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.

 

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Looking into the void

A couple of times lately I’ve stopped running for a short period to rest up after a slight injury. Both times I’ve then felt really tired and so missed further exercise, until I had to make a real effort to get going again. It eventually dawned on me that the sequence isn’t that lack of energy leads to no exercise, but that no exercise leads to lack of energy that then develops into a vicious circle.

The trouble is, if I stop exercising for a short while I start feeling rough and lethargic. If I get going on the exercise again quickly I soon feel a lot better, but I know if I left it for too long I’d be left feeling bad with the memory of the pleasures of exercise fading fast and wondering what the problem is.

I’ve a nasty feeling (or it might actually even be hope!) that this is what’s happened with writing. I enjoy writing. I get pleasure from it. And yet it’s so long since I’ve been active that the immediate memory has faded, leaving me peering into a void with no real understanding of where it came from and what I need to do to get over it.

I’ve always made up stories. I’ve played with characters and situations and entertained myself, going over the stories again and again, strengthening the characters, working on the phrasing – but at first they were never written down. Then I moved into fanfiction, and continued doing what I’d always done but this time writing them down for other people. Now I’m making the jump of creating and playing with my own characters, and I’m finding it tough, to the point where it’s stressing me out and I’m avoiding the page. I’m just not sure what I’m missing, what’s going wrong.

With nanowrimo approaching fast, I’m hoping to blast past that and get going again. Maybe when I’m back writing regularly I’ll once again learn how much of a pleasure writing is, and I’ll grow to miss it if I stop, rather than just having a vague feeling that something is missing. And then I need to get going again before it gets to the point where I’ve stopped for too long and lost the thread.

After all, what do I do when I start feeling stressed or worried? I reach for my words, even though in that case they’re non-fiction rather than fiction. I put things down and try to work them out on the page. And I guess that means that deep down I am a writer.

 

 

First find your dream

Warning: this is likely to turn into a moan-fest. 

I’m growing increasingly frustrated. I see person after person going on to achieve success in some form or another, and I’m left behind feeling envious. There doesn’t seem anything that I can do really well, that comes easily, that’s I have a desire to get to be best at, that’s my obvious heart’s dream.

I keep telling myself that there are millions of people who go through life the same way, never finding that one thing, but it’s no consolation, somehow.

So what is it? Is it that I just don’t allow myself to try these things out and improve at them? That I’m not naturally good at anything I’ve tried so there’s no point in persisting at them? That I just haven’t found the right thing?

I run – but I’m really slow. I draw and paint – but not very much lately because… well, because everyone else seems so much better than I am, and because I don’t deserve to take the time to myself to do it. Really? I write – but lately I’ve done too much ducking the page, because the gap between what I want to write and what I actually do write is too large, and it’s frightening me.

So am I just not putting enough effort into these things or do I need to find something else? What do I really want out of life? What’s my dream?

I enjoy what I do. I edit, proofread and format other people’s writing. Am I any good at it? I’d like to think so. But I’m almost frightened of speaking up, of pushing myself forward. I also suspect that this is a way of meeting my needs as a writer without actually doing my own creative activities.

Where’s the thing that I can’t avoid doing? That if I miss, makes me feel unsatisfied? That I have a burning desire to do, and to get better at?

Am I burying these desires so even I can’t recognise them properly? Or have I just not found the right thing?

So tell me, how do you find your dream? Does it come to you? Do you have to go out and find it? How do you recognise it? Does it grab you and refuse to let go, or can you pass it and ignore it, or not even notice it for a long time? Does everyone have a dream? Is it too late for me now?

To answer my own question as best I can, I can only advise writing, writing and more writing, and seeing where that gets me. Because it could be that what separates me from those who have found success is not ability or success itself, but simply the persistence.

 

 

Considering characters

As I continue with preparations for nanowrimo, I find myself inspecting the assembled cast and considering each very carefully. I found myself wondering this morning if one in particular would be better off male than female, and that has made me look closely at what each brings to the ensemble. Have I made the best selection I can? Have I got one particular character in just for a single joke? Will that relationship actually work in practice? Is that sub-plot going to be worth bringing along? And do I need a male hero that I can fall in love with?

This last is the one giving me most pause for thought, and to answer the question I need to think very carefully about what I want this particular character to do. Can she achieve that as a female? Can she achieve it as a male? Which produces the better story? Which will I enjoy writing most?

