Diving in

I remember little of my time at school, but one incident stands out. We had an outdoor swimming pool at my school. It was always freezing cold, and I would always spend the first five minutes or so lowering myself gently into the water at the shallow end, trying to get used to the temperature. As a result, when the teacher spread the class out, with the confident swimmers at the deep end and the non-swimmers or poor swimmers at the shallow end, I was always in the poorer swimmer group, and I’m sure the teacher thought I couldn’t swim properly.

This particular lesson I remember, I think I’d been swimming at the public swimming pool in the days before – not a common occurrence, but I had enjoyed my time in the warmer pool and practised all the shallow, racing dives I’d seen the confident swimmers learning in class.

Then, on the Friday morning, I realised that my piano lesson coincided with this last swimming lesson of the term. Piano lessons were taken individually, missing lessons, and there were strict rules on which lessons you were supposed to miss. PE lessons were considered fair game.

My twelve-year-old brain couldn’t cope with this. I had so been looking forward to the swimming lesson, with all this extra practice I’d put in! I ended up in a toilet cubicle crying my eyes out.

I have no idea how this happened, but there was a knock on the door from someone I barely knew, saying that she would swap her piano lesson with me so I could still go to swimming lesson. I didn’t even know anyone knew I was there, or why I was upset, but there was this solution presented to me.

So I gratefully accepted, and at swimming lesson time I got straight into the deep end, without any of my usual prevarication, and showed off all lesson, with my racing dives and lengths. My teacher was suitably surprised and impressed and I’ve been forever grateful to whoever not only noticed that I was upset, but managed to come up with a solution.

 

New Year again!

judgeOnce again, I find myself contemplating the new year. This is something I often do, and it seems a shame to break the chain. So looking back at last year’s entry, what did I set out to do this year and how did I do?

running: distance goals.

Didn’t really do very well on the running front this year at all. Just as I am this year, I entered the year recovering from a knee injury, and it wasn’t really until July that I’d built up the distance enough to do a 10k race. Then I did the Herne Bay 10k (similar time to last year, but better run and with more behind me than previously), the Faversham 10k (my first ever 10k was this one, and this was my third or possibly fourth time), and the Givaudan Ashford 10k (this is where my right knee proved unable to cope last year; this year it was my left knee that gave up). After that race, my knee injury, which had been niggling for a while, decided it was going to stop me running, and since then I haven’t really managed to achieve anything – apart from a parkrun on Christmas Eve that was both horribly slow and a bad idea for my knee, so I’m now back to square one. I’m signed up for Brighton Marathon at the beginning of April, but to be honest I’ll be glad if I’m just out doing parkrun again by then. We’ll have to see on that one, and keep doing the exercises to strengthen the muscles in my legs.

writing: completing both novels.

I assume by that I meant Abandoned and Gods v Heroes. Gods v Heroes is now within a couple of chapters of being a complete draft, with various sections at different levels of completion. Abandoned hasn’t been touched very much since I wrote it, although I did start to revise the beginning and it’s already in complete draft stage. Since then, I’ve added in Life Lessons, which started off as a simple romance and ended up dragging in all sorts of other issues. I’m pleased with that one – it was a fairly clean first draft, although at 50k it’s rather short, and has been out to at least one reader already, with positive feedback. Now I need to start building that up. I’ve decided I need to aim for at least three drafts – plot, character/setting and fine-tuning. The plot draft is becoming easier with each project; now I need to start developing my skills on the other two draft types.

Drawing/creativity: regular practice.

I’m not sure I’d say regular practice, but it’s something that I have dabbled in throughout the year. It’s something that I want to continue in future, as well.

Technical skills: develop.

This is one that never really got off the ground, although I’ve continued to develop my skills in the software I use regularly in my business – InDesign, mainly, and starting to learn Photoshop and Illustrator, as well as working on my editing skills. Maybe at some point I’ll get back to the programming, but that’s low on the list of priorities right now, as I’m trying to ensure that I’m developing skills that are directly useful to the business.

