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?

 

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Shortchanged

A few days ago, I went into a local shop and spent £4.50. I handed over a £20 note and was given £14.50 in change. I looked at the change in my hand. I looked at the receipt. And I walked away, even though I knew that I’d been shortchanged.

It’s been bugging me ever since, and I’ve realised why. I was in the right. I’d been done out of something that was rightfully mine. And yet I didn’t bother doing anything about it. I just accepted it as the way life is for me.

Why do I do that? Why do I take whatever crap life throws at me, and just accept it as what’s due?

So many times I’ve taken what’s given without questioning. Without standing up for myself. Without considering the fact that the other person is clearly in the wrong. As though it’s my lot in life to suffer the poor deal, the lack of consideration, the carelessness of others.

I want to stop. But how? For a start, I can stop sitting playing solitaire on my ipad, while feeling miserable that all around me are finishing writing projects and getting them published. I can stop feeling envious of those who spend time drawing, while I play games. I can start considering what I have a right to, and take steps to get it, rather than waiting for scraps to come my way.

I find it hard to put myself forward, to claim I’m good at anything, to say that I want anything. In my mind, there’s always someone better. Always someone who needs it more. Always someone who’s more willing to yell for their own needs.

I need to make a stand. The only one who can change this is me. Although it means doing exactly what I find so hard.

Suggestions always welcome.

 

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.

 

 

Introducing Charlie

I’ve already introduced you to Annie and Betty, two of the voices in my head. Well, if Annie is a small child, excitable but easily scared, and Betty is the timid and worrying adult, then Charlie is the neurotic one. He is completely paranoid. He is the voice that, if given a scenario of a family member being five minutes late home, has come up with at least ten different reasons for their tardiness within the blink of an eye, each worse than the previous one. He’s the one who always looks for the very worst in every situation, and revels in the times he predicts correctly. Given any situation, he can immediately pull the worst out of it and present it for my delectation and delight.

Charlie is the one who says: “What’s the point? You’ll never get anywhere anyway, so don’t waste your energy. You’re not worth the effort. You’re in your place, and you need to stay there.” He tells me that I’m not allowed to feel happy, because there’s bound to be something nasty coming along, and I can only stave it off by accepting the misery now and rejecting happiness. He tells me that I don’t deserve happiness, that my role is only to satisfy others, never to feel satisfied myself. He’s the one that tells me I need to spend all my time worrying so that bad things don’t happen, and that any appearance of success is an illusion, to be shattered the moment I embrace it.

He’s a ball and chain. He keeps me anchored, and tries to persuade me that I’m in the place I should be. He can shout me down until I hide, cowering, in a corner, reluctant to venture out into the big bad world. One story I heard was of crabs in a bucket – you try to lift a crab out, and all the rest of them grab onto him and refuse to let go, keeping him in the bucket. Well, Charlie is definitely a large crab.

He’s also boring and repetitive. He will capture a phrase, sometimes from a song and sometimes just a destructive attitude, and will repeat it over and over again, like a mantra, making it hard to think past him. It’s hard to make positive choices when all you can hear is “you’re a fraud and you know it” or similar.

Charlie, like all people, has a positive side: in his case, he has a lot of imagination, so although he usually comes up with negative suggestions, still I hesitate to squash him completely. His favourite game is What-If. He’s fantastic when it comes to making up stories – although being Charlie, it’s not that simple. When you have a good idea, but it involves writing something negative, and you have Charlie whispering that writing it will make it come true, it leads to a lot of tension.

He’s paranoid. He’s the one that tells me not to think too hard about my PIN as I enter it into the cash machine, in case someone can mind-read it. He’s the one that says any bad attitude around is aimed at me and my fault, that strangers around me are enemies and I mustn’t provoke them. He’s the one that finds my element of blame in anything that happens and magnifies it until it overwhelms me.

I think I’ve been listening to Charlie far too much in my life. Maybe if I can force him to be quiet for a while I can find another voice inside, a positive one who cheers me on and encourages me, who always sees the best in things. And I think I’m starting to figure out who that voice is. Maybe one day I’ll even know him well enough to introduce him to you.

 

It’s not about the shoes

pencil drawing of a shoe

I did this drawing of my Dad’s shoe over 25 years ago. It was the first time I’d sat and really focused on a drawing from life, paying attention to every small detail. I still remember – still feel – the mindset it put me in. I’m so glad I still have it.

Last week I was determined to set a new personal best on parkrun. It had been a while since I got anywhere close, and it was frustrating me. Then I was awarded runner of the month, which meant a new pair of shoes, including gait analysis, and I was determined that this time I was going to do it. I gave myself two weeks, had a week off in between to volunteer instead of running (had two days off sick with a bad cold as well, unfortunately), trained during the weeks and then I went for it.

