Always the bridesmaid, never the bride

I was cute when I was younger. I was a bridesmaid a total of four times, although for the first – for an aunt – I was too young to remember.

I did eventually have my own turn as bride, but nevertheless the phrase has haunted me: always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

It feels as though the phrase describes my life: all those around me are signing up for races, and completing marathons. I signed up for a marathon, but never got there; injury stopped me before training had even started properly. And yet it felt as it was meant to be that way. That while others achieve, it’s my role only to cheer on the sidelines.

It’s the same with writing. While I work on my own projects, it still feels as though my role in the writing business is to help others with their projects. I edit, proofread, format, even help with structure, while my own projects never reach that final stage.

I’m still haunted by a book idea I had thirty years ago. It was a valid non-fiction book idea. I started out researching it. And then someone else published it. The book I was planning to write. How silly I was to think I could do it myself! (why is it so silly, though?)

In life generally, I seem to fall into that support role. Even while playing World of Warcraft, I heal, enabling others to do their jobs better without worrying about their health. I love the healing role, but it means that once again I’m following others around and helping them, while they charge in and get things done.

Sometimes it feels like my role in life is as a support act for others. When do I get to take a main role? Or am I doomed to always stand on the sidelines cheering the rest?

I guess it’s not so bad. We can’t all be huge successes, at the top of our field. And I’ve a sneaking suspicion that a lot of my problem is self-sabotage.

But still, I’d really like my turn at some point.

 

Work hard, play hard

I’m just starting to appreciate the relationship between working hard and playing hard. It’s so easy to feel I’m chained to my computer, working, and don’t have time to be creative, but I’m discovering that if I do deliberately take a break and allow myself some fun time then I can return to the desk refreshed and able to work more efficiently than if I’d stayed here ploughing through. So it’s not just pleasant to take a break, it’s necessary.

It’s like the story of the two guys who started a new job chopping down trees. On the first day, one guy chopped down 10 trees, while the second did 5. On the second day, the first guy chopped down 8, and the second man 5. On the third day, it was 5 each. On the fourth day, the first guy only managed a couple, while the second again managed his five. The supervisor investigated, and discovered that the second guy was spending time each day sharpening his axe, while the first man was just focused on working, but as his axe grew blunt, he would work more and more slowly.

So now when I take a break, I refer to it as sharpening my axe. And sure enough, once I return, I can work efficiently again.

So how do I sharpen my axe? I have a list of things I want to spend time doing. Over the past couple of days, I’ve tried creating new clothes for my doll, Annie. I have my sketching and painting that I’d like to do. I want to have another go at making paper, now I have a greater understanding of the processes involved. I have a brand-new screen printing kit that I want to try out, if only I could come up with an idea for a design I want to print.

Then there’s the learning to be creative in other ways – book cover design, for example. More elaborate document layouts. And maybe one day I’ll even manage to get back to my programming projects.

Then of course there’s my allotment, which desperately needs time spent on it.

And there’s always my writing, which I found more enthusiasm for when I allowed myself to relax and play as well.

I’m tracking at least some of my creativity via my Annie’s Escapades page, and I’m hoping that by creating a list I’ll have something to turn to when I want ideas.

So how do you sharpen your axe?

 

Running shirts

I’m about to go out running again, for the first time in weeks, and I’m hoping my knee will hold out. As I went through my clothes, sorting out what I wanted to wear, I realised that I have a whole load of running shirts, and that there’s a story behind just about all of them.

There’s my Paddock Wood Half Marathon shirt – the longest distance and longest race I’ve done to date.

My Brighton Marathon training shirt – a sad story, as I never got there.

My Beyonders shirt – a Facebook group where I’ve made many friends and find great support running. This shirt needs my name on, and then will become my race shirt.

My two-blue shirt – my current race shirt, and the first running shirt I used regularly.

My darker blue shirt – I ordered this from Amazon, and got grumpy when it took three weeks to arrive instead of three days.

My three parkrun shirts – 50 (red), 100 (black) and 25 Volunteer (purple). I earned those. I value them.

My Faversham 10k shirt – I have three altogether, but this is the only one in technical fabric. It’s also hi-vis, so gets a lot of wear.

My red Adidas shirt – bought to wear for a school sports day. It was a couple of weeks before I was due to leave the school altogether, and for the first time I felt part of a group, moving around, being active, laughing at the kids who decided they were too cool to join in, arguing with those who objected to my way of interpreting the rules.

Then there’s my long-sleeved shirts – one hi-vis, and one black. The black one is worn as an extra layer under a teeshirt during cold days. The hi-vis one was my first confirmation that I was an actual runner, who would go out running even when the weather wasn’t warm and pleasant.

My two vest tops – one bought because I wanted something to wear in summer. The other donated by my mother in law as part of a promotion she qualified for.

Finally there are charity vests – a reminder that I was supposed to raise money for a charity during my Brighton run. I’m hoping that some day I’ll be able to honour that commitment.

But first of all, I need to get back to running. Which is where today comes in. And my choice of shirt? Purple volunteer shirt. To remind myself that I’m useful to parkrun even if I’m not a fast runner.

 

 

Babies project takes a step forward

I’ve been playing around with a specific project for several years. I’ve done two very different complete drafts for nanowrimo, a few years apart, and I keep coming back to it. I have a whole document full of news links that are relevant to my novel, and every time my interest dwindles another news story comes up.

