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?

 

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.

 

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.

 

Another new year

I was really pleased yesterday when I reviewed my running goals for the year. I’d carried a few over from the previous year, and now they’re all complete: run a parkrun in less than 30 mins (29:58); achieve an age grade better than 50% (54%); run a half marathon (Paddock Wood, last March).

So now I need to set new running goals. I’m aiming for distance more than speed this year, so over the year I have a bronze target of 500k, silver of 750 and gold of 1000. I also want to do Paddock Wood half again, plus another half at some point, and I’d like to cover the whole marathon distance in one run by the end of the year, whether it’s within an official race or not.

It would be nice to get under 30 mins for parkrun again, but that’s not my main concern. Hopefully, getting back to the weight I was when I did it the first time will bring my speed back. And hopefully the distance running I’m planning to do will help with the weight.

As for writing, I’ve been working steadily on my 2014 nano novel (Gods V Heroes) since the beginning of that November, with only a break for 2015 nano (Abandoned). Abandoned was the cleanest, most complete first draft I’ve managed so far, and is now sitting waiting, while I get back to GvH.

So the aim is to get a complete finished draft of GvH and seek beta readers for it. Then while that rests again I can get back to Abandoned. I did start another last month, but I’ve decided that two completely active projects is the most I can cope with, at least for now.

Thanks to a drawing course I did in November, I’ve rediscovered the pleasures of drawing and painting, so another aim is to keep going on that, and develop my skills in drawing, painting and digital painting.

I never really got back into technical stuff like programming last year, apart from working on a coding book and revising the GCSE computing syllabus for a tutoring client, so that’s something else I’d like to put on my list.

But most of all, I’m finally learning to be nicer to myself. To allow myself to do things I enjoy and feel pleasure from them, and to appreciate time instead of wasting it. This also means recognising that I enjoy the housework and take pleasure in having a clean and tidy house, and that it’s acceptable to expect those around me to help me in that as well. A tidy house is for life, not just for Christmas!

So:

running: distance goals.

writing: completing both novels.

Drawing/creativity: regular practice.

Technical skills: develop.

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

Let’s see how that goes!

 

New rules

I’m working to new rules. Instead of plugging away at my novel and getting frustrated by other projects that beckon, and then avoiding my novel and getting frustrated at the slow progress, I’ve decided to focus on quantity rather than quality. That nano message is taking a long time to sink in, but I reckon that if I focus on refining ideas and building them up, instead of working linearly with narrow focus, then by the time I’ve drafted out a few complete ideas I’ll have a lot more idea what I’m doing, more stamina for longer projects and a good base on which to build.

So I’ve currently got Gods V Heroes on the go and nearly at a complete draft, there’s my new nano novel coming up, there’s the romance, there’s a couple more fantasies in the pipeline and there’s always babies which is still simmering nicely and waiting for my attention. Not to mention a couple of non-fiction projects that are on the go. With that selection, there should be something I feel like working on at any opportunity.

Let’s see how many complete novel drafts I can create by the end of the year, shall we?

 

Rediscovering my spark

It seems like a long time since I really felt that spark of excitement. I’ve been plodding along, making progress at times and then slipping back at other times. I’ve reached the point where I say enough is enough, it’s time to really turn myself around and start being more positive.

And yet I know I’ve been at this point before. I’d look back through the blog, but I’m sure I’d only depress myself further with the number of times I’ve declared myself at that point, only to slide back again.

So what’s the problem? Where has that spark gone? and how can I get it back?

I was doing okay until the end of May this year, when I broke the 30 min barrier at parkrun. Having done that, I slacked off, and after being unable to run while on holiday at the beginning of July, I never really got going properly again.

I ran a 10k race yesterday, and while it was by no means my worst performance, it wasn’t my best either. I’ve got slower again, and that’s probably not helped by the stone (14 pounds) I’ve put on since the half marathon I ran at the end of March. So while it was an okay performance, I really want to get that sorted and improve.

So, how do I keep going? I can only think that finding my inner spark will help with motivation. I’m thinking of making a collage or scrapbook of images that will remind me of what I’m trying to achieve. I’m considering making a list of things that contribute towards a positive feeling, and sticking it up above my desk as a reminder. I’ve ‘fessed up to my food and exercise monitoring websites and need to focus on those.

Above all, I need to ensure that I’m writing regularly and exercising regularly. Both will help with my mental state, and the exercise will help with my physical state. I have a selection of races coming up over the next few months, and I always seem to exercise better across the winter than the summer. Nanowrimo is coming up, and I’m trying to get into an appropriate mindset for that, with a nano project lined up plus another to keep me occupied until then. And of course there’s still Gods V Heroes.

As to that, the next stage involves really upping the stakes in the novel. I need to dig deep and find the strength to write strong scenes. Those scenes are what the story is about, in my head; about the in-fighting and hatred I see around me, and putting that into a fantasy context. I need to get out of this comfortable rut I’m in, where I seem content to curl up and go to sleep, and I need to get out there fighting.

