My own personal icebuckets

Over the summer there was a craze going round for having a bucket of ice tipped over one’s head. That sudden shock as the ice and water hits you and drips down, leaving you soaked and freezing, makes you gasp with shock.

A couple of weeks ago, as I walked along the road to the meeting point for parkrun, I felt my own mental icebucket: a little voice saying you’re stupid, you’re useless, there’s no way in hell you’re going to be able to do this run. Somehow I managed to continue anyway, and yes I did complete the run, and while it wasn’t a record-breaker, it was perfectly respectable.

Tonight I’ve felt yet another version of it. As I prepare for nano, excited to work on a new project, there are still eight days before I’m officially supposed to start writing. Frustrated from spending my time fixing other people’s work (oh how much easier I find that!), I tried looking back at the latest draft of the babies book, and it was so far from what I wanted it to be that once again I felt that ice bucket drench me. I told myself to write about anything at all, and I opened a blank page and stared at it, but the only words that came were about how useless I was.

And then I came on here. Because if I can’t write, then at least I can describe not being able to write. And so again I’ve managed to shake off that ice bucket and continue anyway. And when we reach nano I’ll keep writing and push through the 50k words, and by the end even if I’ve still got nothing worth reading I’ll have something like another 100 hours’ worth of writing experience. And a writing muscle strengthened and ready to go. And a habit established that this year I don’t want to break at the end of the month.

And in the meantime, I really ought to write something for writing group, as the deadline for that is Monday. Any suggestions?

 

Considering characters

As I continue with preparations for nanowrimo, I find myself inspecting the assembled cast and considering each very carefully. I found myself wondering this morning if one in particular would be better off male than female, and that has made me look closely at what each brings to the ensemble. Have I made the best selection I can? Have I got one particular character in just for a single joke? Will that relationship actually work in practice? Is that sub-plot going to be worth bringing along? And do I need a male hero that I can fall in love with?

This last is the one giving me most pause for thought, and to answer the question I need to think very carefully about what I want this particular character to do. Can she achieve that as a female? Can she achieve it as a male? Which produces the better story? Which will I enjoy writing most?

My baby novel tends to contain mainly female characters, and a lot of this is down to the plot itself, although discussion at writing group did lead me to explore a little more the role of males in that world. This new one contains a mixture, because among other things I want to show the range of people who play MMORPGs, and explore the different relationships that form and what each might get out of the game. I currently have a team of seven people: four males and three females. That’s pretty balanced.

I need to decide whether Elaine is too much of a Mary Sue in the story, or whether she’s really going to live her own life and have her own experiences. Equally, if I turn her into a male, is it for personal reasons rather than because it makes the story better? Which will I enjoy writing more? Which can I write better?

In the end, I think being female provides the best chance to contrast game life and personality with real life and personality, and that just has the edge, so for now Elaine will stay, but as I put more thought into the role she plays in the main story and in the relationships and growth areas, that still has time to change.

In other news, I get to design a new computer game and a related world system at the same time, just as background to the story. Writing isn’t just about actually putting words down on paper, you know!

Gearing up for action

gods v heroes coverIt’s October, and that means it’s nearly November. And that, as we all know, means NANOWRIMO! We’ve already kicked off in our area; not actually writing, of course, that would be cheating, but we’ve already had a meetup where we exchanged strategies and generally discussed writing and putting the world to rights (or writes!).

I’m very lucky in that our area has a very active group of writers, who have stayed in touch all year via a facebook group and occasional meetups, so we’re all raring to go. Our MLs (Municipal Leaders) are enthusiastic and proactive, and the rest of us are quite likely to call a meetup in our area as well, if we want one, so nano is accompanied by a great feeling of community and support, to the point where I end up feeling not that I grant myself permission to write for the month, but even that I feel obliged to write!

I’ve been through the nano website and updated my profile with any nano novel I can find evidence of on my computer, which means I currently have three years won, one year half-done and the current year. The idea of being able to upload a cover image is great, as just the act of putting the title, author’s name and image together on a graphic helps to inspire towards a finished product.

While I’ve never yet managed to do any more than complete nano, each year I do it I feel I understand the creative process a little more, and each time I feel my writing has improved. I was amused to find the first draft of my babies book, which I did in 2004, and compare that to the 2013 version. The earlier book was much more of a complete narrative, but also much more simplistic, as I chose easy options to keep the story moving forward, without bringing any depth to it. Last year’s was starting to gain more depth, but lost itself in complexity at times.

