Oops, I Did It Again

Having hit 25k on NaNo this morning, there MIGHT be a bit of a problem going forward…

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This isn’t like last year when I decided to stop because other things were more important. Nope, this time around has come the revelation that I do not want to stop. There is too much fun being had living and breathing this new narrative. In fact, considering where I am along my timeline, this 50k could at least double by the time I’m done. It is entirely possible we have a full blown epic tale on our hands.

Planning has presented this as possibility, and because there is understanding of what else needs to happen around the words, it’s probably the right moment for a rethink. This time however, instead of panicking and tossing the whole idea because it won’t fit into my current lifestyle choices… let’s do this differently. Let’s rearrange everything else around what has become most important and work from there.

For a change, personal happiness can take centre stage.

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This decision has produced an unexpected, knock-on effect. A couple of issues that I’ve been struggling to resolve are now sorted, complete without issue. My exercise regime’s taking an impressive upward turn. Willpower, instead of crumbling when it became apparent I’d not finish to time, has strengthened, which makes the desire to eat bad stuff that I’m having to ignore considerably easier.

I’m quite a binary being, when all is said and done. To realise that this enjoyment factor has been missing in my life is important: knowing why has been something of a revelation. Relaxing into this process has provided a key to a door that’s been locked since before counselling was started earlier this year. Here, it seems, is an important space not only to be explored, but inhabited.

I’m really looking forward to where this new journey takes me.

Words

11 days in. Let’s see the numbers first, shall we?

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I’ll hit 25k on Tuesday, which is technically three days ahead of schedule. I’m still writing, then editing too, because as the narrative progresses, two things are happening:

  1. I’ll alter earlier narrative based on having written later narrative. This happens a lot, especially if character motivations change. In at least two cases in 72 hours, characters have changed sex and/or ethnicity. This requires earlier timelines or actions to shift.
  2. There needs to be dialogue. There always needs to be more dialogue, who am I fooling here. I am ahead purely because these characters, once on the page, start talking to each other in ways I have not anticipated.

In that regard, this manuscript is something of a revelation.

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I miss not having a graph of my word progress on the NaNo site, I’m not gonna lie. Maybe it exists somewhere and I’ve yet to relocate it. Regardless of this, it is all going amazingly well, and not having had an attack of writer’s block just yet, it can only be a matter of time before it happens. Plans are in place, all I can do is realistically work through it and push forward.

As to where I am in terms of story? Could not be happier. Things have happened that were unexpected. There’s better versions of ideas that first started their lives in my synopsis. Even if nobody else likes this, it will be my finest hour. To complete something like this has been the dream for years. My first novel my have been finished but it still requires extensive rewrites, because my abilities have improved.

That’s the biggest change of all, and it couldn’t make me happier.

Winter Trees

Welcome to the first of my #NaNoWriMo19 Updates.

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Things are off to an extremely positive start: in fact, I don’t remember having such a good first few days. It helps, undoubtedly, to have come into this with more planning than ever previously took place. Timings for this month have also been largely sympathetic; allowing several opportunities for clear, uninterrupted blocks of writing time. That will continue going forward.

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There are no worries or panics, either. This is the story I need to be writing, and completing it will happen. There is at least a part of my brain which thinks that 50k will not be enough, but that should be more apparent as we get into next week. Unlike last time, when the word total hit goal and then stopped, this is about completing the narrative. That’s what has to happen

No burning bridges or unexpected panics, and although there will inevitably be an attack of writer’s block somewhere, provision has been set aside. The eventuality is covered. All that is left therefore is the writing, sadly without my customary accompaniment of cake and biscuits. They’re both off the menu until  blood-work and cholesterol issues are resolved. Hooray for nuts and tea.

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I’ll be planning to post updates every Monday going forward, and next week will promise faithfully that this will be on time. It’s the arrangement of time post Half Term that got me this time, plus the front room reorganisation that still requires a measure of work to be complete. That’s the antidote to writer’s block, as it happens, but as we’re not yet in the realm of frustration, it’s time to crack on…

Love’s Great Adventure

You’ll be reading this in a time warp: It’s being published the day before NaNoWriMo 2019 began, yet the plan was to hype up how prepared I was for everything… the reality is, that as I type this, it’s already four days into the process. Last week’s health shock knocked everything into the air, and if truth be told, there’s still things I’m watching, waiting for them to land.

This year, however, organisation has saved me. Even if the real-time responses to things has been a bit arse about face, doing the preparation and knowing how important this whole process is to complete has provided the most welcome of cushions for the intervention of reality. It means that despite commentary being behind, word count is very much ahead of the curve.

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After a weekend where I took on an extremely important new responsibility (which I’ll talk about at length on Wednesday) it’s now a case of cleaning up the loose ends and ploughing forward. In reality of course, it’s not like tens of thousands of people read this blog and they’ll get confused with the timeline. If that were the case, it might be a different post that was being written.. but you guys understand how this works.