Above all, I’m not competing against anyone else; it doesn’t matter how many novels others have published, or how fast or far others can run; it’s about pushing myself. About knowing that I’m doing the best I can, and not just sitting back relaxing, while complaining that others are achieving things that I want for myself. And all that needs to start now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not when the cake has been eaten. Not when the race is over. Now.

How do you find and keep your spark?

 

Arguing with the voices

I’ve spoken before about two of the voices in my head – there’s Annie, my inner child, who is always looking for fun, and Betty, who’s my inner parent, always serious and stern and negative. As I woke up this morning they were both arguing with me, and both had the same aim in mind – to stop me from going out for a run.

Annie was complaining that she didn’t want to go, she’d much rather stay home and play computer games. Much more relaxing, much more fun. Betty was reminding me of the work I had to do. Wouldn’t it be much better to stay at home and get some of that out of the way? Time to relax later.

With them both ganging up on me, it would have been easy to give in, but I pointed out to Annie that games are much more enjoyable when they come in small doses, and going out for a run is fun too. Besides, it was long slow run day, so no time pressure. To Betty, I pointed out that if I don’t get enough exercise I work more and more slowly, until I grind to a halt. Much better to sharpen the metaphorical axe by going out for some exercise.

With both of them silenced for long enough to get me out of the door, I did settle down and enjoy my run, and am now working hard with the thought of a little gameplay over lunch to keep me going. But one thing I did realise during my run was that they were trying the same technique to stop me writing.

I’ve spent the past week or so going through my novel and identifying major weaknesses that need to be dealt with. Now Annie keeps complaining that it’s not fun any more, she’d much rather do something different rather than keep on with the same old thing. Betty backs her up by claiming it’s not likely to be any good anyway, even if I do manage to finish it.

So I’m now telling Annie that after the 1st October I’ll be working on the planning of a new novel ready for nanowrimo, and if she wants to do anything new before then there’s nothing stopping me doing that as well as the novel. To Betty, I pointed out that this novel started as a bit of fun, a training piece, and I’m surprised myself at how far I’ve managed to take it. It might not ever get to the point where I’m completely satisfied with it, but just like marathon training, it’s the endurance that’s the reward, and the final result is just a celebration of that reward.

I love the way that my writing and running play off each other, and how I can apply lessons from one in developing the other. And so hopefully, I’ve got the voices on my side for a while and can get back to making good progress.

 

 

The painful way

It’s partway through August. And that means there’s only about ten weeks until November. Since last November, I’ve been busy working on a novel, and I’m currently trying to finish it in order to get planning for this November, because, as surely everyone in the writing world knows, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Some people seem to think nanowrimo is a bad idea. Some people think it means a flood of badly written stories into the world. I don’t doubt that there are those who whack out 50,000 words in November and consider it ready to publish. I don’t doubt that some of them are even correct (those irritating people who can whack out a readable story in a month – gah!), while many more are far from finished, and many will be shoved in some metaphorical drawer and never looked at again.

So what’s wrong with that?

A friend wrote a blog post in support of nanowrimo, and as I read it, I was thinking that if it wasn’t for the yearly torture she was speaking about, I could live a peaceful life without struggling to finish my novel.

But then again, if I gave up running, I wouldn’t have to worry about how far to run or how fast to run or how fit I am.

Giving up running and writing would make my life a lot easier, a lot less painful. In the short term at least. But I’ve seen what happens when I stop running. I start struggling to maintain an even mood, I start getting stiff and uncomfortable, and I sit around doing nothing. Stopping writing has the same effect on me mentally.

So giving up, while it sounds easier in the short term, really isn’t. And so I continue the painful way, because the pain of being creative and the pain of physical exercise are nothing like the pain of stopping.

I’ve done nano for about 10 years now, just like Elizabeth Haynes. Unlike her, I haven’t made the most of the rest of the year, and I can’t speak of publishing contracts and best sellers. But I have learned a lot about myself and about the writing process, and who knows? Come back and talk to me in another 10 years and I might have a different story to tell.

In the meantime, I’ve got a fight scene to write for my novel. The one I thrashed out a first draft of last November. The one that’s grown from the original 50,000 words to over 85,000 words so far. The one that’s 1/2 to 2/3 complete. The one that represents the furthest I have ever got in a writing project.

The only reason I’ve got that far is the constant inspiration, support and encouragement that comes around each year in the form of nanowrimo and hangs around in the form of my writing buddies.

Nanowrimo isn’t for everyone. I totally get that. But for many people it provides the inspiration and the permission that the rest of the year withholds.¬†They don’t need the negativity of those who don’t get it. If you love it, do it. If you don’t, then please let the rest of us get on with it.

As for the running, I’m giving up – on worrying about my speed. Who cares if I ever again run 5k in less than 30 minutes? If I’m happy running, and I’m happy covering longer distances, then that’s up to me.