I discovered something important that day. It wasn’t about the shoes. It wasn’t about the running app. It wasn’t about the route. Sure all that helped – the app made me swear out loud when I heard how fast I’d hit the 2k marker, and I prefer that route, which is straight out and back and all flat apart from the last two hundred metres – but the importance of all those faded into insignificance beside the one thing that really did, ultimately, get me my personal best, beating my previous best by 28 seconds: it was my attitude.

I’d gone into that run after two weeks of thinking about it, planning it, wanting it, telling people I was going to do it, and all through the run when I felt my speed dropping I would give myself a good talking to. It paid off. It was a massive effort, and I’m not sure I’m ready to make that sort of all out effort every single run, but it was what I needed to get my time on that occasion.

It’s the same with writing. I used to look at those writing courses that promise that if you haven’t earned the costs of the fees back in writing payments by the end of it they’d refund your money, and I’d wonder what the catch was. When I tried it, I found out: if you managed to get to the end of the course and were still writing and submitting enthusiastically, then it was very unlikely that you’d fail to make any money from writing.

Well, I didn’t: I didn’t get very far through the course, as other events overtook me and I guess I just wasn’t that dedicated a writer. I tried again with a short OU course, and failed that too – although it was only a very short course, my father died partway through and I allowed that to derail me. Again, I guess I just wasn’t dedicated enough.

Now I’m getting to the point where I see others around me writing, and some even publishing, and I’m feeling envious. I could do that, I tell myself. And still I don’t. It’s not that I don’t have the equipment. It’s not that I don’t have the ideas. It’s not even completely because I don’t have the time. What I’m lacking is the right mindset.

One of these friends is now working to support people writing books. She’s offering to help people find their story. I’m not sure what people would learn from my life story – it starts off in a typical way, but the ending’s not finished yet, because I’m at the crisis point in it, the point where I finally overcome obstacles, figure out where I’m going and then manage to get there despite all setbacks.

If I’m going to write my story, first I really need to develop my ending. And for that I know that all I really need is to find the right mindset. If I want it enough, I’ll do it. If I think I want it enough I’ll try to do it, and at least find out whether I can get there or not.

Or I can just keep sitting talking about it, and end up in exactly the same place I am now, just older and still with nothing to show for it.

So. I’m coming up to a turning point. Instead of full time work, I’ll be self employed, deciding for myself how to divide my time. I’m declaring here and now that I’ll be using part of that time to research a history book on the inmates of the local workhouse. I’ll also be working on a fiction book, possibly related to it. I will get back to the regular writing that I promised a month ago to try and then abandoned for lack of time and motivation. I’m learning a lot about writing because it will soon be part of my working life, and I need to put that understanding to work.  I give myself a year. By the end of that time I’ll have something ready to publish.

I’m telling you all now and making this public as part of putting myself in the right mindset to go through with this. You are my witnesses. Because I need to believe myself that I can do it, and I need to be so sure that I convince myself and then others. I can’t achieve anything if I continue to allow myself to believe I can’t.

In the end, it’s not about anything other than having the right mindset to push through difficulties and reach your goal.

 

 

Politics and me

voteIn our area yesterday we had local elections. I didn’t go along and vote; I didn’t feel there was any point. I knew nothing about the people standing, or what their policies were. I tend to trust people to get on with their jobs and feel no urge to oversee or interfere.

I’ve been thinking about it since, though, and realised I’m wrong. It’s no good saying it’s their fault for not getting information out to me, it’s up to me to make myself aware of what’s going on and make my own decisions.

I treasure the fact that I’ve had a good education, and that I’m interested in the world around me, but it’s not enough. I need to realise that it’s every person’s responsibility to look out for themselves and for others. I’ve spent a good part of my time studying and helping others to study Animal Farm, and that contains a warning about just what does happen when the animals leave the pigs to run things. They assume the pigs have everyone’s interest at heart, while in fact the pigs are worried only about their own interests. Some of the animals were unable to take any part in decision making, while others were able but unwilling, and in the end all paid the price.

I’m not suggesting local (or even national) politics is as bad as the situation in Animal Farm, but the fact remains that their work does need to be supervised and overseen by everyone. There are certain stories that crop up regularly in the news and I wonder what the point is, then realise that the scrutiny is important, that if we stop watching and stop reporting then accountability is lost.

Unless enough people are aware enough to understand what’s going on around them and take an interest in politics, then the politicians have things their own way. It’s up to each one of us to take responsibility for this understanding and scrutiny, and it begins by taking an interest in local elections and making sure we are aware of issues and people.