My baby novel tends to contain mainly female characters, and a lot of this is down to the plot itself, although discussion at writing group did lead me to explore a little more the role of males in that world. This new one contains a mixture, because among other things I want to show the range of people who play MMORPGs, and explore the different relationships that form and what each might get out of the game. I currently have a team of seven people: four males and three females. That’s pretty balanced.

I need to decide whether Elaine is too much of a Mary Sue in the story, or whether she’s really going to live her own life and have her own experiences. Equally, if I turn her into a male, is it for personal reasons rather than because it makes the story better? Which will I enjoy writing more? Which can I write better?

In the end, I think being female provides the best chance to contrast game life and personality with real life and personality, and that just has the edge, so for now Elaine will stay, but as I put more thought into the role she plays in the main story and in the relationships and growth areas, that still has time to change.

In other news, I get to design a new computer game and a related world system at the same time, just as background to the story. Writing isn’t just about actually putting words down on paper, you know!

Looking back, looking forward

Participant-2014-Square-ButtonNanowrimo is rapidly approaching – only around four weeks to go now. I’ve been suffering my usual logjam of loads of ideas fighting for attention, freezing me into paralysis of indecision. A couple of people suggested that I could work on more than one, and that I should make notes on all my ideas and see if anything jumps out at me.

So the other night I sat down and read through some of my old stuff, as a couple of my ideas already exist as openings, with the rest of the story either buried in my head or gone completely. I also received, as I occasionally do, an email alerting me to the fact that someone has favourited one of my fanfiction stories that are published online. These two actions had their usual result, which is to remind me of how much I enjoy writing and how I can produce things that are worth reading, if not yet the most polished and well-structured of work.

Writing down my ideas brought me to the realisation that actually two of my ideas are very similar, but one is the world story and the other is the story of a specific set of people set in that world. So that immediately caught my attention, and I decided that would be my aim for nano, to work through idea 1 and build the world, ready to tackle idea 2 using that world for nano.

Then tonight someone made a comment that set me off on a tangent, heading to youtube and finding a whole collection of videos of me and a group of others having fantastic fun, and this reminded me of story idea number 3.

So the only conclusion I can come to is that after working for a year on other people’s writing and stories, and seeing projects through to the finished product and cheering them on all the way, I want my turn. I can do this. It’s not that I have only one idea and will then be finished. I’ve even noticed a theme running through my ideas. I want to get on and get finished and then start the next project and finish that, and…

So which one do I start with? I start with the original nano idea for this year, the world story/people story combination, and when that’s done I get back to my babies story and finish writing that, and then I go on with this other idea, and then back to this year’s nano for editing, and then… and then…

It doesn’t matter, in the end, which one I start with. It matters only that I start.

Oh, and if you’re interested in seeing the videos that sparked all this off, you’ll have to go to youtube and search for valkyrien guard, and watch those videos. You won’t recognise me though – I’ll be heavily disguised as a warrior by the name of Leyton. And there’s a remote chance you’ll even see me in one of the videos in another disguise, that of a priestess called Emmylee, which is where I first used the name that I now use – with various spellings – as my writing name.

 

Betrayed

Please note: this is rather different from my usual type of post…

In the news today is the story that Rolf Harris has been convicted on charges of sexual assault on young girls, with more cases possibly in the pipeline.

My reaction to that is to feel totally betrayed. I believed in the man. I loved his music, and his art, and thought he was an all-round good guy. All the way through I was thinking that it was a mistake; that the accusers were making things up, that they had misunderstood, exaggerated, were trying to cause trouble.

I mention my reaction because it’s exactly the reason why this sort of thing can happen; it’s so easy to make excuses, to turn a blind eye, to not believe it, to trust someone.

When someone you know is accused of something, it can be hard to accept. But it’s important that we do accept it. Sure, there are the odd cases where someone makes an accusation out of malice, but there are so many times when kids speak up and aren’t believed, because of all the reasons I’ve given, and that’s why it can continue. Because not believing the accusation means that we can carry on the way we are, without causing trouble, losing a friend/family, or experiencing major upheaval.

This is the reason, too, why I’m opposed to things like Sarah’s Law, the law allowing people to find out if people close to their children are on the sex offenders’ register. Because it lulls us into a false sense of security: they’re not on the list so they must be safe.

In reality, those known sex offenders are not the worst threat. An abuser is far more likely to be a family member or family friend, someone who is trusted and loved.

