be of value to others.

And maybe by writing about those negative experiences and sharing it publicly, I can finally escape their hold on me.

“As you dig, you will learn. And once unearthed, you can choose what to keep around, and what to let go.”

Dave Ursillo (Before You Quit Writing, Read This)

That’s something that makes sense to me as a writer, but is probably difficult for others to understand, especially if they find themselves entangled in my words without having chosen to be.

Dare Greatly and Do The Work

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The fact is that what I’ve shared in my article is my own truth, of how I experienced and interpreted circumstances at the time they happened.

Perhaps those half-remembered moments from the past lack their proper context, and perhaps they are an unbalanced account of what really happened. But it is what came to me when I sat down to write.

“What’s left on the page is pure, unadulterated me. It’s not always pretty, but that’s okay. Neither am I. It’s not always funny or insightful. But whatever it is, it’s me. It’s a snapshot of myself. A little glimpse into my brain at the moment the pen hit the paper or my fingers hit the keys.”

Tom Meitner (Before You Quit Writing, Read This)

Either way, I will learn from this, and keep going. Because as Brené Brown suggests, you’ve got to Dare Greatly, and that means being vulnerable, taking risks and leaning into the discomfort that comes from baring your soul to the world.

And as Steven Pressfield says, you’ve got to Do The Work, and make a habit of sitting down to write, every day.

Whatever failings I may have, at least I’m doing both those things. This, I’m discovering, is what it’s like to be a writer.

Thanks to Dave, Jessica and Tom for their quotes above – each and every contribution to the book contains similar wisdom about writing, so I’d highly recommend having a read.

Before You Quit Writing, Read This is available now on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk as well as other Amazon stores worldwide (affiliate links).

It is free to download until Thursday July 12th 2013, and you don’t even need a Kindle to read it. 

mountainshores_icelandDave Ursillo is also the guest on the most recent Mountain Shores Podcast:

Finding Home In Writing (and Rhode Island)

In an in-depth and honest conversation, Dave chats to Fabian and I about how writing helped him bounce back from depression and how he has carved out a career as a creative entrepreneur after leaving the world of politics behind.

Visit MountainShores.net | Listen/Subscribe on iTunes | Stitcher

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Life is Like a Sliding Puzzle

Do you have a picture of where you want to be that’s different from where you are now

Any time you want to make changes in life, it rarely happens overnight. Usually, you’re going to have to move the pieces around until what you start with begins to resembles what you want, and you’re probably going to have to be patient and methodical about it.

Just like a sliding puzzle. You know the ones I mean right? You have to move the little squares around until you make a picture, and you can’t just pick one up and put it in the right place.

The batgirl gif above hopefully illustrates what I mean (plus, it’s a batgirl gif, how could I resist?) [If you can’t see it click here to view it on the blog.]

It’s important to note that In a sliding puzzle, there usually needs to be an empty square so there is space to move the pieces around in the first place.

In our lives, we’re usually trying to fit way too many pieces in. Most of us tend to be over-subscribed in one way or another, so at some point we might have to start with removing an existing piece entirely.

Do you have the space available to shift pieces around, or will you have to discard an old, outdated element of your current life to make room for your new vision? 

Digital Reshuffling

Shuffling the deck

Photo by Alan Cleaver

You might have noticed a few small changes to the design and layout to this site. I’m moving things around and trying to simplify my online presence, so it’s definitely in a transition at the moment. The trouble is, every time I change something, it gives me an idea for another change!

One of my main goals is to move this site from just being a blog to a business. I want it to be more of a representation of what I do to make a living, in particular the freelance blogging work I’ve been doing more of lately. Hopefully this will attract clients in the future.

I also had the option of starting an entirely new site for my business, but it felt like an overwhelming task, and I didn’t want to have to run two blogs at the same time. In fact, I want to completely get rid of some of my old sites which are just sitting around cluttering up the internet!

So I’m in the process of considering all the content that I’ve posted across all of my websites and figuring out how to either combine it here in a useful way or get rid of it.

