V is for victory

Posted as part of the A-Z challenge.

Victories give you something to celebrate. I’m celebrating a few victories today: I have the clear conscience that I got a job out of the way yesterday that’s been hanging over me for a long time, I ran a really strong PB at parkrun today – and there are currently three chickens in my new hen house.

Sometimes we have jobs that we dread, and we put it off as hard as we can. When that happens, I try to remind myself how good it will feel to have it out of the way – not only because it will no longer be looming, but because I can pat myself on the back and remind myself that I did it, I achieved something, I showed some self discipline.

I’ve been running parkrun for nearly two and a half years now. My slowest time is over 39 minutes (not counting the 41 minute attempt which included a loo break!) and my fastest time has been gradually creeping down. I can still remember celebrating beating 35 minutes. Last year I was celebrating breaking the 33 minute barrier. This year so far I’ve brought it down another 2 minutes, finishing today in 30:40. It was hard work, but I feel really pleased that I’ve developed the strength and stamina and the self discipline to make the effort over the distance and bring my time down so far.

I’ve been thinking about keeping chickens for years, at various levels of seriousness. Then a month or so ago hubby bought me a chicken coop and run, and we were planning to get chickens when we get back from holiday, later in the year. Today the farm that sells chickens was running a talk on keeping chickens, so we attended. Hubby suggested that we could take the cat box “just in case”, as it’s still a long time until our holiday, and so we returned home with three chickens!

So all in all, lots of victories to celebrate today.


U is for uniform

Posted as part of the a-z challenge.

Uniform. Matching. Indistinguishable from the rest. At school there’s often fights over correct uniform. Many times kids complained to me that it wasn’t fair that I didn’t have to wear uniform and they did. At one school I taught at, the sixth form dress code specified suits or at least shirts, ties and smart trousers for the boys, and people complained that the girls didn’t have to dress up. In both cases, the complainers were wrong, of course; there is a dress code for teachers, and there was a dress code there for the girls, but because it was more flexible, it slipped past without noticing.

Why do we want to be the same as everyone else? Some complain about the stifling of individuality. On the other hand, having a set uniform reduces the need to think about what to wear. I did read that the most successful people wear the same thing all the time – one less thing to worry about.

In some ways, being uniform is good. In many others, it’s rigid and constricting.

I always preferred to wear school uniform. I complained when they stopped ties as part of the girls’ school uniform. I make a point of getting changed into something smart when I go out tutoring, because I feel that if I’m dressed for work then it feels like work; the clothes put me in the right frame of mind.

In the same way, wearing a uniform reminds kids where they are, and what they’re there for. It encourages pride and a sense of belonging.

And schools often can’t cope with creativity and individuality anyway.


T is for test

Do you like tests?

I usually do. The only test I’ve been particularly stressed over was my driving test. Exams, at school or since, have been enjoyable opportunities to show what I can do.

These days, it seems that the expectation is that the person taking the test knows exactly what’s being tested and what they need to do to get a good mark. In my day, it always just seemed to be a vague expectation of doing your best and hoping.

Sometimes it feels like life is a test, and one where I don’t know the rules, or the requirements, or even who’s testing me and how. That’s when it’s not so pleasant.

In the end, testing helps us to see how well we know something, or how well we can do it. It’s hard to understand those who cheat, because they’re cheating themselves. In the end, we’re only competing against ourselves.

I’m reading a book about education at the moment, suggesting that schools should be allowed to change focus, and move away from endless tests. It seems that at the moment rather than testing what needs to be learned, the focus is on learning what can be tested.

I talked yesterday about studying. The result of studying is being able to put that learning into action, and that, then is the real test.



S is for study

The study is the room where I spend most of my working day. And it’s usually what I do when I’m in there! Whether it’s studying someone’s manuscript to see how I can help them with it, or studying style guides and editorial guides, or working on my own novel, or general research, there’s always something new to learn.

How do you study best? I prefer working from a book, taking my time and reading and then doing worked examples. I sometimes try to skip the active bit and just read, but I always find I learn best when doing as well as reading about – something to bear in mind, I guess!

Then there’s the reason for study – is it personal interest or to gain a qualification? I find I learn best when it’s for a specific purpose, and preferably when I have deadlines to meet. Otherwise it’s all too easy to lose interest and let things slide too much.

But whatever way you do it, the important thing is that you study and that you enjoy the process.



R is for research

Posted as part of the a-z challenge.

Research: dull or interesting? I get involved in research for various things, from researching information for my novel to checking things for my work. Recent searches have included religious extremism (novel), dwarf and elf names (novel), the difference between any more and anymore (work) and the use of viewpoints within fiction (work and my own novel).

I’m engaged in a project to research our local workhouse, which is fascinating. The only drawback is the expense; while the research itself is free, it also involves over an hour of travel by car, car parking for the day and organising some sort of lunch, as well as necessitating a day away from paid work.

When I did my teacher training, we did an exercise on research. We were asked a bunch of questions, and had to give the answer plus how certain we were of the answer. We then had time to research online, and then had to again give an answer plus how certain we were. The result was generally that after an hour of research the answers might not have changed, but the certainty of that answer had dropped! Our tutor alleged he’d deliberately changed an answer on wikipedia to throw us off as well…

There’s a great deal of satisfaction in looking things up and finding the right answer. And sometimes it’s essential. Other times, it’s just a time-waster, a way to avoid doing what we really should be doing.

And on that note, I must go and do what I should be doing right now, which ironically includes research…

Q is for quest

Posted as part of the a-z challenge.