Personal life: create an environment in which all can flourish.

Since I found a site called habitica, I’ve really made progress on this. Using the site, I can built up a list of tasks, set either as weekly tasks on or on specific days of the week, and by using this I’ve really built up a reasonable working routine for the housework. There’s still a long way to go, but at least the foundation is now there, and I’ve discovered the motivation that was lacking previously.

So where does that leave me for this year?

Get running again

Trying to get running again, and at the very least working on my strength and mobility, because otherwise I can see myself seizing up completely and not being able to do very much at all.

Build up my creativity

My Annie’s Escapades project on Facebook should help greatly with the creativity, as I’m aiming to post a photo a day of Annie’s adventures helping me to be creative, or just to get out there and have fun.

Developing my skills

Developing skills that I need for the business, and putting a lot more time and effort into the business this year, so that I can have a little more financial security.

Developing my writing

Continue to work on my novels, and get at least two of them through another draft (it only took a month to write them, why should it take any longer to edit?!).

Taking care of the household

Continue to build up my routines and habits so that the house is more organised and so that those around me are cared for suitably.

 

Annie’s Escapades

dsc_0385I have a new project! You can follow my progress on https://www.facebook.com/Anniehasfun/. Here I wanted to explain the thinking behind it.

I’ve already spoken about some of the voices inside my head, how there’s Annie, my inner child, Betty, the nagging parent, and Charlie, who’s basically psycho. Well, I’m fed up with hearing Betty’s voice, and Charlie worries me, so I thought it was about time I really listened to Annie. My intention is to use her as my focus for getting out, having fun and being creative. Christmas presents worked together to help out, and I’m looking forward to seeing just what Annie and I are going to get up to together.

For those who are interested, Annie is a Lottie doll. I fell in love with these when I first saw them. Her dog is Biscuit, and will join her on outside activities. Her cat is Pandora, and will keep her company on inside activities.

 

Nano is over

mock-coverActually, nano has been over for about a week now, but since I’ve been laid up with a cold, things have got a little slack.

I did complete nano again this year, but not the way I’d planned. While I had a story idea and even a cover design, it turned out that the story itself wasn’t sufficiently developed to put down on paper. I’ve learned that I don’t work well as a pantser, I much prefer to have everything planned out and know where I’m going. So I abandoned Game of Life around 11k words in and switched to another project. That doesn’t mean the story itself is abandoned, simply that it needs to be developed more before it’s ready. So maybe next year.

In the meantime, I was very good last year and continued the nano tradition into December, starting another novel. I got around 8k words in before putting that one to one side to deal with Christmas, and it had been sitting there ever since.  So I felt it was a fair swap to jump to that one instead for the rest of nano. There were a few days when I wrote on both projects, and then I switched completely and managed to get most of the draft done by the end of the month, hitting the 50k target a few days before the end of the month.

Then I got this cold, and I need to sort out a chapter of Gods V Heroes for writing group next Monday, and so this new one has been set aside again…

But I must get back to it. I’m pleased with how it’s turned out, and did a lot of work on Aeon Timeline to plan it out (I wrote a blog entry on my business blog, explaining how I planned it).

Provisionally entitled The English Teachers, it even ended up with a new title by the end – Life Lessons – and now I need to design a proper cover for it, finish the last couple of scenes, clean up the draft so it’s readable, and then seek beta readers before polishing. I wouldn’t normally jump to beta readers so early, but in this case I want to make sure the setting and background are right.

The story is a romance (although at the moment the romance is very low key) set in a school. Nic falls for a teacher at another school, until she learns that the two schools are to be merged and they will be rivals for the post of head of department. In the meantime, there is a joint school project to work through, and issues with students that just won’t wait.

 

The agony of creation

It’s nanowrimo tomorrow. While I try to keep my writing up through the year, it can be a struggle at times. I’ve been working on my 2014 nano project, Gods V Heroes, and lately some work on my 2015 novel, Abandoned, has also crept in. But at this point of the year I start considering a new project, and that reminds me of the excitement of writing, as opposed to editing/rewriting.