Domestic Reshuffling

My wife and I have also been doing the same thing with our wee flat. We only have one bedroom for the two of us and our cat, plus a small combined kitchen/lounge, and I’m also trying to run a freelance business from home.

There’s just not enough room, and at the moment it doesn’t make financial sense for us to move, so we have to do the best we can. Every now and again we have a rethink and a declutter to try and improve things.

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The old desk

Getting rid of the old to make way for the new can be a painful process, sometimes surprisingly so.

I recently got rid of my old wooden desk, which was massive and had loads of storage space because it was built for a big old PC with a tower and monitor rather than a nice laptop.

I should have got rid of that outdated monstrosity years ago, but something was stopping me. I realised that I had tied a lot of memories to the desk and the old computer, especially of when I used to make music. It somehow felt difficult to completely say goodbye to that era of my life.

I had a weird emotional attachment to it because of those related memories.

But I got out the screwdriver and wrench, and took it apart. It was much easier than I expected. We drove to the dump/recycling centre and threw the bits and pieces into the relevant skip. I felt like I had exorcised some ghosts.

Paint Only - By Milo McLaughlin (taken at the dump!)

Paint Only – By Milo McLaughlin (taken at the dump!)

When we got home there was a big space where the desk used to be – now, at least we could get a proper wardrobe. And then, maybe, we could convert the cupboard we’re currently using as a wardrobe into a Tiny Office where I can write uninterrupted.

Each piece of the puzzle takes time to move, and to find a new space for, or to discard as no longer a necessary or useful part of the bigger picture. For a while, it’s more cluttered than ever (like right now because we’re still in the middle of it). But eventually, with some luck and a lot of perseverance, the pieces will fall into place.

The important thing is to make a decision to move towards the new vision, and take the first step.

Let me know what you think in the comments. Is this how you go about making changes in your life  too?

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What I Think About When I Read About Running

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‘Persevere’ is the motto of Leith, now a part of Edinburgh.

I was extremely saddened to hear about the tragic events at the Boston Marathon yesterday and my heart goes out to everyone affected.

I’ve never been to Boston, but my grandparents lived and worked there for a number of years after they emigrated to the States from Ireland so I feel a strong connection to the City. Plus, Mel and I (and a few of our friends) had joined the ranks of the long-distance running community only the day before, when we ran the Rock n Roll Edinburgh Half Marathon. So I feel an affinity with the runners too, who were simply trying to do something positive and achieve a personal goal.

Yesterday’s events certainly put our minor complaints about the Edinburgh wind and rain and the rather poor organisation at the finish line of the half-marathon into perspective. Suddenly, I am appreciative of my many blessings instead.

“Reaching the finish line, never walking, and enjoying the race. These three, in this order, are my goals.”

Haruki Murakami

The Metrics of Helpfulness – The One Person Test

IMG_6127In a recent episode of The Good Life Project, Leo Babauta (of Zen Habits) tells Jonathan Fields that the most important thing a blogger or business can have is trust – and the only way to earn it is to actually be trustworthy, honest, sincere and be there to genuinely help others.

It sounds blindingly obvious, right?  But I’ve definitely seen a few people online who don’t seem to follow that advice!

The One Person Test

He goes on to say that rather than worrying about web stats and the usual social media metrics, he focuses on whether what he publishes online has helped someone – even if it’s only one person.

“I don’t know how to measure trust, but my metric is a binary metric – instead of trying to get 100,000 hits or whatever – my metric is ‘have I helped somebody’. And it’s either yes or no.

And if the answer is yes, then I’ve done something good. If I write a post and it helps one person – if it helps more than one, great –  but if it helps one, then to me I’ve succeeded. And if all I’m doing is trying to help myself, then the answer is no.”

You can watch the episode below – it’s worth it just to see the crazy green tea these guys are drinking.

Now that type of metric is perhaps a luxury that Leo (yes I like to pretend we’re on first name terms) can afford as author of one of the world’s most popular blogs. But it’s something I kept in mind as I headed out to a number of events over the last couple of weeks and it has held me in good stead. It can feel pretty vulnerable putting yourself out there and sharing your ideas, after all, especially if feedback isn’t immediately forthcoming.

