Tuesday, 31 May 2016

That struck a chord.

Today I was reading a post by Maddy over at http://writingbubble.co.uk/somethings-gotta-give which really struck a chord with me. In fact I could have written most of it myself!

Like Maddy I have been struggling to stay focused on my writing. I have written very little this week. My novel is gathering dust on the hard drive and I'm struggling to find the motivation to start writing it again. I've fallen behind with the online writing course and have a short story to write with no ideas. I've even fallen out of love with my writing journal, leaving it untouched for a week.

So what's the problem? It's not even as simple as writer's block. It's just a feeling of ennui, of not having the impetus to pick up a pen or open a Word doc. I don't really know how to describe it, I'm just not feeling the writing vibe at the moment.

Now I know that it will pass and I'll get going again. But it's not a nice feeling when I've finally plucked up the courage to describe myself as a writer, albeit in a whisper. I should be buzzing with ideas, itching to get my stories out of my head and onto paper but I'm not. In fact most of the time writing is the furthest thing from my mind. I know that I should sit down and just do some writing, whatever it may be. That's the advice I always get and it's good advice. After all, if I'm a writer I should just do some writing, yeah? But when nothing comes, it's hard; it feels like a real failure and I'd rather not try so I don't fail.

I feel like I'm going round in circles with this and that's not helpful. In fact I feel as if all the analysing is counterproductive, just churning stuff about and not getting anywhere is frustrating.   

Luckily I have a weeks break coming up which I hope will get my writing juices flowing again. In fact, this blog post is the most I've written for ages! How sad is that? So let's stop picking at this and worrying it; let's calm down and write something, anything to prove that I still can. 

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Lightbulb Moment

Last night I had a light bulb moment. I don't have many of those so it crept up and surprised me!

Context: I've been doing an online writing course with Future Learn, which has been very enjoyable and has kept my writing muscles lubricated while the novel has taken a back seat - it's not flowing at the moment and I was getting cross with it so we both needed a break from each other. The exercise I had just done involved creating a character and then experimenting with different methods of revealing that character - through summary, appearance etc. I duly created a character and started to flesh her out. So far, so good.

Then last night came the light bulb moment. It suddenly struck me that the character I had created was the person I secretly wanted to be. She was the alter-ego me, the person I wished I was. This sucked the air out of my body and flung me backwards. To be confronted with this shadow me was a shock. Where had she been all my life?And what did this mean about the actual life I am living?

The first shock was that without thinking about it I had created a person that I wished I was more like. I've always felt fairly comfortable being me and when asked I say that I have no regrets because if I regret actions in the past then it would change the life I have now, which is happy. So why do I have this other woman, this other me in my head?

Then I realised that this other me was the result of differing decisions in my past. If I had done things differently my life might have been more like hers. So what does this tell me about my life now? Am I not as happy and content as I thought I was?

Serious stuff, eh? Actually I think that what it shows me is that my imagination, creative side is active and has been for a long time. If I think back to my early 20s that was the time when I made decisions that shaped who I am and the life I have now. The character I created is an example of how things could have been if I'd done things a little differently but she's essentially me in a different costume. I'm looking forward to getting to know her better!

Which has got me thinking - how many other 'mes' can I create by altering a few aspects of my life? And what change would be a step too far?

Friday, 13 May 2016

WOTW - Submitting

This week's Word of the Week is submitting. A curious word I admit but bear with me, all will be revealed.

This week I've been submitting some of my writing to various publications. I entered a short story into an competition and I sent out another short story to a few on line publications.  I'm not holding out much hope for either publication or winning but the important thing was to get some of my writing out into the real world.

I'm still not too confident with either my writing or calling myself a writer yet but I felt that it was worth making an attempt this week. As I've been told on more than one occasion nobody ever read anything that's hidden away on a hard drive so I need to start putting my work out there and see how it gets on.

Next week I want to get back to my novel which has been a bit neglected recently. I need to stop obsessing about the quality and just get the first draft written! Wish me luck!

BEDM Day 13 - Silence

Today is the Feast of St John the Silent. Now this isn't usually of much interest to me as a non-Catholic but I thought it gave a neat introduction to a theme for today's blog post. I'm thinking about silence.

Recently I did a media blackout week. I turned off Twitter, stopped checking my email every 5 minutes and switched the TV off. I did it to try and concentrate more on my writing but one of the benefits of doing it was the silence. Sometimes it was alarming how much noise from outside I could hear in the house without the TV muffling it but it was lovely to have the silence. Not total silence but just a quiet that allowed me to think and notice what was going on around me. The birdsong was so pure and clear, such an uplifting sound and something that I have noticed more since the blackout when I walk into town.

