F is for fun

You know what? You’re unlikely to get anywhere if you’re not enjoying yourself. If whatever you’re doing isn’t fun, then you’re not going to want to put much effort into it, or do it if you have any other options. You’re not going to get out of it what you need in order to feel fulfilled.

If a project is worthwhile, and really grabs you, then you’re going to have fun doing it. You’re going to look out for opportunities to get on with it, and spot things that are connected to it. Whenever you see something that reminds you of your project, it will give you a little thrill that inspires you to get cracking again. Whenever you have a few spare minutes, you’ll want to spend it on your project.

We all need a little fun in our lives. Time set aside for that is time well spent, because it recharges our batteries, fills us with enthusiasm and gives us a little boost in our lives and our activities.

Are you having fun yet?


C is for commitment

With the best will in the world, progress won’t happen without one thing in particular, and that’s commitment.

Commitment to running regularly. Commitment to writing regularly. Commitment to drawing regularly. Whatever it is, committing to it means being prepared to work on it, to give my time and effort to it, to give up something else to make time if necessary.

Commitment means being prepared to move forward and take action.

And C is also for chickens! Having made the decision that I want to keep chickens in the garden, nothing is going to happen until we take the commitment of buying a henhouse and getting it set up and then filled!

So with all these commitments I have and those I’m taking on, I need to figure out what gets left out instead. I hereby commit myself to being more active, instead of wasting time.


B is for better

This post forms part of the A-Z challenge.

We all want to do things better. Trouble is, it can stop us doing them in the first place, if we’re not happy with the result. This constant dissatisfaction that drives us, not good enough, not good enough. So why bother?

And yet once the acceptance is here, better usually follows, simply through practice. The more you do something, the better you tend to get, naturally. And if you’re enjoying it, even more so.

So while I’ve learned to accept what I can do, it’s not going to stop me trying to do better, simply because that’s part of who I am, wanting to outdo myself, even if just by a little bit.

In the end, I’m not competing against anyone else. I’m only competing against the person I was yesterday and the person I want to become.


Recurring dream

I often remember my dreams – I think it comes as part of the not sleeping well. Sometimes I can trace them back to something that’s happened during the day, either to me or something I’ve read in the media. Sometimes they’re completely off the wall – I must remember to start writing them down!

Sometimes I have a familiar theme occur. It involves travel, and railways, and often involves London or another city that’s familiar to me at least in my dreams. I dreamed it again last night. There were a group of us – family, I think – trying to get somewhere, and we were trying to keep luggage and people together and find the right platform and get the right train, but the platforms were so crowded that there was barely room to stand, let alone move around to get on the train. Sometimes the issue is that I can’t find the right platform, or the right line, or that the luggage isn’t ready, or that the wrong train comes in, or two trains come in at once, but it’s always that frantic, urgent feeling of needing to be somewhere and struggling to get there.

I often recognise the place the dream is set; either coming in to a specific station, or related to a specific street in a town, neither of which I’m actually aware of existing, apart from in my dreams, but it seems to be somewhere I visit often in that dream world.

I’m starting to build up the habit of writing a minimum 1000 words a day, usually on some sort of short story/theme. I think I’ve got a vague idea what might crop up tonight. What would be really interesting is if it turned out that all these shorts turned out to be related in some way.

Not beyond the realms of possibility.

Do we make up our stories, or do we just transcribe them from wherever they exist already?

And what does this specific dream mean? It often turns up at critical points in my life, or what in hindsight turns out to be critical points, and signifies the struggle of knowing which way to go in life. Last night’s, though, I think just relates to the article I read about the boss of the railways receiving an obscene “bonus” to his wages (his bonus would be far higher than I have ever earned in a year) while there is misery caused by overrunning engineering works and overcrowded, rerouted trains.


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.


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?


Conspiracy theories

One of my first jobs on leaving school was in a small printshop, back in the days when home computers were very rare and no-one had their own printer, let alone photocopier. One task that I sometimes had to do for a particular customer was to take a booklet apart, photocopy all the pages and then bind each copy together. She often came in for two copies of this booklet or five copies of that or three copies of another.

I was the junior in the place, and was told by one of the older members of staff not to read the booklets, but they spoke in vain; I’m a compulsive reader, and couldn’t resist taking a peek as I worked.

I’ve no idea to this day who the person was, or what organisation they were part of, or why they needed all these booklets or where they came from, but I learned many interesting theories.