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Photo by Ally Tibbitt from Greener Leith

Putting It To The Test Part One – Social Media Surgeries

Firstly I attended the Edinburgh Social Media Surgery as a volunteer, also known as a ‘surgeon’. The event was organised by web manager and blogger James Coltham (aka @prettysimple) and sponsored by Greener Leith. With more than 40 people turning up, and those split about half and half between volunteers and locals wanting advice, it was a really busy evening.

I was able to help a local jazz musician with her WordPress blog, and teamed up with fellow ‘surgeon’ Lilly Hunter to give her advice on using Twitter. Therefore, I met the ‘help one person’ test (phew). Of course, helping someone also made me feel good, so everyone’s a winner!

The next Edinburgh Social Media Surgery takes place on Monday 18th February. Maybe I’ll see you there?

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Putting It To The Test Part Two – The Pimp Your Online Presence Workshops

As I mentioned in a recent newsletter, I was also hired to present/facilitate two workshops, the first, at the Digitally Agile Community Learning and Development conference (DACLD)*, was loosely based on my Pimp Your Online Presence ebook, and the second, at the No Knives, Better Lives National Youth Summit, was also on a similar theme though the title was slightly different.

Below are the slides from the first event:

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I haven’t spoken in front of a group for a while (there were about 20 people at each workshop) and I was pretty nervous, perhaps more so because I was sharing my own ideas that originated on this blog!

The workshops were enjoyable, but I’d be lying if I said everything went smoothly – at the first one I had to improvise after technical problems meant I couldn’t show the presentation.  Thankfully there was a lot of discussion and input from the people who were there.

I’m relieved to say that on both occasions I also passed the ‘help one person test’. I received the below tweet after the first workshop, and one of the participants at the second one came up to me afterwards with lots of questions and said they really enjoyed it.

Now I’ve just got to work out how to win over a few more people at future events!

How do you measure the success of your creative, or social media efforts? Could Leo’s ‘One Person Test’ be a more useful goal than the usual popularity contest of Facebook likes and Twitter retweets etc? Let me know in the comments!

*You can download the programme for the DACLD event here. There were some excellent talks by the keynote speakers:

Lauren Currie from We are Snook spoke about their amazing work in teaching design thinking, Ross McCulloch from Third Sector Lab shared great examples of how organisations are using social media and Jenni Robertson from Edinburgh City Council Digital Learning Team spoke about how access to iPads and other technologies in and out of school had a positive impact on children’s learning and development. 

Mike Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning also spoke, saying that the future lies in the digital sphere (and using an iPad to prove it!). 

New Year “What Ifs” Part 3 – The World Domination Edition

The “What Ifs” I’m asking you to consider in this third and final part of the series were mostly inspired by my trip to Portland for the 2012 World Domination Summit (aka WDS2012), which was definitely up there as one of the most life-changing events of 2012 for me.

Whilst I went there expecting to maybe get a few tips about running a freelance business, I got something entirely unexpected instead; a whole new way of looking at the world.

What if.. “no-one else belongs here more than you”?

Portland Firefighters

That was one of my favourite quotes from Brene Brown’s talk at WDS2012 in Portland, Oregon.

It’s a good reminder that you are just as worthy as anyone on this planet, or in any particular, unfamiliar, out-of-your-comfort-zone place you should find yourself. It was such a welcoming, empowering message to hear when I was away in a strange city on my own for the first time in years.

Ultimately though, and mostly because of the people I met there, Portland felt like a home from home.

Not only was it gloriously sunny the entire time I was there, not only did I get to enjoy healthy food, karaoke, the 4th of July celebrations with new friends, a blues festival, and bonding with beautiful people in the Japanese and Chinese Gardens, but I also got to explore the city. I particularly loved Powell’s Bookstore which is so big you need a map (or smartphone app) to get around it, and which has a cafe that’s open until 11pm and sells liquorice tea (my favourite).