So the next time polling cards drop through our door I’ll be doing my own research, finding out who’s standing and what their policies are, and I’ll be looking at the local and national papers not just for the entertaining or human interest stories, but also to see what those who make decisions on our behalf are doing, and deciding for myself whether I agree with it.

After all, unless we take our part in the decision making, even if it’s only helping to decide who makes those decisions, then how can we complain if we don’t agree with those decisions?

 

 

Someone kick me hard please

I’m full of ideas. I’m even good at starting to act on those ideas.

Where I hit problems is when it’s time to follow through to completion.

I don’t understand what stops me. Trouble is, so often the idea itself is enough to satisfy me. I’ll think of a story, and I’ll know exactly how it goes, but I know that I’m not able to write it in good enough quality to live up to my idea, and I know how it goes so what’s the point in actually writing it anyway?

It’s like there’s something inside me that’s decided that whatever it is won’t work so there’s no point trying.  It’s less painful to fail because I didn’t try than to try hard and fail anyway. If I’ve decided for myself that I won’t succeed, then it’s less painful than having someone else tell me.

I do recall one time when I tried my best. When I played World of Warcraft regularly as part of a guild, I was constantly struggling to increase my damage output, and failed miserably. I spent many an hour researching and practising, to no avail. Then in the end I changed from damage dealer to healer, supporting the others in the team, and to my surprise I found I was actually good at that, so I suppose in a way I did succeed.

In many other ways, though, I will get bored partway through a project and give up. I’ve even done it with a lot of books lately – if it doesn’t hold my attention enough, it will drift from my awareness and I will end up abandoning it in favour of a different one.

Will I eventually come across something I can’t abandon, that I will feel an overwhelming urge to see through to the end? Or do I just need a massive kick to make me break out of this cycle and actually follow a project through to the bitter end?

It’s back to this constant fear of wasting time on the wrong thing, which just ends up with me wasting time on absolutely nothing.

I have an idea for a novel. At least, it’s an idea for a setting for a novel. It needs a lot of organising and polishing. Will I ever get it done? Is it worth it? Maybe one day I’ll figure out the characters and actual plot, and I’ll be interested enough to get going properly, but at the moment it’s just brewing, and flares up every so often.

I’m working on an idea for a game. Trouble is that I don’t know enough of all the different technical and creative skills I need yet to complete it properly, and struggling with both coding and gameplay is proving challenging. It is an enjoyable challenge, however, and I intend to keep going for now.

I’m just going to make a concerted effort in future to recognise this trait in myself and keep up the pressure. If I start something, I should be prepared to keep going. Conversely, I should not be starting something without an intention to see it through.

I’ve decided that I’m worth more, and my time is worth more. I deserve better than to always sit on the edge watching and wishing I was in the middle. It’s time I acted in my own interest and stood up for myself. I know what I would like, but I’ve got a habit of stepping back and letting others take over, and this needs to stop. I keep having the same lesson in life thrown at me again and again, and I’m getting bored with it. Maybe if I learn it properly it will go away?

You know what? I’m getting fed up with using the same tags over and over again – indecision, inaction. I’ve given myself another tag, determination, and that’s the one I want to use in future.

I have two ideas for novels (at least: more flash in and out, and if I encouraged them to stay I’d be inundated with ideas!) and two ideas for games, as well as another coding project I’m working on which is much more defined. I also have my art that I enjoy working on, in all its various forms.

So as long as I’m doing something, anything, I’ll consider that progress. If I’m trying out different things, then even if some of them drift to the side and become ignored, there will be others that I’m continuing with, and I’ll be achieving something, even if it’s just finding out more ways that things won’t work.

My motto is going to be “I deserve better, and I’m capable of better, so why settle for less?”

Let’s see how that goes.

 

I dreamed a dream

toilet cubicles, all engagedIn this dream, I was about to go on a trip with a bunch of kids. They were all lined up waiting for the coach to go ice skating, and I was invited to go along with them. I thought that was a great idea, but first I needed the toilet. We were just outside this huge amusement park, so I popped in there to find a public toilet to use.

When I got there, they were all occupied, so I ran on to the next block, to find them occupied too. I was running all round the place, and everywhere I went, there were no free cubicles. As a result, it took ages, and by the time I was finally successful and ran back the coach with the kids had gone and I’d missed the trip.

As I stood there, disappointed, a voice said to me, “You fool. You were so impatient, not willing to wait, and so you missed out. If you’d just chosen one and waited there, it didn’t matter which one, but eventually you would have been successful and it would have been far quicker than refusing to wait and always moving on too fast, wanting success to just drop in your lap.”

That dream has haunted me for the last couple of days, as I ponder the sense of it and wonder how far it applies.