What this change also corresponds with is a marked improvement in organisation away from a desk. Those of you reading my personal blog will know that October, despite everything else, was my most productive month for physical health this year. That also needs to keep happening as I write, which means now I’ll be off for the first session of next week… or is this the third session of last week?

Trust me, true organisation is happening regardless.

Coming Up

It will several weeks before my dream working space is up and running. In the meantime there’s 10 days left not only before NaNo begins, but for me to whip a selection of my best poems into shape. In the midst of this all there’s also a bunch of single submissions to be done, many of which won’t cost me anything other than time and effort. It’s getting close to the stage where I need a year to view wipe clean calendar from Amazon to keep track of it all.

Crucially, none of this work is new, and is all being created off the back of existing effort. So, the question I find myself asking with increasing frequency is how much extra does an idea require before it’s good enough to be considered not simply as good, but completed. When is poetry ready to publish? When all is said and done, just how much polish is enough on your work?

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The best barometer I have of done is the Places of Poetry collection, all 24 of which are meritorious in my own head. Each one fulfilled the brief set out before I started: personal resonance, intrinsic link to the place being written about, plus a better than good technical standard. In that regard, polish was quite liberally applied to the raw works. It gives me real hope for working with my poems going forward.

Long form’s a bit harder, but reading through my synopsis today for NaNo there was a strong, unerring confidence that not only was my narrative basically sound, it could be established in a far stronger configuration if I swapped around some key pieces of action. As it transpires, the confidence that’s given me today’s helped to get a lot of those plot holes filled. It’s incredible what self belief can do.

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Instead of attacking the weekend’s folly with pitchforks and torches, it transpires all that was needed was a bit of polish: re-arrange the narrative flow and BOOM there we are, very much back on track. This has also helped me rearrange the poetry running order too, so that it too can have the appearance of narrative cohesion. Many of these poems were not written to go together but with the right connecting pieces, things can be constructed differently.

I really hope I can finish the poetry to my satisfaction for the weekend, because it will make my next project in December considerably easier to attack. In the end, all of this is a process of building confidence and accepting shortcomings. Everything will always benefit from one more read through and even if you know something’s pretty much done, there’ll always be a typo you missed on that last read-through.

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That’s what polish entails too, of course: spelling mistakes, proper grammar, the minutiae of common sense that often is lost when people focus just on their feelings and not the work as a whole. Those things are as important as a workable narrative and poems with personal meaning. Put it all together, and the balance becomes apparent, even at an early stage.

Knowing what’s enough is half your battle won.

The Test

The havering is over. Normally, it’s never this organised inside Writing HQ for NaNoWriMo until the end of the month. This year’s Idea [TM] has very much been a toss up between Responsibility and Enjoyment: write the novel that already holds a chance at success, or do something that makes me happy. Right now, all that matters is the latter, because quite frankly I’m sick to death of the submission process.

Don’t worry, it’s still going to happen.

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It was, in the end, a simple choice. The soundtrack’s been on repeat now in the car for about a week, and there’s some rather vital changes to the narrative beginning to evolve from repeated exposure to certain pieces of music. The next week will be spent finally organising the track listing for that, but it’s already on Spotify. I have taken the good advice: write the thing you love, not the one you feel obliged to.

There will also be some poetry going on in November, but the major deadline item I want to submit will be started next week for completion after my birthday. However much the process of submission and rejection wears me down, it still keeps happening, because it is only through pain and suffering that the artist’s work will finally improve. She understands the limitations, but continues regardless, because… t’was ever thus.

Let’s hope I can finally do this idea justice.

Play to Win

It’s been three weeks (almost) since Mslexicon and my brain’s finally beginning to integrate what happened then with the reality of now, plus my life as a writer. Tomorrow is August and I want to do my damnedest to capitalise on what is undoubtedly alteration in mental attitude: this is not the same as what it was before. The change that counselling facilitated is manifesting in many differing ways.

I don’t need to have all the answers to start making a difference.

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The whole point of starting this blog (when it existed over on Blogger, how many years ago was THAT) was to tell stories. That still happens, but starting tomorrow a great deal more thought and effort will go into the process. It’s not like I wasn’t doing that before, OF COURSE, but there’s the need now to work that little bit harder. This isn’t about saving the best stuff for publication any more. It’s doing my best work every day.

If something ends up not being good enough, then it simply isn’t completed. I’ve been tempted, in the past, to rush things to a conclusion under the misguided apprehension that having something is better then nothing, and whilst that occasionally is helpful for self esteem purposes, it is not successfully developing my craft to a standard I’m happy with. That means being honest with myself.

