Tied to the world

When I was growing up, I had a strange mindset – I felt as though I was trailing an invisible line behind me, and I had to take care not to get that line snagged. I knew that if the line snagged on too many things I’d be irrevocably tied to the world.

So I would take great care not to wrap that line around things if I could avoid it; retracing my steps out of a place, rather than going out of a different door, not twisting around or I’d get tangled. I couldn’t see the line, of course, but I could feel it, and felt uncomfortable if I ended up getting it caught on things.

Even these days, when I’m under stress I’ll take care not to twist round too much, and I’ll try to retrace my steps whenever possible. For example, if I walk from the cooker to the fridge, and then to the sink, I’ll turn back round the other way rather than complete the turn that comes naturally with the triangle of movement.

But I had a thought the other day – what if it’s true? What if, as children, we know things that as adults we forget? That part of that forgetting is snagging our invisible line on things and losing our memories that way? What if I’d been even more careful as a child? Would that connection still be strong?

When I was three or four years old, I could write. I remember distinctly being in church one day with my mother, and playing with my letter writing set – notepaper and envelopes, all designed for a child. I wrote my letters and sealed them up in the envelopes, and I knew I could write. Then I got to school, and suddenly I had to learn it all. Most frustrating.

Memory is an odd thing. If you go through an event, but remember nothing of it afterwards, does it matter? What if there’s something that all of us forget as we grow into this world, and will only be revealed again at the end of our lives? Will our lives actually matter then?

My novels, and the philosophical ideas behind them, are starting to create logjams, and I really need to get going on them.

 

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!

 

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?

 

N is for necessary

Posted as part of the a-z challenge.

Is your journey really necessary? That’s something asked in this country in times when there are extreme transport issues – usually because an inch or two of snow has fallen overnight. Yes, we’re that feeble.

I was thinking this morning about what’s necessary for my life. Since I ran my half marathon, in fact since about a week or so before, I’ve not been exercising so much, or been so careful about what I eat. I’m trying to get back into a proper routine, but as the swimming pool showers have been out of use this week I haven’t been swimming regularly for two or three weeks now, and I’m just getting back into running regularly.

I consider it directly attributable to my lack of exercise that I’ve not been sleeping as well, I’ve been overeating and I’ve been feeling aches and pains, and general stiffness.

So I’ve decided that exercise isn’t just something I enjoy doing, or something I can do if I have time. It’s something that’s necessary for my wellbeing.

It’s the same with writing. I’ve always made up stories as part of a stressbusting exercise. They haven’t always been written down, but the stories have always been there. So has the journal writing. Any time I feel extra stressed, my remedy is to reach for a notebook and pen and get it all onto paper.

So I need to accept that exercise and writing are both necessary and get on with them, which generally I do; but sometimes if I have to stop for a bit it can be hard to get back into the routine again.

I’m currently trying out a passion planner – while I don’t have the money to import one from the US, and it’s not the best idea to import a year-long journal partway into the year, there’s a free PDF available to print out one out for yourself, as long as you spread the word about it, which I’ve already done (and am doing here!), so I’ve printed out a few pages and I will attempt to use it to bring some kind of focus into my life. Because if I don’t focus on what I want to achieve, then how can I ever expect to get there?

Just as a map is necessary on a long journey into unfamiliar territory (yes, even if it’s a satnav map!), a focus is necessary for life, in order to figure out where you’re going and how to get there.

 

 

A is for acceptance

atoz2015I’m starting to learn to accept what I can do rather than fretting about what I can’t do. Rather than spending my time agonising because I can’t run as fast as I’d like, or write as well as I’d like, or draw to a standard that I like, I’m starting to relax more and enjoy these things anyway.

It’s all too easy in life to spend our time worrying about what we don’t have or can’t do. How often do we remember to look around us and appreciate what we do have and what we can do?

Instead, we ruin what we do have because we’re not satisfied.

One of my favourite stories is the woman who was constantly complaining her house was too small. She asked the wise man how she could get a bigger house, and was told to take all her chickens inside. This didn’t seem to help at all, so she was told to take the cow inside. When this was still no good, she took the horse in as well.

In desperation she visited the wise man yet again and told him how little space she had, and how taking the animals in had made it worse.

“Then take the animals out of your house,” he answered.

She did so, and returned the next day, very grateful. “It’s amazing!” she said. “I have so much more room in my house now!”

Of course, she had exactly what she had before, but she had so much more appreciation for it.

So that’s what I’m trying to do. Every time I start feeling anxious about what I don’t have, I remind myself just what I do have, and work at accepting and enjoying it for what it is.

I find it interesting to find that usually things then improve anyway without any further effort, simply because I’m taking pleasure in it and not fretting.

 

 

Resilience

It’s been a busy week. As part of my training for a half marathon at the end of March, on Tuesday I ran 11 miles, my longest distance yet. Tuesday afternoon I gave blood, after making sure I had a good lunch in between and plenty to drink.

Then I made a couple of mistakes.