Not all people are abusers; of course not. But very few of those who are abusers are actually caught. Far more manage to continue their habits because of who they are.

This is why we need to empower children to know they’re allowed to say no where their bodies are concerned – yes, even to great aunt Aggie who insists on a kiss every time you see her – and allow cases like those we’ve seen lately to be discussed openly. Because only when the stigma is removed, awareness raised and when children expect to be believed is there any hope of stopping things. Children have very little power. Let’s at least grant them the right to be listened to, and believed, and protected. Otherwise they may struggle with these issues for the rest of their lives.

 

 

The selfish writer?

I’m starting to realise that I need to learn to become more selfish if I’m to get anywhere with writing.

Now being selfish is normally sold as a bad idea, but sometimes we need to keep things to ourselves, rather than always seeking to share or give away. There’s lots of things I could be doing, lots of things I need to do, so in order to have time to write I’m going to have to be ruthless and learn to say no sometimes. It feels awful, that idea of taking precious time and doing something like writing. I’ve been working on a paid technical writing project, and I’ve felt guilty even taking time for that, when I know it’s going to bring in money later down the line. The idea of taking time away from immediate income earning to spend sitting putting words together for fun, with little or no prospect of any real rewards, is seriously painful.

And yet… the idea of going on as I am, seeing other people pass that stage of struggling to write and getting on with the next stage, is also becoming painful. So I’m going to stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood and insist on taking some time to myself to get on with writing.

Exercise was a similar issue a year or so ago; now generally it’s part of my life, as I start most mornings with a swim and some mornings with a run as well. I accept that it’s part of feeling fit and healthy, and that the time spent on exercise is time well spent.

It’s time I got to that stage with writing. To making it a regular part of my life, so I feel like something is missing if I don’t. I’m getting to that point with morning pages, those few minutes when I write down whatever’s bothering me most at the start of the day. Now I need to build on that and develop a time for fiction writing and writing exercises as well as stream of consciousness thoughts. Time I started going through my ideas and getting them down properly. Time to follow through.

Time to be more selfish, perhaps. If I don’t take this time, no-one is going to give it to me. Sometimes if there’s things I need to do but don’t want to do, and things I want to do but don’t need to do, I’ll grind to a halt and do neither, just wasting time in make-tasks. But if I choose to sit sorting virtual socks or staring at the television instead of writing, then the time is gone. And if I don’t look after myself, who will?

 

D is for destiny

Time for the Blogging A-Z challenge again!

Do you believe in destiny? Do you believe that you are destined to do something? If so, do you believe that your destiny is set in stone and nothing you can do can change it?

It must be hard if you do.

I’d like to think I’m destined to do more than just potter along. But in reality I know that my destiny is mine to make. That there might be some elements that are harder to change than others, but ultimately it’s my choice whether to try.

Believing in destiny means believing that things are outside your control. That other powers have made the choice for you, that there is no escape.

To get a little meta here, to believe this means giving up control. To not believe means to try to take control and to influence. So whether it’s true or not, I choose not to believe and to take charge of my destiny.

When I was small, I remember going on fairground rides – in particular, one that my brain puts at Beaulieu Motor Museum, but that might have been just because I saw a similar ride there years later. It was a series of small cars, with four child-size seats in each. Each seat also had its own steering wheel – for years I thought that was the meaning of four wheel drive!

As the cars went along the track, they would come to a bend. Each time, I told myself that the cars were on a track, that I wasn’t in control. And each time my nerve would break and I would twist the wheel at the last minute, as we appeared to be heading straight rather than round the corner. You see, I was sure what I did didn’t matter. But when it came down to the line, I just couldn’t risk it. Because taking my own action might be pointless, but not taking action, with even a small risk of causing problems, would be worse.

So whether my destiny is written in stone or not, I can’t take the risk. I have to take my own actions, see what I can make of my life. Because it’s better to be wrong that way round than do nothing and fail that way.

 

My writing dilemma

Standard lore has it that your first novel is never any good. That it can take two or three or even more novels before you really get into your stride and master your craft.

My brain’s standard reply to this is: why, then, should I waste my best ever idea, my most burning plot, on a novel that I know beforehand won’t be any good? Isn’t it better to write a couple of “disposable” novels first, to hone my skills, and then return to my passion?