However the most important type of silence for me as a writer was the silence in my head. Without the noise of the TV and the 'noise' of social media I noticed my thoughts much more. Now I know that it sounds like I don't think most of the time - I can assure you I do! - but when there's a load of other stuff going on I find my own thoughts get pushed aside and I don't fully engage with them. As a writer I think it's important to listen to my thoughts, after all ideas for stories come from all sorts of places and if I can get some clarity in my mind I can have and develop my ideas.

I've often wondered what it would be like to do a silent retreat where you don't speak to other people apart from a small break from silence everyday. I know some people have found great spiritual solace in the silence, speaking only to God. I'd like the chance to do it one day - who knows what I might discover when left alone with only my thoughts for company? Maybe I can Google it and see what's involved and where they happen...   

So although I now have 'permission' to watch as much TV as I want I'm trying to turn it off sometimes and have some silent time to listen to my thoughts and develop them into stories. Silence is a lovely thing to indulge in sometimes.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

International Limerick Day

I'm using this as my post for BEDM Day 12 but I couldn't let International Limerick Day pass without trying my hand at writing one.

Limericks have had a chequered past. Some well repected poets turned out many of them, poets like Edward Lear and Ogden Nash. But more recently it has been seem as a verse form for children. In my previous life as a secondary school teacher I came across many poetry schemes of work which asked childre to 'write a limerick about ...' yet at no time expected that they would be taught about syllables, rhythm or the structure of the limerick! Presumably they were born knowing what a limerick is? Many children found it really hard to craft a limerick and this assumption that it's a 'childish' form of verse is one I came across a lot. But like most types of poetry it has a set form and it's often difficult to force what you want to say into 5 lines of verse with an AABBA rhyme scheme and shorter 3rd and 4th lines.

So in honour of International Limerick Day I've had a go myself. This will be the nth attempt as I know I'll have to wrestle with it before it conforms, something else that was never taught to those poor kids who had to 'write a limerick about ...'

Everytime I go into the Town
I wish I was part of the Gown.
They're clever, you see,
Not ditsy like me.
They's never cock up the last line! Sorry, rhyme. 

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

BEDM Day 11 - Bob Marley

Today it is 35 years since Bob Marley died. Now I don't profess to being the biggest fan but I do enjoy his music and can sing along to No Woman No Cry with the best of them.!

I remember being shocked at his death at the dreadfully early age of 36. He always seemed such a gentle soul to me and his music touched many people across the world. You didn't have to be Jamaican, black or Rastafarian to enjoy his music and even a young girl in Birmingham could dance along to Jammin' or Exodus.

So on the day that commemorates his death I'm going to pop Buffalo Soldier on and bop around the lounge.

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Tuesday, 10 May 2016

#BEDM Day 10 - Food Glorious Food

Now I must admit that the first thought I had when I saw this topic was to start singing the song from Oliver! But then I decided that this wouldn't help much and a quick chorus about cold jelly and custard doesn't translate well into a blog post! So I'm going to talk about my dysfunctional relationship with food, glorious or otherwise.

According to my mother I was a skinny child. She used to tell me of tearful visits to the doctor when she was worried that I wasn't gaining as much weight as I should have been doing. If only she could have fast forwarded a few years, that ceased to be a problem! I gained weight during the later primary and early secondary school years and was what might be called chubby. Not obese but I was heavier than I should have been. As a teenager I discovered the 'joys' of dieting and have terrible memories of Ryvita and cottage cheese packed lunches. But by the time I went to college I was in a happier place weight wise. But this was a move away from home and that's when my relationship with food fell apart. I basically got divorced from healthy eating and started a long term relationship with junk food.

I'm not saying that my college only provided junk food, just that I chose the junk. Pies, chips, white bread, fried breakfast, pastries, baked puddings with custard - yummy for a treat but every day for 4 years a recipe for disaster. I hold my hands up, I'm to blame. I put that food on my plate and I ate it. Nobody else. Add in lots of beer, plenty of parties and no wonder the pounds piled on.

So I left college overweight. I wasn't bothered that the dress size had gone up. I was happy, got a new job and met my OH. True, my wedding dress was a choice of one as none of the others fitted but I was happy. More weight went on - married contentment! - and by the time I got pregnant and started to wear smocks I looked like a Tudor galleon in full sail. Add in a late summer due date and I spent that time a hot, sweaty mess.