This year I’m starting a whole new project, because I feel that to keep hammering on babies is achieving little (unfortunate phrasing, but it amuses me, so it stays). It will get done – the story has gripped me too hard to abandon it – but I need to pick apart what I’ve done and rebuild it, which will take time. Instead, I’m changing tack, with a complete fantasy novel as opposed to speculative fiction. The freedom that offers is great, and I’m really looking forward to getting going.

Current stage is thinking about the plot, which is fairly straightforward, and interviewing characters. I have seven main characters (I’ve learned from nano 06, where I started with 10 and ended with 5), and while all seven will have a place, it’s very possible that one or two or even three will play a larger part in it, with the rest as supporting cast, so I’m just feeling my way through who they are, what they sound like, what they look like, what they want and how they fit in to the overall arc.

The intention, as every year, is to get to the end of the 50,000 words before the end of the month. The growing determination is to reach that stage with a project that’s worth going back and editing, and then to actually do so; to get past this feeling that I’m only allowed to be properly creative in November, and to build writing into my daily routine and do something with my writing other than file it and read it again years later, only to regret not having done more.

 

All connected underneath

Many, many years ago, as I worked in my hideously overgrown garden, I discovered a little plant that was growing amongst all the weeds. I decided to try and save it, and dug it up to put it in a pot. The trouble was, when I dug down I discovered that actually it was a little shoot growing from a root deep underground, and that root went an awful long way and was connected to loads of other plants as well.

I was reminded of that incident recently when looking at my options for nano and trying to decide what to work on. Having realised that two of my ideas are connected, that’s the obvious option. The trouble is that as I dug deeper into that idea I discovered that it wasn’t as straightforward as I thought – that actually it goes far underground and pops up all over the place, connected to all sorts of other topics. So now I need to try and extricate my idea and the connected bits and figure out just how far I need to go with it in order to gather it all in.

It’s tough – every time I think I’ve got something straightforward it reveals itself to be so much more. And yet the simple ideas are nowhere near as interesting. And any that are turn out to be complex as well.

Ah well, it will work itself out as long as I pay attention to it and work on it. All I do know is that I’m giving the babies story a rest for this year’s nano. It needs serious work, and it won’t leave me alone until I’ve finished it, but right now I think I need to work on something new and rediscover the rush of creativity.

 

 

A new way to beat the block?

One of the best things about being a writer and a voracious reader is the variety of people you get to know, from all sorts of backgrounds and with all sorts of abilities.

I’ve been really struggling lately to get myself to the page – I know that I enjoy writing, and I know that I want to get on with it – and I will, but just not right now. And after weeks and weeks of dealing with that, I decided enough was enough. Luckily one of those many people I’ve come to know to through writing offers an unusual way to deal with issues such as writer’s block. She’s a hypnotherapist, and as a nanowrimo author she’s put together an audio file just for this purpose.

Now I’ve heard her talk about her file, and I’ve seen links to it, and I heard from some people who made use of it last year, but me – I find it hard to trust things like that. I hate the idea of anyone putting anything into my subconscious that I’m unaware of. It almost feels like cheating. I’ve looked into hypnosis a little, and tried to find out what’s behind it, but never had first-hand experience.

Yesterday I decided it was time I got over all that. I know my friend, and I trust her, and I just can’t put up with my own procrastination any more. After all, it’s not as though I’m asking to be hypnotised into doing something I don’t want to do in the first place (apparently that’s impossible anyway!). So I paid a small fee and downloaded the file, and it sat on my computer for the day while I plucked up courage to try out this strange witchery.

A short while ago I took myself off upstairs, put my phone to silent – with a countdown alarm set just in case I fell asleep – and started listening to the recording. But only after checking online that if I fell asleep I wouldn’t be left forever in deep sleep because I didn’t hear the end of the recording. Hey, I told you I’m a paranoid, mistrusting so-and-so!

The beginning of the recording immediately put me at my ease, and reassured me about the process. Then the message itself was so convincing and inviting that I really, really, want it to be true. And by the end I was still awake and focused and listening, and I didn’t need my alarm to wake me for a deep sleep (I fell asleep twice in yoga class, and the second time had to be woken up by the teacher; I never went again).

And now? Well, I’m writing, aren’t I? I’ve yet to see how it will affect me long-term, but I’m more than happy with the process and message, and I’ll happily listen to it again and again, and allow it to convince me that it’s all true, that the words can flow, that my writing will go from strength to strength. In fact, I suspect that this wanting the message to be true is the part that will make it true. It’s not putting in a message that shouldn’t be there, it’s removing the stuff that shouldn’t be there but is.