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Having said all that, I doubt many people will even notice the changes being implemented. Most are for my own benefit, or relate to stuff outside the sphere of writing. If you follow my personal blog you’ll see a lot of the #accountability hashtag over the efforts being made to physically streamline myself for the journey ahead. Without the physical strength, mental fortitude is a lot, LOT harder.

It’s also my antidote to writing. This used to be my hobby, but is now pretty much the job, and therefore something else has to happen instead of that as relaxation. Exercise allows self-esteem to grow, confidence to be nurtured and success in places other than through someone else’s definition of progress. I’m competing with myself, and that’s a useful metaphor that can be dragged from the real world into my imaginary ones.

Anything that helps me become a better person is utterly worth the effort.

You May Be Right

This weekend, I learnt about Casuistry:

Casuistry (/ˈkæzjuɪstri/) is a process of reasoning that seeks to resolve moral problems by extracting or extending theoretical rules from a particular case, and reapplying those rules to new instances.

Wikipedia

Why the sudden interest? Well, it’s all the fault of a podcast my husband likes listening to, with a realisation that religion isn’t as black and white as perhaps I’ve always assumed was the case.

Learning how to think differently is undoubtedly the best thing that ever happened in my life this year. It isn’t just objectivity that’s improved in this time, but the ability to look at situations in a sympathetic manner: effectively, being less harsh on myself in the process. My personal approach to problem-solving, it transpires, is not far from that of the Jesuits. Knowing this method has a name is, frankly, a bit of a revelation.

It’s also not an exact solution:

Casuistry is a method of case reasoning especially useful in treating cases that involve moral dilemmas. It is a branch of applied ethics. It is also criticised for the use of inconsistent—or outright specious—application of rule to instance.

That needs a wee bit more definition before we go on:

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As became apparent in the Podcast above, and the next one in the series (which talks about contraception and the invention of the Pill) you can solve problems in any number of ways: what one person considers morally wrong may be the polar opposite to what somebody else would consider as problematic. Experience is the key to how we all look at solutions: the wider a world view, the more likely is that decisions are made based on optimal criteria.

It’s why the predisposition of so many people to live in their own bubbles is a growing concern: it is life experience that allows a person the opportunity to give reasoned, responsible input and therefore make decisions based on the most diverse set of perceived situations. I’ve often been accused of overthinking my approach to life in the past, and those people are right. To strike the right balance is a incredibly tough ask sometimes.

So, what has all this got to do with writing?

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When I was being interviewed on BBC 5Live about Places of Poetry, there was some discussion over how emotional poetry ought to be in reference to the subject matters in hand. Learning how to write objectively, especially when it comes to a form where economy of words can make a real difference, allows you the ability to problem solve a lot of situations where emotion must exist but not overwhelm.

It is the different between an impassioned feeling and a full-on rant: subtlety and clever word use will allow you to create vastly different solutions to the same problem. That’s also true in longer-form work: two protagonists are talking about a deeply personal event, that one feels uncomfortable about. How does one create a feeling of empathy between them? Is that even required with these two characters… how do their own moral compasses deal with casuistry within the framework of your narrative?

To understand your words, you must begin to understand yourself.

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Part of the reason why my fiction has suffered so much over the years undoubtedly has to do with being unable to really give emotional depth to situations and characters. I thought that this would be easily remedied but, it transpires, there is a lot of work to do. Helping myself expand as a writer isn’t just understanding tenses or the importance of narrative flow. There needs to be a more spiritual, philosophical element to proceedings too.

The best writing is that which is compelling and ultimately life changing, and to do that one must be prepared to alter parts of our own being in the process.

Look Out Any Window

One of the most important things learnt in over twenty years online involves other people’s perception of what’s right. Not everybody has the same opinion as yours: those opinions aren’t facts either, often they are a view of reality that’s distorted through a series of deeply personal, subjective lenses. Challenging your view of right should be everybody’s default stance: learning, growing, and most importantly accepting that multiple ‘right’ opinions can exist alongside each other harmoniously.

On the third day of Mslexicon, it became apparent just how many good things can co-exist happily alongside each other without any conflict occurring. When you are prepared to be vulnerable, truly willing to allow other people into your personal space,  astounding things can and do happen. More importantly, allowing yourself to be kind, not judging yourself on other’s benchmarks, can offer significant transformation to mindsets that previously were unwilling to shift.

My life has undoubtedly changed after three days away in Leeds.

These ladies deserve all the love: hardworking, enthusiastic and genuinely interested they also make a cracking cuppa when required. Events don’t work properly without solid, well-organised management at it’s core, and this whole event owes a significant debt to the people who created it. More of us who come to enlighten ourselves should remember how lucky we are to have such opportunities available in the first place. This weekend really was something utterly special.