Then the other half of my brain rebels and says that it can’t write unless it’s passionate about what it’s writing about. And that there’s nothing to say that the first novel has to be useless, and that the skills learnt can be applied to improve it rather than moving on to another project.

So the two halves of my brain fight it out, each insisting that they have the most logical approach, and in the meantime I write no fiction at all.

At writing group last night I took in the opening of what I’d planned as my disposable novel. Yes, I decided to take a standard, overused plot and see what I can do with it, and yes that was spotted and commented on immediately. Does that matter?

I love the story of the origin of the Codex Alera series (and oops, didn’t realise my world name, Aleria, was so close to an existing fantasy one; that will need to be changed!) in which the author took on the challenge of taking not one but two lame ideas and seeing if anything can be done to make them worth reading. Who’s to say I can’t do the same thing with a standard trope? After all, there’s no truly new ideas in the world; every story is part of the same small library of plots. Star Wars and Kingdom are two movies that have very similar plots and both in their turn are similar to Lord of the Rings.

So, do I find passion for my disposable story, and plough on with that, for the benefit of the learning curve it provides? Do I work on my main novel, knowing that I don’t yet have the skills to do it complete justice? Or do I concentrate on writing exercises, to build up those skills?

All of these appeal, but not enough, and all of these have drawbacks, but not enough. And so I bounce between ideas, never settling on one and making the progress I should, as I do so often in my life. Time to make a decision and stick with it.

Suggestions please?

 

What do you want for Christmas?

cushionThat’s a question that’s being asked all over the place at the moment. Doubly so in our house, as it’s often accompanied by “What do you want for your birthday?” for over half of us. It can be a difficult question to answer (or at least it seems to be here!).

I see it as a bit like being granted a wish, really, but a whole lot more difficult, as we’re limited by what’s practical and possible (world peace, good health, success at work are just some of those that fail this test) and what’s affordable (so that rules out a new car and a million pounds or so). We have to consider the cost to the giver as well as the pleasure of the receiver, and this can be a tricky balance. We have to spend our wish wisely – we have learnt never to buy a present for one particular family member until close to the day, as he’s notorious for changing his mind frequently. Others will refuse to give any suggestions until they’ve really thought deeply about it – by which point we’re usually so desperate to get things done that we jump on any suggestion with more enthusiasm than it might have received had it been given earlier. There’s the feeling that it should be worthwhile – the balance between buying something we approve of but that they’re not that keen on and something that we see as a waste of money but they really, really want.

When answering the question we have to figure out something we would genuinely like, that’s reasonably priced but that we aren’t going to go and buy for ourselves – hubby reads lots of books, but there’s no point in me buying him one unless it’s pre-arranged, because otherwise chances are that he’s already got it. In this world where we have so much already it can be hard to think of something that fits the bill.

Sometimes a request can be symbolic of the real wish – if I ask for painting or drawing equipment, what I really want is the skill and time to use them well. Or a book on a topic, when what I really want is the understanding that I hope the book will bring.

Sometimes the giving of a gift can be symbolic as well as real – I’ve been toying with the idea of adding a note to presents to explain the thought behind them. For example I want to get my toddler niece something that shows her how great it is to explore and discover, because I want to give her a world where girls can grow up to celebrate what they can do and learn, not just how pretty they are.

Sometimes a gift can reveal more about the giver than the recipient – there’s a stage that a lot of children go through, when they buy a present that they would like themselves, because they can’t comprehend that great aunt Agatha isn’t really that interested in a set of pokemon trading cards or whatever. Or they can reveal what the sender thinks the recipient is like, or what they think they are interested in, which can sometimes be wildly different from the truth.

The most moving present I received came in two parts – the year my father died, my sister put together a photograph album of photos of him for me to remember him by, and the year my mother died she did the same for her. It was the thought and love that went into these, not to mention the memories, that made them so special.

One mother’s day present I received years ago was a cushion – at that stage I needed a cushion to sit on to drive the car we had, and my sons managed to find some fabric and stuffing and made a cushion with the word Mum on it. I never used it in the car; it was too precious for that, because they had put time and thought into it rather than just money, and they’d done it completely on their own. Instead it’s on display in my bedroom.

So, what do you want for Christmas? Do you write a list? Do you choose one thing and stick to it? Do you suggest things and then forget them, so it’s a nice surprise? Do you insist on all gifts being a surprise? And more to the point for me right this moment, what does my husband want for Christmas? Or for his birthday?