The novel I’m currently working on explores the difference between playing an online game and living in the real world. In the online game, quests are obvious, the requirement to complete them is obvious and there is an instant reward. In real life, quests are nowhere near as obvious to find or complete.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have our mission in life handed to us, with clear instructions on how to fulfil it? I guess some people do, but for many of us, life becomes one long search for what we should be doing.

For some people, they solve the problem by burying themselves into another world, where life is simpler. The real world can seem uncertain and scary, and it is easier to hide from it.

Or maybe we should turn life into a game, and award ourselves points when we do something boring or tricky. That’s what gamification is all about.

The important thing is that we find ourselves some kind of quest and just get on with it. My current quests are running half marathons, and seriously considering building up to a full one, and completing this novel and considering the next.

I guess they’re clear quests, and carry clear objectives for finishing and specific rewards for completion. Easy though? No.



P is for perseverance

Posted as part of the A-Z challenge.

“persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success” is the dictionary definition of perseverance. It’s easy to keep going when it’s going well. It’s harder to keep pushing forward through difficulties, but that’s where the successes are really made.

I’m currently watching the highlights of the Brighton marathon. If those runners stopped when things got hard they’d never make it to the end. I know that; I did a half marathon a few weeks ago, and there were training sessions where I really struggled. Further back, I remember when covering 5k in a combination of walking and running left me lying on the sofa for the rest of the weekend.

But somehow I kept going, and I’m thinking of pushing myself further and harder, because I recognise the strength it’s developing in me – and I’m not just talking about my legs and heart!

It’s the same with my writing. Writing a novel is hard work, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s easy to give up and decide it’s not worth it. But if you decide it is, then you need to keep pushing forward, dealing with any issues that arise, and keep your eye on that finish line – and even further ahead, because you can’t just stop. Not when you’ve run a race; not when you’ve published a novel. Because there’s another one ahead, and another, and each one provides another opportunity to push and grow and develop.


O is for oh dear

Posted as part of the a-z challenge.

Anyone who’s keeping up might have noticed that this should have been posted yesterday. I dropped the ball. I missed a post.

Oh dear.

But it’s not a disaster. No one is going to chase after me and do nasty things. I can pick up and catch up and carry on.

How many times in our lives do we go wrong, and then panic over it? Sit ourselves down and wail that it’s all gone wrong and things will never be the same again?

Being able to recognise a problem, deal with it and move on is a very useful strength. One that I’m working hard to develop.



N is for necessary

Posted as part of the a-z challenge.

Is your journey really necessary? That’s something asked in this country in times when there are extreme transport issues – usually because an inch or two of snow has fallen overnight. Yes, we’re that feeble.

I was thinking this morning about what’s necessary for my life. Since I ran my half marathon, in fact since about a week or so before, I’ve not been exercising so much, or been so careful about what I eat. I’m trying to get back into a proper routine, but as the swimming pool showers have been out of use this week I haven’t been swimming regularly for two or three weeks now, and I’m just getting back into running regularly.

I consider it directly attributable to my lack of exercise that I’ve not been sleeping as well, I’ve been overeating and I’ve been feeling aches and pains, and general stiffness.

So I’ve decided that exercise isn’t just something I enjoy doing, or something I can do if I have time. It’s something that’s necessary for my wellbeing.

It’s the same with writing. I’ve always made up stories as part of a stressbusting exercise. They haven’t always been written down, but the stories have always been there. So has the journal writing. Any time I feel extra stressed, my remedy is to reach for a notebook and pen and get it all onto paper.

So I need to accept that exercise and writing are both necessary and get on with them, which generally I do; but sometimes if I have to stop for a bit it can be hard to get back into the routine again.

I’m currently trying out a passion planner – while I don’t have the money to import one from the US, and it’s not the best idea to import a year-long journal partway into the year, there’s a free PDF available to print out one out for yourself, as long as you spread the word about it, which I’ve already done (and am doing here!), so I’ve printed out a few pages and I will attempt to use it to bring some kind of focus into my life. Because if I don’t focus on what I want to achieve, then how can I ever expect to get there?

Just as a map is necessary on a long journey into unfamiliar territory (yes, even if it’s a satnav map!), a focus is necessary for life, in order to figure out where you’re going and how to get there.



M is for maths

Posted as part of the A-Z challenge.

I work with words. So according to some I should be useless at maths. You can’t possibly be good at both, it’s one or the other.

To still others, maths doesn’t matter anyway. Who needs any of that algebra nonsense? and after all, it’s cool to be useless at maths – I see people declaring it proudly.

To me maths is important, and it is fun, and it is interesting. All very good reasons to enjoy it. The pleasure of taking a problem and solving it. The way that it doesn’t matter which way you approach the problem  – simple way or hard way, as long as you follow the rules properly the answer is the same.

Our world depends on maths. From the equipment we use, to the medicines we take, to the way businesses are run, to the way we check the weather forecast – everything is based on maths. And to be able to think about it sensibly is very important.

As to the algebra, we use it all the time, without knowing it. It’s just describing the rules of numbers, so that an unknown quantity can be worked out. Whether you’re aware of it or not, you use it every time you work out what change you’re owed, or how many you can afford to buy with the money you have on you. Becoming aware of it just means that you can use it as a more powerful too.

And isn’t that a metaphor for just about everything? So much goes on around us, without us being aware. Becoming aware, and being able to analyse it, enables us to take control and become the one doing things, rather than the one being done to.

I tell the kids I tutor that maths is like a magic trick – it can seem completely impossible if you don’t know how it’s done, but once you learn the trick it’s ridiculously easy.