The learning curve is a treadmill

I spent the day wrestling with software, achieving in the day about half of what I could have achieved in a couple of hours using software I’m already familiar with. It brought home to me something I’d been thinking about this morning, in relation to my running. The learning curve is a treadmill.

You know how we talk about something having a steep learning curve? It’s not just climbing up the slope that’s the problem, it’s also not slipping back down. It’s very easy, when learning a new skill, to put minimum effort into it, so that you don’t actually improve. Instead, you remain at the frustrated stage, until eventually you give up completely.

It’s important to put enough effort in to make progress up the slope. If you’re regularly using your new skills, and building on them, then eventually you will reach the top of the slope and it will all be a lot easier.

It’s exactly the same with my novel. I’ve reached a stage now where there’s lots still to be done, but I know what it is. I could amble along, picking it up now and then, doing a few bits and then forgetting about it again for a while. But I know that if I do that, I’ll keep losing the thread, losing enthusiasm, the words will stop flowing and eventually I’ll grind to a complete halt.

It’s so easy to struggle on the old way, because learning is an effort, and ignore the benefits that learning will bring. But I’m determined that I will soon be able to use this new software to produce well laid-out books for print, and that means that I need to be prepared to take longer at this stage.

And in the same way, I’m going to put in the effort needed for running and for my novel, so that rather than staying at the same level or drifting below, I can really make progress.


Routine is key

I’ve known for a while now that routine is key to getting things done. It’s no good hoping it will get done at some point; if it needs to get done, build it into a routine and stick to the routine, until it gets to the point where it’s easier to do it than to break routine.

I’ve struggled recently to find time for my own projects. During nanowrimo week, I’d quite happily sit and write in the evenings, but that stopped working on 1st December, with the distractions of preparing for Christmas and then everything else that turns up.

I’m busy working during the day, much as I sometimes feel like ignoring everything else and getting on with writing. Early in the morning is exercise time – by 8:30 today I’d already done half an hour in the gym, half an hour in the swimming pool and taken the dog for a walk.

But over breakfast, and before I start work, I’ve started opening up Scrivener and reading through my novel, seeing where I’ve got up to, what sections are missing and what sections need tidying. That seems to work much better for me, and I usually end up doing more than just reading through. And then often I’m thinking about it during the day and ready to continue working on it in the evenings.

Friday lunchtimes is another part of the routine. I finish working at lunchtime, then take my notebook down to a local cafe and sit there with a mug of tea and a plate of chips, and work.

If I find my concentration waning towards lunchtime, that’s my cue to get up and start doing some housework before preparing food. Same in the early evenings, and any other time I’m not fully focused and productive. This means I have less to feel guilty over when I do sit and write.

And so the routines gradually improve and I gradually get things done. Still aiming to have a complete, readable draft of my novel ready as soon as I can. It’s starting to drag on far too much, and that’s how these things sabotage themselves. I need to get back to the babies story, and I need to know I have this one ready to rest.

Within the next six weeks is my target timeframe. Then a couple of months to get back to babies and a couple more to start thinking about the next nano project.

All very well, but that does mean I have to keep focused, head down and working. So teabreak over!


Am I crazy?

I’m having one of those days… or couple of days… you know the kind where you’re doubting yourself? Where you wonder if you’re actually crazy and there’s no point in trying something because you won’t succeed anyway?

I have two big projects I’m working on at the moment. I’m halfway through my first novel (I’ve been halfway through for ages now; it’s not that I’m not working at it, but the more I do the more I realise there is to do, so the goalpost keeps moving) and I’m intending to do an ultramarathon in a couple of years’ time.

So as I procrastinate my time away until there’s little time to do what has to be done, let alone what I would like to do, and as I struggle to hit the speed target I’m aiming for, I’m wondering if I’ve aimed too high, if I’m ever going to be able to write a big project/run a long race.

But you know what? I need to have faith in myself, to keep pushing on regardless of how I might feel occasionally. I’ve broken my running target down into manageable chunks – 10ks and a couple of half marathons this year, add in a full marathon or two next year and then the ultra – and I need to keep ploughing on with the novel, concentrating on getting the story told first, before I worry about how well I’m telling it. As I go through, I figure out things that need to be done earlier in the story, which is why the project keeps growing, but it’s all experience that I can make use of with future writing projects – they won’t all need this level of focus, or at least – just like running – I’ll get better results for the same amount of focus.

So maybe I am crazy, but I can live with that. And I’m going to keep running and keep writing, regardless of how my brain throws up negativity. Because stopping is more painful than carrying on.


Plans and ultras

With the a-z challenge out of the way, it’s back to normal. And this means getting back to finishing my novel, considering the other one, and planning and training for an ultramarathon. A what? where did that come from?

I’m in a couple of running groups on facebook, and someone on one of those posted that she was halfway through the Pony Express Ultra.

Now for some reason the name caught my attention, and so I looked it up. It’s based in my favourite part of the country, the New Forest, and it’s a 60 mile/2 day run, through the forest, on trails, cycle paths and very occasionally roads. It involves navigating through the countryside, at a walk or run, and a night out camping in a sports hall.

Sounds fun, no?