And I’m looking forward to getting on with nanowrimo this year, and seeing those words flow.

If you’re interested, here’s Barbara’s link to the Neill Technique for Writers. Why not give it a go? And let me know how you get on.

 

Beating myself

It seems that where my fitness and running is concerned it’s always a case of one step forward two steps back. There was the great 10k I ran recently, which really gave my running a boost, only to be followed by a pulled muscle in my back that made moving uncomfortable, and then I had a week where I was struggling to stay awake and feeling like I was moving through treacle the whole time.

So the result of that was a very poor parkrun, one of the slowest I’ve ever run, and a sense of relief that I managed to finish the distance at all.

This week I felt a lot better, and as I ran and realised how much better I felt than the previous week, it came to me that really, it doesn’t matter that John can do the distance faster with a twin buggy and dog, or Sue can do it faster and she’s older than me, or little Ben can finish before me and he’s only 9. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. In the end, it really does come down to me. I’m the one who got myself out there. I’m the one pushing myself. Am I doing the best I can? Am I doing better than I did previously?

And this applies in other aspects of my life too; it doesn’t matter that Fred and Mary have finished and published their novels, or that Becky is on book 4. What matters is that I put the effort in and I do the best I can.

My aim should always be to beat myself. And that doesn’t mean beat myself up.

 

Looking back, looking forward

Participant-2014-Square-ButtonNanowrimo is rapidly approaching – only around four weeks to go now. I’ve been suffering my usual logjam of loads of ideas fighting for attention, freezing me into paralysis of indecision. A couple of people suggested that I could work on more than one, and that I should make notes on all my ideas and see if anything jumps out at me.

So the other night I sat down and read through some of my old stuff, as a couple of my ideas already exist as openings, with the rest of the story either buried in my head or gone completely. I also received, as I occasionally do, an email alerting me to the fact that someone has favourited one of my fanfiction stories that are published online. These two actions had their usual result, which is to remind me of how much I enjoy writing and how I can produce things that are worth reading, if not yet the most polished and well-structured of work.

Writing down my ideas brought me to the realisation that actually two of my ideas are very similar, but one is the world story and the other is the story of a specific set of people set in that world. So that immediately caught my attention, and I decided that would be my aim for nano, to work through idea 1 and build the world, ready to tackle idea 2 using that world for nano.

Then tonight someone made a comment that set me off on a tangent, heading to youtube and finding a whole collection of videos of me and a group of others having fantastic fun, and this reminded me of story idea number 3.

So the only conclusion I can come to is that after working for a year on other people’s writing and stories, and seeing projects through to the finished product and cheering them on all the way, I want my turn. I can do this. It’s not that I have only one idea and will then be finished. I’ve even noticed a theme running through my ideas. I want to get on and get finished and then start the next project and finish that, and…

So which one do I start with? I start with the original nano idea for this year, the world story/people story combination, and when that’s done I get back to my babies story and finish writing that, and then I go on with this other idea, and then back to this year’s nano for editing, and then… and then…

It doesn’t matter, in the end, which one I start with. It matters only that I start.

Oh, and if you’re interested in seeing the videos that sparked all this off, you’ll have to go to youtube and search for valkyrien guard, and watch those videos. You won’t recognise me though – I’ll be heavily disguised as a warrior by the name of Leyton. And there’s a remote chance you’ll even see me in one of the videos in another disguise, that of a priestess called Emmylee, which is where I first used the name that I now use – with various spellings – as my writing name.

 

Respectable is enough

I learned a few things as a result of my 10k experience at the weekend. I learned that I enjoy running. I learned that while I’m not particularly fast, my speed is respectable, especially since I seem able to maintain the same speed over longer distances. And I learned that despite not feeling that I’m making much progress, in fact I am fitter and faster than I was a year ago.

So I’m doing something I gain pleasure from, I’m gradually improving, and I’m not too disastrously bad at it. Three good reasons to keep going.

I guess now I need to apply all three of those to my writing. Because I enjoy writing, I may not be producing best sellers but what I produce is readable, and the more I write, the more my writing will improve. With nanowrimo fast approaching, that’s something I really, really need to take on board.

I love the way that my writing and running link with each other, and whatever I learn in one area I can apply to the other.