Here are some of the photos I took during my time there:

Portland/WDS pics on Flickr: Part One Part Two Part Three

And please also check out the stunning photos from my WDS friend ‘Olasis’ who is one of several very talented photographers I met there.

Another favourite of the WDS community is Gregory Berg’s Radio Enso. He’s interviewed quite a few of the speakers at WDS as well as many other interesting folk and it’s well worth a listen.

What if.. someone told you they believe in you?

Chris Guillebeau gave everyone at WDS2012 $100 to invest how we saw fit. It felt like an extremely generous and meaningful gift but one which came with a fair amount of responsibility. In my case, I couldn’t decide on one thing, so I ended up investing in quite a few different things, including myself!

It’s hard to explain what this gift meant.. a lot of people said that they felt that the real gift was that they got the message that someone believed in them.

Here are a couple of great projects started by other WDS attendees using their $100:

Natalie Sisson’s $100 Change e-course

Dave Ursillo’s The Literati writer’s group

What if.. you told someone you believed in them?

If it wasn’t for the support of my primary school teacher Mrs Bliss, I might never have believed in myself as a writer. I might never have come back to it after a long hiatus during college.

Not enough creative people get this kind of support, and frankly, we deserve better. I now see it as part of my mission in life to support creative people in their endeavours at the same time that I work towards becoming a creative professional myself.

I’ve done it in the past through writing for local magazines about music, film and books, and of course more recently through this blog. I also buy records from local musicians when I can, and support people online who are doing good things.

Kickstarter and other fundraising sites are a great way to support other people’s creative endeavours, and I helped to fund quite a few projects this year from people I admire. 2012 was also the year that Kickstarter finally allowed people from the UK to get involved.

One project I was keen to support with my $100 was this one which Chris Guillebeau tweeted about which aims to create portable solar power:

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What if.. you believed in yourself?

But I also invested $100 in myself and booked a session with confidence coach Steve Errey, who I met on one of my last days in Portland. After speaking to him for an hour I had the insight that I not only had a lot to compassion to offer other people, but that I also needed to treat myself with some. This has made a big difference already in my approach to how I treat myself on a daily basis and the way in which I’m going forward.

What if… you used your knowledge or skills to help others?

After I got back from Portland I volunteered at a couple of social media workshops organised by the North Edinburgh News, and also helped the organisers film a couple of videos to promote the sessions. This was really rewarding, especially when I was able to help people to publish their first blog post or understand how to make simple videos for the web. Was it entirely unselfish of me? No – because one of the side effects was that it also helped me boost my own confidence – plus it was really good fun. So much so, that I’ve now volunteered to help out at the Edinburgh Social Media Surgeries which return later this month.

What if.. you honoured your heart’s desires instead of chasing meaningless goals?

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I attended a talk by Danielle La Porte at WDS2012 which was very inspiring. I was very impressed by her calm but confident poise and the intensity with which she shared her wisdom and experience.

Although her book The Firestarter Sessions had just come out, at the time she hinted that she had a new project in the works, which turned out to be the book and multimedia extravaganza that is The Desire Map. She suggests that we set goals without fully understanding why – in fact, what we are seeking is how those goals will make us feel, rather than the goal itself.

In a recent video, Danielle says “your feelings are like road signs – they always point back to your soul”.

Get the Desire Map here (this is an affiliate link which means you will be supporting the Clear-Minded Creative if you make a purchase).

What if.. it’s ok to be the quiet one?

One of the best books I read last year was Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts (yes, she also talked at WDS, in conversation with Jonathan Fields). Now that I’m a teetotaller (temporarily, at least), I’ve realised that drinking has long been a way for me to become more extroverted and dealing with big social occasions, although it could be said it often took me too far the other way!

Being sober, I’m coming to terms more and more with being an introvert – someone who needs alone time to recharge – instead of feeling bad, or conflicted about it. Of course the book explores the concept much more deeply, and is well worth reading for both introverts and extroverts. It ultimately made me feel much more accepting of my natural inclination to be “the quiet one” and to see that the world needs introverts (who tend to be more creative) and extroverts equally.