As a result, my enthusiasm has reawakened, not just for the new project, but for all my older projects – yes, even the babies one that has yet to receive a title.

Please remind me of this – it’s so stupid that I let this excitement die away during the rest of the year. It’s really a case that if I open my mind to the ideas, they’ll flood me out, and if I don’t start picking up on them and getting going, then they’ll create a logjam and nothing will get done.

game-of-life-2My new project is entitled Game of Life, and I even have a proper cover design for it. The first part has existed in my head for a long time, and I’m excited to be able to put it into proper words. The second part is nowhere near as clear, but hopefully it will emerge from the shadows as the first part is pinned down.

 

It’s that time of year

The middle of October. A big time for writers. The time when thoughts turn to nanowrimo, and to planning for the current year’s project.

I’ve got an idea I’ve been saving up for this. I’ve just been putting some thought into the structure, and in starting to build up the scrivener project ready for writing.

The problem I find is that writing is like turning on a tap. As long as the tap is off, ideas can come and go and I don’t take much notice. But as soon as I start working on one idea, the rest start to flow as well, and I just start getting flooded out with too many ideas and not enough time to work on them.

I think I need to work on taming that flow, on getting to a steady stream I can work with. This has to entail regular writing sessions. Sometimes when running, I remind myself to relax and enjoy the run, and I feel my stride loosening and my speed increasing with the enjoyment. That’s what I need to achieve with my writing, as well. To reach that point where I relax into the page and enjoy telling the story.

So the plan is to work on the Game of Life, which explores a whole philosophy around gods and worlds and beliefs and destiny. But the romance is also rearing its head.

Meantime, Gods V Heroes and Abandoned are both somewhere in the editing process.

AARRGGHH!

 

Tied to the world

When I was growing up, I had a strange mindset – I felt as though I was trailing an invisible line behind me, and I had to take care not to get that line snagged. I knew that if the line snagged on too many things I’d be irrevocably tied to the world.

So I would take great care not to wrap that line around things if I could avoid it; retracing my steps out of a place, rather than going out of a different door, not twisting around or I’d get tangled. I couldn’t see the line, of course, but I could feel it, and felt uncomfortable if I ended up getting it caught on things.

Even these days, when I’m under stress I’ll take care not to twist round too much, and I’ll try to retrace my steps whenever possible. For example, if I walk from the cooker to the fridge, and then to the sink, I’ll turn back round the other way rather than complete the turn that comes naturally with the triangle of movement.

But I had a thought the other day – what if it’s true? What if, as children, we know things that as adults we forget? That part of that forgetting is snagging our invisible line on things and losing our memories that way? What if I’d been even more careful as a child? Would that connection still be strong?

When I was three or four years old, I could write. I remember distinctly being in church one day with my mother, and playing with my letter writing set – notepaper and envelopes, all designed for a child. I wrote my letters and sealed them up in the envelopes, and I knew I could write. Then I got to school, and suddenly I had to learn it all. Most frustrating.

Memory is an odd thing. If you go through an event, but remember nothing of it afterwards, does it matter? What if there’s something that all of us forget as we grow into this world, and will only be revealed again at the end of our lives? Will our lives actually matter then?

My novels, and the philosophical ideas behind them, are starting to create logjams, and I really need to get going on them.

 

It’s all in my head

I went for a run today. Tuesday is my long run day. So far, I’m only running about 10k, but today I wanted to try for a little longer.

So I covered 11k altogether. But the second half involved walking breaks, aching calves and ankles, twinging knees and a complaining brain. You’re not going to do this. You’re useless. You’re too slow. You’ll finish last again in your 10k next month, and you’ll be even slower than last year. How are you going to run a full marathon next year if you can’t even do 10k properly?