I ate lots of junk food because that's the food I like. Pasta, chips, bread, crisps, cake are my go-to foods of choice. If it was possible to eat nothing but crisps then I would - actually I think there are days when I have. I'm an intelligent woman and I know what healthy food and healthy eating is so it's not ignorance that is the problem. I'm not sure I know what the problem is but it's got to be in my head. I have a poor relationship with food and I think it's been further damaged over the years by dieting. There's not a diet known to man (or woman!) that I haven't tried, with varying degrees of success. I think some of them failed because they were too restrictive - who can survive on a shake and two cereal bars a day? I think some of them failed because I sabotaged them - I didn't want to be on a diet so I cheated and lied about cheating, blaming the diet for failing. But I think most of the failure is because diets don't work for me in the real world. There are too many temptations and I refuse to resist a temptation!

I know that what works for me is making lifestyle changes. Not banning any food but allowing controlled amounts of any food. For example, lots of diets say to ban bread; I prefer to limit myself to a small portion of bread each day. By having a small amount then I think carefully about when to have it and I enjoy eating it rather than scoff half a loaf in one sitting. I have a poor relationship with vegetables - which is odd for a vegetarian! - I know I don't eat enough of them but some of them just taste horrible - stand up and wave, kale and celery! So I have to make a conscious effort to eat vegetables with every meal. I could happily eat a bowl of pasta with a cheesy sauce rather than add some vegetables to the dish. So I know what healthy is and if I make a real effort I can eat a healthy diet. My food issues are nothing to do with that.

I make poor choices when it comes to food. I know that, I acknowledge that and I hold my hands up to my failings. I'm the one who puts the junk on my plate and in my mouth so I have no-one to blame but myself. Knowing that makes it easier to make good choices but sometimes the spirit is willing but the flesh is very weak; on those days I scoff several packets of crisps and feel guilty all day.

So food glorious food? Maybe not so glorious in my world.   

Monday, 9 May 2016

BEDM Day 9 - Confidence.

Now I don't know about you but I sometimes feel I'm lacking in confidence. I doubt my abilities despite what other people tell me. I'd rather hide my light under a bushel and slink about at the back where no-one can see me. I don't want to put myself forward and I certainly don't want to be the centre of attention.

It wasn't always like that. I used to be the one who leaped onto stage, grabbed the mic and started the communal singing. I put my hand up, had opinions, volunteered, joined in. But that was then and this is now. I've turned into a shrinking violet and that's OK most of the time.

However I'm starting to get more serious about my writing and that means I have to get it out into the world, to test it in the marketplace and see if it's any good. Which means taking a leap of faith, which is scary. I'm not confident in my own ability and if I'm not, who will be?

So I'm trying to slay those doubting demons by submitting some work for publication. Yes, you heard that right. I've sent off a story and it has to sink or swim on its own merit now. Perhaps it will do my confidence some good at the same time ...

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Sunday, 8 May 2016

BEDM - I think it needs renaming ...

So Blog Every Day in May is turning into Blog Most Days in May! Mea Culpa.

Yesterday I sat in a cafe and wrote a short story. I'm rather proud of it and want to share it. Not just on the blog but out in the world with people who it might touch. So I'm wondering if I should submit it to some people. But I'm scared, what if they don't like it?

The dilemma of a writer - fear of rejection paralysing me.  

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Friday, 6 May 2016

The Prompt - Choice

This prompt has got me writing outside my comfort zone a little. When I started thinking about 'Choice' I was immediately struck by the contrast between all the choices most of us have to make and the powerlessness of those who are denied the chance to make choices for themselves. I have been touched by the stories of the girls exploited by gangs of men in Oxford and Rotherham; I have always been moved by stories of young women forced into arranged marriages or forced to conform to rules set by others that were not their own choices. These are the things that were in my mind when I wrote this piece; I know it is a bit rough around the edges but I think it is meant to be like that.   

Choose what you want for breakfast,
 Choose what you want for tea,
Choose what to wear this morning, 
Choose who you want to be.

Life is full of choices,
We make one every day.
A normal part of living,
We expect to have our say.

She had no choice in her husband,
They chose for her when she was a girl.
She had no choice who to love and cherish,
She was gifted as if she were a pearl.

He chose to beat her and hurt her,
He chose to humiliate her and degrade her.
She was his property and had no choice
But to bear it and submit to his anger.

She had no choice to be ignored,
She had no choice to be neglected,
Her life was disorder and chaos,
All her choices were rejected.

She had poor choice in friends,
She had poor choice in who to trust,
She was exploited and abused
By men who used her for their own lust.