I’ve only run as far as a half marathon so far, so I’m being sensible. I’m too late for this year, obviously, and I’m not even going to think about doing it next year. But the year after? I don’t see why not.

It’s a big challenge, that’s for sure. But it’s a challenge that has me excited at the thought, and I consider it manageable. After all, a couple of years ago 10k was a big challenge. So this year I’m doing several 10ks, I’ve done a half marathon, and I’m looking into doing a second HM. The particular one I’m looking at is described as “challenging”, which originally put me off a little, but hey, if I’m heading for a two day ultra, what’s scary about an undulating half?

Next year I’m planning to do a marathon or two – looking at the Kent Roadrunner as a possible first – and then the year after it will be the ultra.

It means building up my long runs, adding in at least one more run a week, running more trail routes and getting much more serious about getting into shape. That doesn’t scare me. I keep feeling it should, but I really enjoyed the long runs building up to the half, and felt sorry when it was all over. Now I have a good excuse to build back up again.

I also have a new pair of shoes for road work, to go with my new trail shoes I bought recently. So I’m all set to go!

I did a 10k race on Monday, so allowing myself to take it easy for a couple of days, but then back to the three runs/three swims a week from tomorrow, building in a fourth run from next week, and increasing the distance. My running is getting faster at the moment thanks to some podcasts I’ve been using, which are working on my cadence, but the beauty of an ultra is that distance trumps speed.

I woke up a couple of mornings ago, the day after completing a 10k, and thought to myself: I just ran fast(ish) for an hour yesterday without stopping. And recently I ran for over two and a half hours without stopping. That’s absolutely incredible. And now I’m thinking of doing it for several hours and over two days. There’s still a long way to go until I’m ready for it, but bring it on! Nearly two years of hard work to go before I get there, but I’m looking forward to it.


Z is for zest

Posted as the final post in the a-z challenge – apologies for the lateness!

Z is for Zest. Or Zeal. Both words meaning enthusiasm, excitement, passion. It’s hard to get anything done without these. And if you do have a zest for something it’s hard not to do it.

Finding that zest for life is important. What really makes you sit up and take notice? What makes your heart beat faster, makes you feel awake and eager?

Years ago, I generally felt listless, without much enthusiasm. Then I went out – to an antiques valuation session for the local radio, to be precise – and suddenly felt wide awake and full of excitement. Not necessarily for the antiques, you understand, but because I love radio, having been part of hospital radio for a few years, and being back among the technology and the crowds reminded me of something I’d lost.

Now I feel to some extent I’m walking around in a fog again, or at least mist, but at least it occasionally lifts and I get a glimpse of that zest for life. The secret is to recognise it, recognise the source of it, and steer yourself towards it, so that it can shine through the fog and warm up every aspect of your life.


Y is for yearn

Posted as part of the A-Z challenge.

Do you have a yearning for anything? I have a yearning to have my novel finished, and to run a marathon. Both are very possible; both involve a lot of hard work. Work that won’t get done without the drive to do it. What causes that drive? The yearning.

It’s yearning that drives our lives; yearning for a better, more comfortable life, maybe. Without that longing for something, we would be content to stay exactly as we are.

Yet sometimes we yearn for other things when we should be content with what we have. If yearning is driving us to do better, it’s good. If it’s driving us to forget the good things we already have, then it’s bad.


X is for (e)Xpert

Posted as part of the A-Z challenge. With a slight cheat because I couldn’t come up with any meaningful comments about a xylophone.

Are you expert in anything? I’ve always wanted to be an expert, but somehow I seem to know a bit about a lot of things but not everything about any one thing.

But you know what? That’s not such a bad thing. Yes, it’s good to know a single subject in depth, but sometimes, it’s important to see the links between subjects; to be able to combine two or more subjects and find something new.

As a writer, I can call on all sorts of topics and meld them. As an editor, I have a good general awareness, whatever the subject matter. I’m not just stuck with one tool to use; I can select from a range of tools, and consider their relative merits.

So while I’d still really like to be a complete expert in one area, until one jumps out at me as the one I really, really need to become expert in, I’ll remain jack of all trades and master of none. Or maybe I’ll just call myself a general expert. Do you think that would work?





W is for walk

Posted as part of the a-z challenge.

I’ve been doing a lot of walking lately. Having a German Shepherd pup tends to do that to you! Well, I say pup – she’s a year old next month, and getting to the point where she can roam the countryside with me.

One thing I’ve noticed when out walking is that it’s fascinating to see what lies between. Between two roads that I often drive on is an ex-golf course, for example, and an area that years ago was overgrown but is now full of houses. In the other direction, there’s the woods that hide the area between one road and the next.

If I walk up to the pond and back, it’s the same distance as walking across the airfield and back, but it seems much further cross-country, and you find all sorts of curiosities on the way.

I go running regularly, but I enjoy the walks as well, because there’s so much more time to stop and look around, to take in the view, to discover places that are close by but hidden.

When I was working in London, I’d quite often wander the streets in my lunch hour, looking around and seeing the sights, seeing where different places were in relation to one another, finding those places I’d heard about but never seen.

Now when I wander around town I spot all the hidden passages, the courtyards between buildings, the architectural gems.

I’ve always enjoyed walking, but somehow it just doesn’t feel right to go out for a walk without a dog.


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.