I was due out at a social evening for the allotment society, so I cooked food for the rest of the family and as I’d had a big lunch I decided I wasn’t hungry and just had cheese on toast – I couldn’t eat with the others as they don’t eat until the time I’m going out, thanks to the wonders of the railway timetable. Then I decided I didn’t need to take my handbag – I avoid it whenever I can – and walked down to the meeting.

Halfway through the meeting, I started feeling decidedly woozy. I felt the blood drain from my face, to be replaced with a sheen of perspiration. My vision started blurring and swirling and I was not at all well. Because of where I was sitting, I would have had to walk all the way round the back of the group to reach the toilets, and as I hadn’t brought my bag, I didn’t have the snack that I always keep in there. So I sat it out and thankfully had started to recover a little by the end of the talk, at which point I sent a text message for hubby to walk down and escort me back home.

So when I set out for a short run this morning, only to find my legs felt like lead, I didn’t worry too much. I was kind to myself and allowed several walking breaks, while not panicking that my running days were over and I’d never be able to run again, because I knew from experience that there was a good reason I was struggling and that given a day or so more to recover, I would be fine again.

One thing I’ve developed over the past couple of years of running is resilience – I have experiences I can call on, where I’ve not felt well, or a run has gone badly, or conditions have been less than ideal, and I know better how to cope. I have memories of running when tired, running in the rain, giving up on a run, running while freezing cold – as well as memories of successful runs, fast runs, long runs, in beautiful weather, in pleasant surroundings. I can judge each run in a wider context, rather than on its own merits.

Now I need to transfer that to my writing. I’ve been thinking constantly about my fantasy novel, and working on it in spare moments, but I have to confess that I haven’t done as much as I would have liked. And sure enough, I’ve now reached the point where I start thinking can I actually do it? There’s so much that I want to include in there, so much that should be in there, and I wonder if I actually have the stamina and ability to complete it to the standard I would like. All it takes is a post from someone about a successful local writer publishing her first novel, and my confidence hits the floor and stays there.

So this is where I need to develop writing resilience – the ability to keep writing whatever the mood, and accept that some sessions will be good and others not so good, but they’re all moving in the right direction. The ability to brush off doubts and appreciate the process as desirable in its own right. To recognise that the fact I see the weaknesses in my writing is actually a strength, because at least I can see what’s missing, rather than imagining I’m writing a masterpiece when it’s nowhere near.

And one big reason I need to do this is because I’m reaching the point now where I’m lining up beta readers (or to be more accurate alpha readers) to help me out with the structure, and so I need to reach that point where I have a complete story that’s ready to be looked at. It’s nearly there, but not quite, and will only get there with work.

The other reason is that once again news stories are appearing that make me think of the other novel I have on the go, the speculative fiction novel, the one about babies, which really does need a proper title! So I need to get the fantasy novel to a point where I can set it aside/pass it on to readers and then let it rest for a while, and press back on with the babies.

Because these things won’t let me rest these days, and the least painful way to deal with them is to push on and get something done about them. Even if it does end up being a load of rubbish that’s not worth the effort of reading. Because apart from anything else, I’ll have learned what works and what doesn’t, and will be a few steps further down the line towards being able to finish something that is worth reading.

 

Out of routine but still achieving

Normally I cope with ¬†life by developing routines. Because I know it’s a run/swim day, or a run day, or a swim day, I’ll get out there regardless of how I feel. Ask me to go on a non-scheduled day and there’s no way that will happen. Sadly, I haven’t managed to build up my writing routine that strongly yet, so have missed opportunities simply because the structure wasn’t there to force me to write whatever my mood, but the exercise is definitely at the point where it’s easier to stick to routine than miss a session.

So when I learned that today, my longest run day, I would have to run an errand, thereby disrupting my schedule, my heart sank. No time for a long run before, forecast for Thursday is rain so I can’t swap the two days safely, so what was going to happen?

I’m training for a half marathon, which takes place in around 7 weeks, so really didn’t want to miss out on my longest run, so I made myself a vague promise I’d go after lunch. Then I decided to take advantage of being dragged away from work for an hour and I took my notebook with me, so I could get working on my novel while out.

Having added a sizeable chunk to my novel, I tried to sit smugly at my desk, but there was still something nagging at me; I may have managed to work some writing into my day, but what about my long run?

Part of me threw up every excuse imaginable, desperate to prove that there was no way I could run, but I thought about my novel, how I’d been putting it off and putting it off, and how good it felt to get back writing again, and I thought about my running, and how I always enjoyed it once I got out there, and how if I missed this week’s long run it would make the HM training even tougher for the next few weeks, and in the end I got changed and went out.

The first mile was tough, but it felt good to have won the battle and got out there. The last third was mostly walking, as my knees started to protest, but I decided not to worry too much – I’d already walked about 5 miles with the dog today, and it was after lunch rather than the morning when I usually run, and I was short on sleep last night. So I finished my run in a very slow 1 hour 26 mins, covering nearly 9 1/2 miles, and now I can rest, because I’ve written today and intend to write some more this evening, and I also managed to get out there and run.