You can find out more about the book by watching Susan’s TED Talk below:

Phew. I think that’s enough “what ifs” for one week. I hope these have provoked a few new possibilities for you. Do you have any suggestions to add, life-changing experiences, or thought-provoking books to recommend? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

New Year “What Ifs” Part 2

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This is the second post in a three part series where I suggest various “what ifs” for the new year instead of typical advice about making resolutions.

Read Part 1

Part 2 contains some bigger, more challenging ideas about what you could possibly do during 2013 – and it just so happens that the first three are things which I did during 2012, so this is partly an annual review for me also.

What if.. you ditched the day job?

I’ve now been self-employed for 11 months. Honestly, I still feel a bit like I’m driving on a unfamiliar country road at night with only headlights to show the way (an analogy I read recently but can’t remember where!), but I do feel like I’m getting gradually closer to my goal of getting paid to do meaningful work that I’m passionate about.

I’m so grateful that I received enough redundancy/severance pay to keep me going whilst I tried out various ways of making cash as a freelancer. I’m not sure I would have lasted this long otherwise.

If you’re thinking of doing the same, please be prepared, be ready and don’t expect it to be easy. Was it worth it? Yes. But don’t expect miracles in the first year unless you have a very good client base and business plan. Allow time for emotional and physical recovery, especially if you’ve had a tough time of it at your job or been unhappy in your work for several years. And allow time for celebration and enjoyment too!

Below is a summary of Season 1 of the Ditch the Day Job Diaries, in case you missed it. To access all 14 episodes, you can subscribe to the newsletter.

What if.. you gave up drinking?

As regular readers will know, I gave up drinking on 1st October 2012 in order to raise money for Charity:Water and to experience a ‘Year of Clarity’. I was delighted to raise more than double my original target thanks to some extremely generous friends, family and readers of this blog. A massive thank you again if you were one of the people who contributed!

Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy a drink, getting drunk is great fun, but for me it was beginning to have more downsides than upsides, and I wanted to see how things would be without it.

It’s now been 3 months, and whilst my social life has been pretty quiet because I’ve felt less inclined to go out,  I’m enjoying the novelty of being sober. I won’t pretend I feel great every day, but it has meant I’ve done more exercise and been a little more organised (though I still have a long way to go!). New Year’s Eve was the only time I’ve really missed having a wee drink.

What if.. you took up meditation?

I’ve now done 48 days of meditation using the Headspace programme and I’m really seeing the benefits in terms of how much more ‘clear-minded’ and generally better it makes me feel – I highly recommend it. This is something I don’t think I could have done if I was still drinking regularly.

What if.. you gave yourself until February to put your New Year’s goals into action?

December is a busy month, and the New Year can creep up on us, meaning we barely have time to catch a breath before the 1st of January, never mind deciding how we’re going to live for the next 12 months. During this podcast I recorded with Fabian Kruse of the Friendly Anarchist, he suggests waiting until the beginning of February before even trying to start a new schedule.

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That suits me this year especially, because I left my job at the beginning of February 2012, so my first year of freelancing isn’t strictly over for another month. That buys me some time to catch up.

Our mutual friend Michael Nobbs over at Sustainably Creative has also decided to take this approach, and is inviting people to join him in ‘a month of reflection and planning’ during January.

Giving yourself some space and time for planning is a great way of taking the pressure off. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed right now, I’d advise you to try it, and I guarantee you will feel a sense of relief at not having to change your entire life all at once!

And you might even find, by taking the pressure off, you actually achieve more of what’s really important.

I’ll be back with the final part of this series tomorrow, in the meantime, I’d love it if you shared your achievements during 2012 in the comments.

What are you most proud of from the last 12 months and do you have any major goals for 2013?

5 Ways to Stay Sane During the Festive Season

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“And so it’s Christmas, and what have you done?” Sang John Lennon. Well the truth is, I’ve done bugger all over the last few days except for play the brilliant Walking Dead game on the iPhone.

Why? Because I get a bit overwhelmed by just the thought of Christmas. Here’s a few ways of coping that I find work.

