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.


T is for test

Do you like tests?

I usually do. The only test I’ve been particularly stressed over was my driving test. Exams, at school or since, have been enjoyable opportunities to show what I can do.

These days, it seems that the expectation is that the person taking the test knows exactly what’s being tested and what they need to do to get a good mark. In my day, it always just seemed to be a vague expectation of doing your best and hoping.

Sometimes it feels like life is a test, and one where I don’t know the rules, or the requirements, or even who’s testing me and how. That’s when it’s not so pleasant.

In the end, testing helps us to see how well we know something, or how well we can do it. It’s hard to understand those who cheat, because they’re cheating themselves. In the end, we’re only competing against ourselves.

I’m reading a book about education at the moment, suggesting that schools should be allowed to change focus, and move away from endless tests. It seems that at the moment rather than testing what needs to be learned, the focus is on learning what can be tested.

I talked yesterday about studying. The result of studying is being able to put that learning into action, and that, then is the real test.



S is for study

The study is the room where I spend most of my working day. And it’s usually what I do when I’m in there! Whether it’s studying someone’s manuscript to see how I can help them with it, or studying style guides and editorial guides, or working on my own novel, or general research, there’s always something new to learn.

How do you study best? I prefer working from a book, taking my time and reading and then doing worked examples. I sometimes try to skip the active bit and just read, but I always find I learn best when doing as well as reading about – something to bear in mind, I guess!

Then there’s the reason for study – is it personal interest or to gain a qualification? I find I learn best when it’s for a specific purpose, and preferably when I have deadlines to meet. Otherwise it’s all too easy to lose interest and let things slide too much.

But whatever way you do it, the important thing is that you study and that you enjoy the process.



R is for research

Posted as part of the a-z challenge.

Research: dull or interesting? I get involved in research for various things, from researching information for my novel to checking things for my work. Recent searches have included religious extremism (novel), dwarf and elf names (novel), the difference between any more and anymore (work) and the use of viewpoints within fiction (work and my own novel).

I’m engaged in a project to research our local workhouse, which is fascinating. The only drawback is the expense; while the research itself is free, it also involves over an hour of travel by car, car parking for the day and organising some sort of lunch, as well as necessitating a day away from paid work.

When I did my teacher training, we did an exercise on research. We were asked a bunch of questions, and had to give the answer plus how certain we were of the answer. We then had time to research online, and then had to again give an answer plus how certain we were. The result was generally that after an hour of research the answers might not have changed, but the certainty of that answer had dropped! Our tutor alleged he’d deliberately changed an answer on wikipedia to throw us off as well…

There’s a great deal of satisfaction in looking things up and finding the right answer. And sometimes it’s essential. Other times, it’s just a time-waster, a way to avoid doing what we really should be doing.

And on that note, I must go and do what I should be doing right now, which ironically includes research…

Q is for quest

Posted as part of the a-z challenge.

The novel I’m currently working on explores the difference between playing an online game and living in the real world. In the online game, quests are obvious, the requirement to complete them is obvious and there is an instant reward. In real life, quests are nowhere near as obvious to find or complete.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have our mission in life handed to us, with clear instructions on how to fulfil it? I guess some people do, but for many of us, life becomes one long search for what we should be doing.

For some people, they solve the problem by burying themselves into another world, where life is simpler. The real world can seem uncertain and scary, and it is easier to hide from it.

Or maybe we should turn life into a game, and award ourselves points when we do something boring or tricky. That’s what gamification is all about.

The important thing is that we find ourselves some kind of quest and just get on with it. My current quests are running half marathons, and seriously considering building up to a full one, and completing this novel and considering the next.

I guess they’re clear quests, and carry clear objectives for finishing and specific rewards for completion. Easy though? No.