I heard that voice. And I kept going. Slowly. Taking walking breaks for my aching legs, and telling myself that it’s all helping them to get stronger; that even if I’m not ready now, I will be. That even if I’m last (again), what matters is that I do it, and that it’s another run in the bag. That the training, and the learning to overcome that little voice, is the purpose of the race; the race itself is the celebration of the achievement.

It’s the same with my writing. Whenever that little voice points out the number of books already out there, or say there’s no point in competitions, or that nobody wants to read my writing anyway, I just smile and nod and then keep writing. In the end, while it would be very nice to sell loads of copies and make people happy and become a successful writer, I’d settle quite happily for finishing a complete novel to a standard I’m happy with and then moving on. And any writing session I do helps that along.

So in the end, whether it’s my legs or my imagination playing up, the real problem is in my head, and that’s what I need to defeat. But one thing I do need to be aware of is the subtle temptation to do just enough to keep myself at that level where I’m unhappy with my performance, when just a little more consistent effort would bring about improvement, because that’s where the real motivation lies.

And to do that, I really need to beat that voice into submission.

 

Powering through

When I run, I know and accept that sometimes I’ll have a really bad run. Sometimes, I’ll end up doing more walking than running. Maybe my knee is playing up, or I’m overtired, or dehydrated. Maybe it will just be slow and the weather will be nasty. Maybe I’ll hate every minute that I’m out there.

Regardless, I know that if I power through the run, however badly it goes, my body will be that little bit stronger and my mind will have that little more staying power and experience to help me through the next bad time.

That’s where I am at the moment with my writing, too. I’ve come to a scene that I need to completely rewrite, not just edit. And it’s like walking into a brick wall. I’ve stared at the screen so many times, and then allowed myself to get distracted.

But I need to just power on. I know it won’t be brilliant. It will probably be the literary equivalent of a plank balanced across a ravine, getting me across from one side to the other just barely. But the important thing is that I get there, and can then move on again from the other side. At some stage I need to go right back through, with a thorough re-edit, and that’s the time to worry about the details. But not now.

I’m so near to the end of this draft. I can see the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Theoretically, after this chapter there are four more to write or rewrite, and then I’ve got a complete draft.

Then I can set this aside and work on Abandoned for a while. But I daren’t leave this one until I get to the end. And that means taking the bad with the good.

A lot of writing a novel is about stamina and persistence, just like running a marathon. Anyone can go out for a short stroll. Most people can stagger through 26 miles. It takes a lot of dedication and hard work to get through the 26 miles and still be smiling at the end.

In the same way, anyone can string words together. But it takes a lot more to complete a novel. I’m determined to prove I have what it takes.

 

Reaching Nirvana

Way back in the 80s, I owned my first computer. A ZX81, the first computer small enough and cheap enough to be of interest to the casual home user. It came with a massive 1k of RAM, expandable to 16k with a RAM pack.

As you can imagine, programming it was a tricky job. There were games available to buy, loading from a cassette tape player, and some of them were actually pretty good, keeping me entertained for hours. But there were also loads of magazines to buy, each containing listings for programs for you to type in and save on your own cassette tapes. Some of these games were pretty nifty, but one in particular has stayed with me all these years as a metaphor for life.

The aim of the game was to reach Nirvana. You would start in the middle of a grid, and could move north, south, east or west, via arrow keys. Each turn, you would move one step, with the idea of reaching Nirvana. When you thought you had reached it, you would enter a different command.

Every time you said you thought you’d reached Nirvana, guess what? You had.

So you could wander the grid for hours, visiting every square, or you could declare you’d reached Nirvana on the very first turn. Either way, you would win.

Pretty silly game, really.

And yet…

Isn’t that true of life, sometimes? That we can wander around all our lives, looking for something mysterious, waiting to discover our purpose, trying to find happiness? And all we have to do is to make up our minds that this, here, right where we are, this is where we’re meant to be, and what we’re meant to be doing.

Okay, it might not work for everyone, or all the time, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion that more often than not, we’re still wandering when actually we’re already there.