This was where I first learned about the mysterious Men in Black – those men who would turn up at someone’s house after they had seen something that could be extraterrestrial in origin, and would demand they keep quiet about it. Their visit, of course, would be somewhat counter-productive, since it served to prove that something really had happened. There were two or three different Men in Black books, and I would become fascinated by the stories of encounters.

I also learned about the hollow earth theory – the evidence was convincing to my eighteen-year-old self: in the sixties, when there were several nuclear blasts, there were also several UFOs seen. Since all the UFOs arrived at the same sort of time as the nuclear explosions, and travel from any other planet would take time, the UFOs must have all come from our own planet, where they live inside the earth and access their world via holes in the north and south pole; basically our world is doughnut-shaped.

I think this is where I was also exposed to the idea that we as a species came from another planet, that we travelled here on a ship and displaced the natives to become the dominant species.

It was a fun time, before the internet, where rumours and theories were much slower to travel, and communication generally was slower and more personal.  And my mind was irrevocably marked by those sneak reads.


From world to characters to story

I’ve been working on my novel for a long time – in two different forms, it’s been the topic of two nanowrimo attempts, both completed, and I still wasn’t happy with the results. Yet the story refused to let me go.

So lately I’ve been writing about my story rather than trying to write the story itself. I’ve been trying to work out what I want to achieve with it, and how I’m going to do that.

You see, I started with a world. I had a situation that I wanted to explore, and a first idea, but not much more than that.

Then I figured out a couple of characters and situations to put in that world. I knew who they were, what they wanted and how they would get on in this world I’d created. But it still didn’t seem to work – I got bogged down, and couldn’t see the overall structure.

Going back to basics, back to thinking about the story, the message I want to get across, the situation I want to explore, I suddenly began to see my way through the maze, and feel the overall arc of the story, to the point where I’ve roughly sketched out the entire structure, including the ending, which had been hidden to me so far.

It’s not completely there, of course; I still need to get down into specific events and scenes, and then I need to get it all written down. But the point is that I know where I’m going with it now, so that I can consider the purpose of every scene I decide to add, and where it fits in that structure.

The next step is to start putting down ideas for individual scenes, and then I can transfer to Aeon Timeline and Scrivener, and start really putting the flesh on the bones. But it feels so good to finally see the whole picture.


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?


The twilight zone

I call this time of year the twilight zone, not just for the dark evenings but because the world seems to break down into “before Christmas” and “after Christmas”; things get put off because they’re easier once Christmas is out of the way. Post gets delayed because there’s no sense in getting it confused with the Christmas post. Things you would normally go out and buy are bought by someone else but put away as a present. Soon we’ll enter full twilight mode and everything will focus around present buying – which, no matter how early we start, always seems to continue up until the last moment.

I remember one year hubby was off work the week before Christmas, so we decided to leave the present buying until that week. At that point I had a two year old, a small baby and was looking after a friend’s one year old on weekdays…

I’m not that keen on Christmas anyway. The trouble is, my birthday follows right after. So when it seems like everyone else in the world gets a build-up to Christmas and a build-up to their birthday, I get Christmas and my birthday is all but forgotten. I learned not have birthday parties, because everyone was all partied out at Christmas. I learned that my birthday is often an afterthought, or acknowledged purely because it is more or less at the same time. Everyone else gets worked up about Christmas coming, and I’m the only one interested in afterwards.

The week between Christmas and New Year tends to be spent with long lie-ins and late nights, because the whole family is at home. Then we hit January, everyone is back at work or school and the night is over, the long climb back to summer begun. In a way it’s good to have Christmas to distract from the long dark evenings, but as someone who gets very stressed over having to do things right, and following social conventions, and who dreads social occasions because she’s bound to do or say things wrong, I’m not sure I wouldn’t prefer to just slide quietly through the long nights without this massive hype. The opportunity for family visits and catchups with friends is treasured, but why can’t we do that without the excuses?

The novel is still progressing; I’m up to around 14.5k words so far. The project hasn’t grabbed me, but I’m persisting, with an average of nearly 2.5k words per day. I’ve got some write-ins coming up, where I get to meet other writers. Work levels are slowly picking up. I’m still exercising regularly – clinging to that like a lifeline, in fact, waiting for this burst of energy that they all say will appear. Wake me up when it comes. Or better still, let me sleep through the twilight zone and wake me in the spring.