I think I’m back on track, with running and writing.

 

Let it go

As a teenager, I was neurotic. I distinctly remember losing sleep over dogs barking in the neighbourhood, convinced that it meant rabies had come to the country and the demise of everyone was imminent. And that was just one of the very many threats to my world that I feared.

As an adult, I find the world around me still a scary place, but maybe I’ve been through enough scares now to realise that it’s very unlikely that anything will come of them and if it does there’s nothing I can do about it anyway, so it’s not worth losing sleep over.

Even so, I find myself frequently drifting into minor panics over various things. Many years ago when I used to watch Home and Away, every so often I would become so intrigued by a storyline that I looked up spoilers (Australia were several months ahead of us showing the episodes). I would read several episodes ahead, become overwhelmed by all the experiences the characters had to go through and would have to stop watching for a while, until again I was into an area where I didn’t know what would happen. I get that same feeling about real life – that looking ahead is too stressful, and I need to pull back and focus only on the present and immediate future. Some days I find it tough to look beyond the current day, at other times the pressure eases a little, but still looking forward too much makes me feel uncomfortable – maybe because those thoughts tend to focus on the big things and the negative things that might/will happen, rather than remembering all the little things and the positive things along the way.

Now I’m trying to remind myself that there’s no point in worrying, that I don’t have to pay today in worry-time in order to avoid future disaster. That song Let it Go is proving very useful as a refrain. As is the proverb that seems to be doing the rounds these days: Not my circus, not my monkeys.

So often we try to save the world, and despair that we fail. Maybe we need to work on just our little corner, and make that more pleasant, and stop worrying about the big picture.

And maybe I need to stop reading the news for a while.

 

The easy option never is

I’m not sure when I first worked out that the easy option is never easy. It might be when I realised that putting small children in front of the TV for too long led to bored kids who didn’t want to watch TV at all, and it was easier to be active and provide proper activities for them. It might even have been when at school I spent more time dodging teachers than I would have spent actually doing their homework.

When I play my game, and I decide that I’m going to rush through and not do things properly, that’s when things go wrong. Slowing down and taking the time to do it properly is always far more productive than rushing and having a disaster on my hands that then takes time to rescue.

When I was teaching, I realised that the very point at which I started thinking it would be better to skip something that was too hard for the students was the point where I needed to slow down and start the teaching.

I’m discovering this with my writing as well. Carefully thought out details will do much more than rushing through and making it up on the spot. It might take longer to plan, but overall the time will be spent more efficiently.

My nanowrimo novel is doing well. I’ve just passed the halfway mark, and I have a full day write-in planned for next weekend, which should get me a lot further through. The trouble is, I’d planned out milestones to hit, and by the halfway mark I’ve hit 11 of the 12, which leaves me wandering in the wilderness and wondering what happens next. Do I rush to the end? Do I make up more to come? Do I pad out what I’ve already got? I know that what I’ve got needs to be built up more, but do I do it at the writing stage or editing stage?

One thing I’d like to do is have the world much more real to me. I’ve noticed before that the more real something is to me, the better I write about it, and one of my weaknesses is skipping details and reality. Generally, I have a readable draft so far, which¬†tells a story. The quality of the storytelling can come later. But I’m not sure whether I’m two thirds of the way through the narrative or one third, or what I’m going to put in from now on.

Serious thinking time is required. And that’s not the easy option – but it’s definitely the best.

 

My own personal icebuckets

Over the summer there was a craze going round for having a bucket of ice tipped over one’s head. That sudden shock as the ice and water hits you and drips down, leaving you soaked and freezing, makes you gasp with shock.

A couple of weeks ago, as I walked along the road to the meeting point for parkrun, I felt my own mental icebucket: a little voice saying you’re stupid, you’re useless, there’s no way in hell you’re going to be able to do this run. Somehow I managed to continue anyway, and yes I did complete the run, and while it wasn’t a record-breaker, it was perfectly respectable.

Tonight I’ve felt yet another version of it. As I prepare for nano, excited to work on a new project, there are still eight days before I’m officially supposed to start writing. Frustrated from spending my time fixing other people’s work (oh how much easier I find that!), I tried looking back at the latest draft of the babies book, and it was so far from what I wanted it to be that once again I felt that ice bucket drench me. I told myself to write about anything at all, and I opened a blank page and stared at it, but the only words that came were about how useless I was.

And then I came on here. Because if I can’t write, then at least I can describe not being able to write. And so again I’ve managed to shake off that ice bucket and continue anyway. And when we reach nano I’ll keep writing and push through the 50k words, and by the end even if I’ve still got nothing worth reading I’ll have something like another 100 hours’ worth of writing experience. And a writing muscle strengthened and ready to go. And a habit established that this year I don’t want to break at the end of the month.

And in the meantime, I really ought to write something for writing group, as the deadline for that is Monday. Any suggestions?