This project is along the lines of The Handmaid’s Tale – taking all sorts of stories and projecting the sort of world they are leading to. It started along the lines of thinking about Babies R Us, and imagining it as a kind of pet store but for babies – go along and choose your baby. Then it developed away from that. But it always suffered from lack of direction, and that was reflected in – and was caused by – the lack of a proper title.

So for years it was “that thing about the babies”, or just “babies”. But without that focus, the project floundered.

Then recently it came to me. I know what the title is, or at least one or two variations on what I want, and with that title comes the whole theme and purpose of the novel.

Ladies and gentlemen I present: A Perfect Childhood.

The novel seeks to explore the idea of state as parent, and how eliminating the variation in parenting quality, and providing a consistent, expert parent in the state, would theoretically solve the attainment gap and ensure that every single child would have the same opportunities in life.

Of course, being a novel, things don’t go quite according to plan…

So now I have a title and a focus, I really need to get on with a new draft. Although there’s still Abandoned to work on for writing group, and Life Lessons, my romance, is nagging at me. And Gods V Heroes will need another draft at some point soon…

If only I could get Dropbox working again on my laptop, I could get on with all of these. Otherwise I face the prospect of either carrying a memory stick around and running several different versions, or having to retire to the study rather than sit with my feet up in front of the TV while writing.

 

I didn’t run the marathon

At some point last year, a load of friends from a Facebook running group were signing up for the Brighton Marathon. I can do this, I thought. I can be part of the crowd. I don’t want to feel left out. I want to run a marathon.

And so I paid a silly amount of money and put my name down for the race.

Then we got to September/October, when I ran a couple of 10k races within a couple of weeks, and my left knee started hurting. It hasn’t really stopped since. I’ve been attending physiotherapy, I’ve just started with an osteopath, I’ve run parkrun twice and ended up hobbling again each time, and with the knowledge that I could barely walk 5k, let alone run 42k, I finally deferred from the marathon.

So yesterday when a load of those friends were running, or attending to cheer the others on – some  nursing their own injuries that forced them to withdraw – I was doing other things around my home town.

I had a dream last night. I was in full military uniform (but that’s another story) on an assault course. We came to one of those obstacles that’s huge and needs a team of people to get you up. I looked at the others who were there with me, and I said I would boost them up. That’s great, they said, and then we’ll help you up.

And then they managed to get up, with my help and with the help of those already at the top, and they went on, leaving me at the bottom. And I just shrugged, because that’s the way it always is.

This disturbs me, more than I’d like to admit. Why does it always feel that my role is to support and help others, not to be helped myself? Is it just the result of being the much younger sibling, always left behind or dragged along reluctantly, trying to keep up? Or is it more than that?

Am I holding myself back, when I let it happen and don’t scream and kick up a fuss?

Am I truly destined to be the one left behind?

Or do I need to learn to say it’s my turn, I need help now. I’ll help you, but I expect help in return as well?

I’ve now got the link to sign up to Brighton again, with a massive 20% off the price as I deferred from this year. I won’t be signing up. I think I bit off more than I can chew, and there’s no point in spending a fortune when I’m not even back running again yet, and don’t know when or even if I’ll be fit enough.

But I think I need to figure out what other obstacles I’m trying to get over, who can help me and whether I need to shout and scream over it.

 

Still writing – but what?

I’ve been bad at updating here lately, haven’t I? I’ve been ploughing away at my own writing, but at the same time wrestling with the question of publishing and reviews and marketing.

I’ve contemplated adding book reviews to this site, because everyone’s chasing book reviews. But I do so much work giving feedback to writers directly that I find it difficult these days to give public feedback. And somehow, it feels different reviewing a self-published book than a trad published one.

But should it?

Should we treat with kid gloves those authors who choose to rush their work out without any kind of quality control? Should they be treated any differently from those who have been published traditionally? Should we be criticising any creative work at all? After all, just because a writer is traditionally published doesn’t mean they don’t care about negative reviews.

Decades ago, a writer would pour their life into a novel, and then devote more of their life to sending it out, revising it, sending it out, revising it, until eventually they either gave up or found someone willing to invest in it. The investor would then pour more resources into it, and produce a polished piece of work.

Now it’s far too easy to type “The End”, upload the file and hit publish. There’s no incentive to keep reworking a piece until you find someone to invest in it – just publish yourself, cutting corners to avoid expense, and then move on to the next thing.

The end result is that there is a lot of utter rubbish out there. Some is of very poor quality and should never have seen the light of day. Some is of better quality but has been let down and not polished as it should be.

And then there is the very occasional gem.

I’ve had a real slump in reading recently. I’ve struggled to find anything that holds my attention long enough to get to the end. I got round it by reading print books rather than kindle books. Partly this is because the physical book is a better experience, and partly because if I buy a book at the supermarket, I can be reasonably sure of its quality.

So I guess that any book review site that helps to wade through the poor stuff and pick out the good has got to be useful, right?

But should it only publish reviews of the good stuff? Or should it report on any poor stuff that it finds? And is that fair on the author, who might be deliberately cutting corners and taking advantage of readers, but might be a genuine author who has done their best but fallen for one of these “editors” who claim they can edit an entire book for peanuts, and then just put it through the spell check?

Or do we take the attitude that any author who isn’t aware that they need to engage an editor, cover designer etc and ensure they put out high quality work deserves to be told that publicly?

And so the end result is: I don’t know. Would you be interested in another book review site? Would you be interested in reading reviews of poor books? Do you think it’s fair on the author? Do you think only the good ones should receive publicity?

And how do you cope with the flood of available books out there?

 

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.