 

 

Faversham 10k – second year

A year on, I found myself this morning facing again the course that was my first ever 10k race. Last year I’d missed training thanks to an injury, I’d never run further than around 6k and I was very nervous. I managed to run up both hills, in fact the only walk breaks I took were to avoid throwing water all over myself or choking on it at the two water stations, but by halfway through I had the distinct feeling that I was all alone at the back. There was a point at 8k, just at the top of a steep hill, where I joked that although the country lane gained a pavement, I had to keep running on the road for a few yards until there was a dropped kerb because I didn’t have the energy to jump up. I finished last but one, and felt happy that I’d finished but a little worried about my time.

This year felt far better from the start. Despite major pre-race jitters – I was about ready to give up all idea of running – I managed to keep fairly positive as I waited for the start. In fact, I did read about pre-race jitters being caused by withdrawal symptoms from lack of exercise in the period just before a race, and that does make sense to me.

Nerves got the better of me at the start line, where we had a 10 minute delay announced and I decided that I did need another trip to the loo, but the jog over there and back got me going and reminded me how much I enjoy running. A chat with friends in the crowd reminded me that others feel nerves too and worry about their speed. Then Off!

I felt much more part of the pack this time, and was surprised at how many people I passed on the first uphill, as several were walking it. I maintained my place throughout, with very little change – in fact most of the changes of position were where I managed to overtake a runner in front. Not that I’m particularly speedy, but I have one comfortable pace and don’t like running slower to stay behind if I catch up to someone!

By the time I reached the downhill section just after the halfway mark, I could see the runner in front of me and a pack in ahead in the distance, and knew that there were quite a few still behind me – I think this was the point where I first felt completely on my own last year – and although I lost speed on the downhill because in the end it was just too steep to keep up a fast pace safely, it did mean I had enough breath to drink properly at the water station at the bottom.

Then it was a straightforward route back in, including the other hill – this time short and sharp rather than long and deadly – even overtaking another runner on the way up. Found that pavement appearing at the top, and deliberately skipped up it, proving to myself just how much fitter I am this year than last year. A final overtake within the last 400 metres, as the guy in front was slow and steady and I still felt comfortable enough to keep going faster, and then we turned the corner and down the final stretch to the finish line. There my garmin decided that I was just slightly short, so I had to keep it going and keep moving for it to tick over to the 10k mark, which meant I lost the time I’d marked on it. However, hubby reports the clock time as around 1:13:15, which sounds about right, and hopefully the chip time should be shorter than that. My PB is 1:12:35, on the Ashford run earlier this year, but that was in the middle of intensive training for the Jantastic challenge. My time on this course last year was 1:17:49, so I definitely beat that thoroughly.

So an anxious wait now for the official times to see if I did set a PB (unlikely but just possible), but generally I’m left with a real buzz, a feeling that all the training this year has really made a difference, and maybe I am gaining ground on fitness and not just slowing the loss of condition.

So, when’s the next 10k? And do I dare start thinking towards doubling again and heading towards a half marathon next year?

 

Pre race jitters

Tomorrow I’m running a 10k race. It’s my first in months, and also marks one year on from my first 10k race, as I revisit my first ever 10k course. I’m hoping it’s easier than last year. I’m hoping I do better, and run faster.

But actually, I’m just hoping I finish. It’s a while since I’ve run the distance, and I’ve barely run at all this week. Combining my previous training routine with a new puppy and a currently heavy workload is proving tricky, and I’ve struggled to feel motivated.

But it doesn’t get any easier. Missing a run or a swim doesn’t make me feel any fitter, and makes it harder to get going again. I need to push through and keep going.

At the beginning of this year, I was running with someone else; we were meeting up regularly, regardless of weather, tiredness, aches and pains or anything else, and I learned that pushing past the excuses and running anyway brought plenty of reward.

At the end of last year, it was nanowrimo, and I wanted to write regularly because I wanted to be part of the local nano crowd. Not wanting to be left behind, I would keep pushing on with my story, and learned to enjoy the writing experience and ignore excuses.

In both these cases, I found motivation to push on past the excuses and do it anyway, and I gained my rightful reward.

I’ve signed up for this race tomorrow, so I’ll go out and run it. I need to remember that I can do it, and that there will come a point in the run when I settle down and enjoy the process. That each time I push on to that point it’s a little easier, and I gain a little more reward, and that if I wait until it’s easier to do then I’ll be waiting for a long time, so might as well get on with it.

The same with my writing; it’s a question of doing it anyway, and trusting that the rewards will come my way in due course.

So while I don’t expect to break any records or write a blockbuster novel (well, not quite yet, anyway!), I’ll go out there and do it anyway, regardless of any excuses I might find. And I fully expect to end up by enjoying it – or at least enjoy having done it. Because I’ll never regret having given it a go, but I would regret giving up.

In running and in writing.