On Sunday I’ll freely admit I hit maximum brain capacity, thanks to two stonking talks by Rosie Garland and Margaret Wilkinson. Quite honestly, I think more’s been taken from this couple of hours than I’d managed to glean from several years doing English and Drama at degree level: sometimes, you need somebody with whom you just totally click and then understand without months of thrashing about feeling perplexed. I’d have killed to have met both these ladies as an awkward twenty-summat, that’s for damn sure.

I’m also aware that there wasn’t enough sleep over three days to do everything that was presented to me justice. Assuming I can afford to do this again next year, lessons will be learnt. An extra day for travelling, for starters, so it’s easier to get comfortable quicker. I need to ask more people’s names, spend more time just talking and decompressing between sessions. Adrenaline’s a great drug, but it really does make switching off quite difficult when required.

I now have an idea for a novel that two total strangers have encouraged me to write. There’s confidence in my social skills that simply did not exist previously to last weekend. I know I’ve done a lot of that work, that accepting I had mental health issues and going to get them identified is half the battle; having people who support without thought and encourage unconditionally is an amazing way you can grow and develop as a person. So much of that is still happening too, seven days on.

The Mslexia people knew this concept was a winner when it was created. I don’t need to tell you that sometimes, all that is really needed is the means by which great ideas can become brilliant experiences. This is the gift to myself that will continue to keep on giving many, many months after Leeds itself becomes a happy memory. The fact remains however, this isn’t somebody else providing you with all the answers. If you came expecting to become a better writer, you have a lot of work to do.

I have a lot of other feedback too, and over the weekend intend to throw an e-mail off to the organisers to cover what were, in the main, minor quibbles. Nothing at all made this event anything other than hugely satisfying: that’s really important to state. This isn’t shameless fangirling, but the honest truth. I was given a space in which I could exist with utter safety, with only myself as the restriction. Moments like this need to be grasped, embraced, and then loved for the joy they produce.

This is just one of the many stops on a journey to true enlightenment.

The Bends

Not gonna lie, I didn’t sleep much on Friday to Saturday. It always takes a night to adjust to strange surroundings. That’s not just me either, it’s a deep-seated genetic quirk. We’re all mammals, expecting the first night in an unfamiliar habitat to result in us being eaten by a predator. In my case, it was ants, but there weren’t many of them, and we came to an arrangement. I blocked the crack they were swarming from, we existed in harmony.

Saturday was the first proper bit of work for me: two lectures, two 1-2-1 sessions, and a lot of hanging about in the College building. That’s how I met Ezzie for the first time, and Shona, and finally worked out who Bridget was from Twitter. Suddenly there’s a whole new bunch of people to talk to, and situations to deal with. This is where there also needs to be a moment of honesty: not everybody wanted to be my friend. In one case, I tried talking to someone, before they very smartly and efficiently shut me out.

Once upon a time, that rejection would have been perceived as my fault. Now, I am smart enough to know that sometimes, however hard you try, certain people aren’t willing to give. In such circumstances I would have previously run away, licking my wounds. This time, I politely excused myself and moved on. The fact that’s possible now is probably one of the most significant personal takeaways from the entire weekend. You make the opportunities happen, and if they don’t work, you learn to adapt and not dwell.

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I owe a massive debt of thanks to both Jane Rogers and Stephanie Butland for two sessions on short stories and plot choice that were significantly transformative in terms of how I view my own work. It’s been apparent for some time what was required in my prose was a sense of basic structural understanding, and both of these woman gave me not only what I wanted, but also what I’d not realised was needed.

More importantly, meeting Stephanie later and Hayley Steed for 1-2-1’s gave my novel idea a level of legitimacy that didn’t previously exist. This wasn’t a trip to be validated as a writer, or to try and sell my finished work, we’re not even at that stage yet. What it presented was the means by which to identify the shortcomings in my style (‘sort those tenses out’ said Hayley and BOY is she right) before going away and starting the writing task.

It’s Stephanie however who I feel deserves an extra, written thank you in public. Giving a piece of yourself to strangers can alter them profoundly, and she has ❤

Events like this undoubtedly are a sum of their parts: if you put loads in, then there’s an equal amount allowed to be taken away. In that regard, I am hugely indebted to those whose names I never got, or have forgotten, who would be happy to engage in conversation simply whilst I passed from one place to another. For those like Gail, Jane, Patricia, Jackie and Martine who took the time to pass on contact details… I’ll get there with establishing communication. It’s just going to take me a while…

By the end of the evening, I’d read poetry at the Open Mic (and inadvertently ended up running it for an hour) whilst editing the same three pieces performed in the process. There was an amazing and solid hug from Debbie Taylor that I will remember for many, many years to come and an emerging realisation that for the first time I have become arbiter of my own written destiny. If it’s going to happen, this is the time, and nobody gets to take that ownership away from me.

I was up writing poetry until 2am. It was beyond glorious.

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