You see, I’ll jump around between interests, and if one isn’t productive I’ll move on to the next. Maybe if I were to choose just one and stick with it, no matter which one, then I’d make progress far more quickly than this always moving on.

And yet a part of me refuses to accept this as deeply as it could. Because it’s not a case of getting something out of the way before I can progress, the choice of which to choose is far more important, and by jumping around from interest to interest I do make progress with each and can relate each to the other more successfully. Rather than knowing more and more about less and less, I know little bits of a lot of things, and so can get an overall view. And that’s just as important in its own way.

However, I will bear the dream in mind, and make sure that if I do decide something is worth doing and I want to do it then I’m not wasting time looking for the easy way instead of pushing on through the impatience at hard times to the point where I can be successful.

 

 

Day 1 of 365

So here we are at the beginning of another year. This one didn’t get off to a brilliant start, as I slept badly last night (including being woken at 3am by my son who’d decided it was time to take the decorations down!), but it got better as I ran Parkrun New Year’s Day special in 34:29, over a minute faster than my previous PB. Now I’m starting to look at possible 10k events. There are two that I’m interested in, one in mid-May and one in mid-July. With a bit of planning and preparation I should be fit enough to take part in them by then; I’ve already started to increase my distance a little, going on the plan of slow but steady increases.

It does feel good when I’m out running, now that I know I can keep going. I went out round the roads on Sunday, concentrating on lengthening the route rather than on speed, and I ran continuously for nearly 50 minutes, settling to a reasonable pace of between 7 and 8 minutes for each km without pushing hard.

I’m still writing my fanfiction story. Still managing a post a day so far, and tonight’s post was just a tad under 2000 words. I really need to try getting ahead rather than wasting time; the trouble is that I’m in that horrible section of school holidays where I can’t relax and do what I want because I know there’s work to do before the start of next term, but I’m not yet ready to settle to that work and get on with it efficiently, with the result that I sit and achieve nothing.

I’m still working my way through my Merlin DVDs – partway through season 2 so far – for research, and I’m pottering at doing work, but tomorrow I’m intending to go for a road run, do a concentrated hour or two of work and then get the drawing stuff out. Maybe even the acrylics, if I can find where someone has hidden my bag of paints. The trouble is that I tend to want to paint a masterpiece, whereas the truth is I should really be doing simple shapes and fills and getting used to mixing and applying paint. Still, whatever I choose to do, I know that it will be relaxing and constructive, rather than this stupid timewasting that achieves neither work nor relaxation.

 

So what?

Found this in my drafts folder, dating back to the end of last year.  Ah well, about time I published it, I guess!  

I’ve spent a lot of time and money gathering things related to creativity.  What I haven’t done is actually spend a lot of time being creative.  It comes in fits and starts; sometimes I’ll be really active, and sometimes I’ll do nothing for months on end.

There was a point where I was doing a lot of writing, and publishing it on the web.  There were a few occasions when I did art courses.  Each time I enjoy what I do and vow to do more, but each time it fades away again.

So it’s time to decide what I actually want to achieve, and how.  Because there’s less and less time to prevaricate; every day spent avoiding making a decision and avoiding being creative is a day lost.

What do I want to achieve?  Well I have to admit that I’m unlikely to become a published author.  There are far too many around already, some of them less then brilliant but still publishing stuff.  I’m not sure there’s room for yet another.  Although I guess one more wouldn’t make much difference 🙂

I’m also unlikely to become a brilliant artist.  I can draw a little, and I can paint a little, but still it’s for my own enjoyment rather than for other people.

I’m also unlikely to create a best-selling computer game, which is the other activity that I toy with at times.  I enjoy the challenge of programming, the struggle to work out what is supposed to happen and why it’s going wrong, then the buzz when suddenly you figure it out and everything goes right.

I guess that’s the real secret for creativity – you have to do it on your own account, not for others.  Then maybe, if you put enough into it, and enjoy it enough, others may appreciate your work too.

But the main motivator has to be enjoyment for the sake of the activity, and not focusing on the end result.

So what do I do about it?  I need to make sure I spend time being creative, using up all these materials I’ve been gathering, and not worry about whether what I make is good enough. I need to recognise what I do enjoy doing and let go of those things that I’ve got “just in case” but are less interested in, because they’re taking time and energy from the better things.  I need to allow myself to make bad things in the knowledge that if I can recognise them as bad I will eventually be able to improve and do better.  And I need to stop wasting time doing dead-end things.

I guess another way is to use my creativity in my work – rather than going for the bare essentials, to start thinking more creatively, putting a little more effort into the design and layout, and showing creativity in action.  Because it makes me sad to see kids whose idea of fun is to mindlessly chat and play games, rather than actively work at creating things.   And that could be my cue to actually go and do something more useful 😉