Twelve members of a jury
Will choose whether to believe
Her evidence of what went on
Or was it all make-believe?

Some choices are easy to make,
Others a trial and a struggle.
Some choices make us stronger
While others will make us fragile.

So as we make our choices as women
Let's remember those without any.
Support our sisters and brothers
And use all our choices wisely.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Why do I let myself in for this sort of stuff?

Yesterday was a typical Wednesday - out early for a spin class, a quick whizz round Oxford doing some window shopping then back to the gym to meet OH for dinner and reading while he does his spin class. So I was out of the house all day.

Feeling virtuously organised I had a post scheduled to pop up for BEDM. So, no dramas, right?

Wrong! Massive fail on the scheduling so no post. Grr!

So not only did I join BEDM late but only two day in and I'd missed one of the days. This could be a long month...

So I'm asking myself, why do I join these things that require some regular committment? Just setting myself up to fail really, haven't I? 

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

So, how did media blackout week go?

I've been musing about what to write in this post ever since I stopped doing the media blackout but I keep putting it off. I guess I'm a little unsure of how to sum the week up. I've been asking myself some questions about the week so I think that by trying to answer them you may get a feel for my thoughts and reactions to turning down the media in my life.

Did I miss anything?
The answer to this is yes, I certainly did. i missed reading, having a book to dip into when I wanted to escape. I found it very odd not to have a book on the go and I struggled to see what the value of not reading was at the start of the week. However, as time went on I realised that not having other writers words in my head was allowing me to hear the words in my own head. I started to feel a little more confident in the narrative voice I have playing in my mind so i found i felt freer to write as me, rather than trying to write like someone else.
I did feel a bit of FOMO as well. my lovely online friends are a source of comfort and amusement to me and I love getting a tiny glimpse into their lives. I certainly missed that. Thankfully the world didn't end while I was away so I picked up with them fairly easily!

Would I change anything?
I think I'd be a little kinder to myself and perhaps permit a bit of reading. a chapter a day or something. It really felt strange to not have a book on the go.
Apart from that I think the detox went well. If I do it again (and I think I might) I'll certainly give myself guidelines that will keep me on track. I'm sure that it would be easy to slip quietly back into checking Twitter too often or sneaking an extra TV programme, especially if you have the resolve of a mouse, like me.

What did I enjoy about the week?
The best think about the week was the writing I did. Now, sadly, the novel is still a slow process. I'm struggling to free myself from the idea that the first draft has to be perfect. I know it doesn't and that I just need to get the first draft written but there is a tiny yet shrill voice shouting 'You're writing rubbish! Fix it now!' I think she needs a lie down or a large gin ... maybe both! But it's hard to ignore her all the same. I did enjoy not feeling guilty about  time spent writing. I always get an attack of the guilts when I do anything that is just for me. I feel as if I should be doing something more productive (ironing, baking, cleaning) or something less selfish than sitting and writing. Heaven knows how I get rid of those feelings, it's been too many years to count and they're still there.
I also loved the journal I started to write. I was hoping for some profound moment of great revelation but that didn't happen; as if! But I did enjoy sitting and writing about whatever was in my head at the time. I've decided to keep writing the journal but turn it into a general writers notebook/ideas book.

Has it changed my life?
Well, strictly speaking, no. But then I didn't really think it would. I'm back to stalking Twitter again, I still haven't got out of obsessively clicking the 'One New Tweet' button as if something life-changing is behind it. I'm watching more TV than during the blackout and I've started a new book. So some things are back to usual.
However, I seem to have lost my appetite for day time TV. I turned Jeremy Kyle on and after 15 minutes I wondered why I was wasting my time watching those dreadful people and turned it off. I'm not saying I'll never watch it again - it's like an addiction in a way - but I don't feel the need to rush home from the shop to catch it anymore (yes, I really used to do that...)
It's also taught me the value of turning the noise off and concentrating on one thing at a time. Without the TV as background noise it's easier to concentrate on what I'm writing and easier for me to think. I also enjoy the silence to think in; no outside noise or clutter intruding.

So, how would I sum up the week? Well, it was challenging. So many times I went to turn on the TV or open Twitter and had to remind myself that they were verboten this week. So many times I longed to disappear into a good book, or even a bad one. But it was a useful, interesting experience. I didn't have great insight into the world, or write anything fascinating or disturbing, or end up tearing my hair out and kicking the cat. But I did find a bit of peace and quiet in my life which I rather enjoyed and hope to hold on to.