That time of year again…

It’s October. Nearly halfway through, in fact. And I know from experience that I write better in November if I’ve planned thoroughly beforehand.

So, am I doing Nano this year?

I’m currently without my laptop, as it’s been away for repair for over three weeks. The good news is that they’ve said that as it’s taken so long I’m entitled to a new one instead, so I’m waiting for a voucher to spend to get a new laptop. It would be incredibly difficult to complete nano without a laptop to sit with in the evenings and to take to meetups.

But once I get my new one, there’s that excuse removed.

So what are the pros and cons?

Pros:

Every time I do nano, the end product is a little cleaner than the previous year’s work. My writing improves under the consistent practice. I remember, again, how much I enjoy writing. I have a real sense of achievement. I enjoy joining in with other writers, comparing word count, creating worlds, completely losing myself in the process. I end up with a novel that’s ready for editing and polishing.

Cons:

I already have several novels at different stages of completion and they need focus in order to get finished. (But nano helps to build up a momentum and enthusiasm). I don’t have the time (but I have plenty of time for playing solitaire, or reading books). It’s hard work.

So is that it? Am I just work-shy? Or am I afraid to succeed?

I guess I’ll be spending the next week or so deciding on a project (there are one or two contenders, and I’m sure I can come up with something I want to spend a month on). And then I’ll be planning to spend my spare time in November putting that world into words.

After all, it’s only for a month, right?

 

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Self sabotage comes in all forms

I’m starting to wonder just how much self-sabotage I do. How much I’m actually harming myself by not allowing myself to write, to be creative, to relax and have fun. The pressure seems always on to be working, earning, cleaning the house, walking the dog, and always so that other people (or animals) benefit.

Why can’t I allow myself regular time to write? Why can’t I remember that walking helps me as well and I deserve to have that break and time to myself? Why do I worry about housework instead of remembering that I actually like having a cleaner, tidier house? Why do I sit playing solitaire when I really enjoy drawing? Why can’t I remember that I contribute to this household in other ways than financial? Why do I only feel comfortable when feeling miserable and deprived?

In just under two weeks, I’m scheduled to have an operation on my knee. No biggie, but it will lay me up for a few days, and reduce my mobility for a week or few. And I know from experience that there’s nothing makes me want to do something more than when I can’t actually get on and do it. In the meantime, I’m finding it hard to focus on work, especially since I seem to have meetings of various kinds every day or evening for the next eleven days, so I’m here, there and everywhere physically as well as mentally.

So I’m going to aim to find my centre by ensuring I do things for myself during this next week. I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to achieve this, but I do intend to try my best. Because I reckon that the more I allow myself to do things I’d like to do, the more enthusiasm and focus I’ll find for the things I have to do.

Wish me luck!

 

Rest in Peace, Robert Hardy

Robert Hardy was in Harry Potter. That’s what a lot of young people will remember him for.

But I will forever remember Sunday evenings, and Siegfried Farnon.

Sunday evenings were unmissable. I used to spend a lot of time with elderly next door neighbours (I’ve spoken about them before), and when I first knew them, they had only an old radiogram to listen to the Archers on. Then they got themselves a black and white TV, and All Creatures Great and Small became a regular part of the Sunday ritual – round there around 3pm, playing board games, dinner with them, and then watching TV before I headed back home.

The programme had an extra impact on me because it was about that time that I came across the books as well. Our teacher at school, in what would now be year 6, the year before moving to secondary school, would read us bits of All Creatures Great and Small, and I remember getting very upset because a boy in class had his own copy of If Only They Could Talk, the first book in the series, and I desperately wanted to read it. These were among the first books written for adults that I’d come across in my own reading.

I picked them up years later and looked at them, considering whether to share them with my children, and was astounded to see just how grown-up they were – no thought of reading something like that to 10 and 11 year olds these days!

So Siegfried Farnon, and Tristran Farnon and James Herriot, were all part of my childhood. Rest in Peace, Robert Hardy, and thank you for bringing Siegfried to us.

 

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 Рsome  nursing their own injuries that forced them to withdraw РI 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.