1. Hide

Yes, you heard me. Run, run, as fast as your little legs can carry you and hide under the bed, or a table or something. Millie, the cat we adopted last year is a nervous wee soul who goes skittering out of the room at the slightest noise. I advise you to follow her lead this Christmas, and find a cardboard box or sock drawer to squeeze yourself into.

On a more serious note, if you are like me and you need time by yourself each day, make sure you schedule in some breaks when you can go off on your own for a while and read a book, meditate, go for a run or even maybe do something creative like writing or drawing – it will make a massive difference to your mental health, believe me.

If you feel refreshed from some alone time it can only help improve how you relate to your family and friends. If you start to feel trapped and overwhelmed, you could say or do something you regret (especially if alcohol is involved -see step 2).

2. Drink & Eat Less

Yeah right! Right? Don’t get me wrong, I love eating and drinking as much as you, but there’s nothing worse than lying awake for hours with heartburn because you ate the equivalent of a small tribal village’s annual dietary intake by yourself.

Or telling Uncle Frank where he can stick the remote control during the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special because he brought up that embarrassing incident from 11 Christmases ago in front of your fiancée.

However impossible this may sound, it is in fact entirely possible if you follow step one and be completely antisocial like me. It’s amazing how much of the Christmas experience revolves around the communal experience of passive aggressive social pressure, boredom and feelings of being trapped (or maybe that time I fell down a well with only rodents for company has soured my perceptions).

Of course the problem is, it’s nice to have an excuse to over-indulge once in a while and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The problem is many people already eat and drink too much throughout the rest of the year! Christmas then becomes an excuse to overindulge to Man Vs Food levels of ridiculousness.

This will be my first ever sober Christmas so it will be a novel experience to spend the day watching my wife getting slowly more drunk. Also, as its my first Christmas as a freelancer, I’ve not been invited to any Christmas parties which has been a bit of a relief to be honest. The likelihood is however that I’ll make up for being sober by shovelling huge lumps of iced fruit cake into my mouth with my bare hands.

3. Stop Spending Now

Never does the minimalist movement seem so sensible than at this time of year. Adverts make parents feel guilty for not buying their 5 year olds the entire contents of the John Lewis electronics department, and the extortionate prices in poncy Christmas party venues are too easy to ignore until you look at your bank/credit card balance in January with the same sinking feeling as the Greek Chancellor must have every day.

So, just stop spending. Not as easy as it sounds, is it? I for one have my eye on a Big Jambox.

4. Celebrate Christmas Early

The fact that everyone is travelling home for Christmas on public transport or driving (Chris Rea’s preferred method), means that it’s madness to try to do the same. Instead, why not visit family earlier in the month and do your own thing on Christmas Day?

My wife and I have done this for several years, and believe me it is GREAT having a quiet Christmas day to ourselves, and helps avoid all the traffic, expense and need to watch crap TV for hours. We can choose to watch whatever DVD boxset we want, and she makes us a “traditional” vegetarian Christmas dinner which is perfect and doesn’t come with the usual raised eyebrows of my unconvinced carnivore kin.

Yes, it is antisocial but it’s a great solution if you tend to get easily stressed out by big get togethers (sorry if this is too late for 2012, but keep it in mind for next year!).

5. Give January Gifts

It’s too much pressure to find decent gifts for everyone at the end of December when you have to fight your way through hoards of zombie like shoppers. Far better to wait until after Christmas when most things are reduced, and then surprise that family member or friend with a January gift.

This is a slightly risky strategy as they are probably holding a grudge against you for not buying them any Christmas presents, but if the gift is more thoughtful than the average socks & chocolate orange combination they’ll probably forgive you.

If you’re one of those talented crafty creative types, you can get handy with a needle and thread or some scissors, glue and discarded wrapping paper to make some kind of unique papier mache monster which will be much more welcome than another bar of soap or unwelcome ornament.

And with that bitter dose of “bah humbug” over and done with, I genuinely bid you a very merry festive season!

Do you have any tips for surviving the festive season or do you think I need to be less Scrooge-like?