Journeys in Writing – Why My Goal is Just to Keep Going

As I mentioned in a previous post I am attempting NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which is why this blog has been so quiet these past couple of weeks *insert tumbleweed here*. I figured it would be a perfect opportunity to do it, since I’m working at a 12-hour-a-week job in Germany as opposed to my usual hectic schedule of essay writing and general university busyness. It seemed like the perfect time to try and write 50,000 words. I already had a novel planned, I probably had as much free time as I ever will have in the near future, and if I didn’t do it now then I would probably have to wait at least two years before another opportunity would arise (I do not anticipate doing it again next year!)

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This is what my writing page normally looks like – mostly scribbles…

I have to admit, I was sceptical about my ability to do this. I’d struggled to even finish the first chapter of a book in the past, and the vast majority of my story ideas had come to nothing. Who’s to say the same thing wouldn’t happen again this time? My attitude (though I refused to admit it to myself) was: ‘If you expect to fail, you can’t be disappointed.’ With my external zeal and my internal safety net, there was no way I could fail, right? Well, this all changed when I got into the first week of NaNo. Within a few days I was streaking ahead of the targets, on a high from my success. Never had I expected to be able to keep up with the word count targets. But there I was, not only keeping up with them but streaking ahead, writing more than I ever had in my life. I was on a high. My cautious expectation of failure was gradually being overshadowed by the growing seed of happiness and pride. I, for once, despite everything I had thought, was going to be successful.

Unfortunately, the feeling of ‘this is too good to be true’ came crashing down on me, and saw the enthusiasm of week one being steadily usurped by the why-oh-why-am-I-doing-this-I’ll-never-be-a-real-writer-so-why-kid-myself sentiments of week two. No matter how hard I tried to force myself, I was consistently falling short of my wordcount targets. That’s if I was writing anything at all. I found myself comparing myself with my writing buddies, one of which had written over 60,000 words (!!!) by the end of week two, and I was sinking ever further into the pit of despair, affectionately known by the NaNoWriMo community as Week Two Blues. Somehow, though the pep talks and forum discussions on the NaNoWriMo website would try to convince me otherwise, I felt like I was alone in my struggle. How could anyone else understand my sense of failure when they were all succeeding? Why had I even thought I could attempt something like this? Did I not know that it was something only Other People could achieve?

Hands up who else has felt like this.

Finally, at the start of week three, I realised something very significant. I was keeping myself from success by focussing on my failure. I was letting the fact that I would probably never catch up to the target wordcount as an excuse to not even try.

I also realised that the forum comments and pep talks and seemingly endless NaNoWriMo blog posts I was seeing around the interwebs probably were not lying to me, and this feeling of inadequacy in the face of writing difficulties was probably not unique to me. In fact, there might even be a fair few people who feel, and have felt, the same, many of them now with successfully published books under their belt. I would never criticise someone else for not meeting the wordcount deadlines, so why was I being so hard on myself? I have read many times (and even said so myself) that nothing worth having comes easily. Why should this be any different?

So my new aim is this: Just keep swimming.

Okay, so a more appropriate goal would be to ‘just keep writing’, but the quote above is more memorable. I cannot count the number of times I have read writing advice that said ‘Rule Number 1: Don’t Give Up’. Now to take that advice!

First off, now that I’ve freed myself from the pressure of the wordcount goal, my priorities have shifted. I’ve started reading again, which always brings fresh inspiration, and gives me an example of something to aim for. I am currently reading The Professor by Charlotte Bronte and Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams, both of which are absolutely crammed full of brilliant turns of phrase and inventive ideas.

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Another thing I will be concentrating on that I have been neglecting so far this month is development of my characters and world. Seat-of-the-pants writing may work for some, but for me the characters, setting and plot all have deeper meaning if I can spend some time with them away from the actual text and figure out where they’re headed and what they’re about. Now when I return to my prose I will have fresh ideas and a newly sharpened focus, ready to defeat this thing once and for all.

What about you? Are there any things that you find great about NaNoWriMo, or that you are especially struggling with (or have in the past)? How do you overcome falling short of your hopes?

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Journeys in Writing – What is NaNoWriMo anyway?

So, we’ve come to the time of year when it’s time to start thinking about NaNoWriMo again.

This is what I’ve been reading in blogs all over the place, but I’ve only just really decided to take part myself. In fact, I only heard about it for the first time this summer. For those of you who don’t know (I didn’t at first, and man was it confusing..? Surprisingly few blog posts actually explain it! Thank goodness for google!) NaNoWriMo is short of National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel from scratch in 30 days. No mean feat!

A few months ago, I would have passed this off as wishful thinking. How could I even hope to achieve that? Me! I never finish anything, unless there is an obligatory, unavoidable and imminently looming deadline on the horizon. And even then it’s a struggle! How could I possibly achieve something so demanding, for which the only consequences of failure would be personal disappointment?

But this time I’m really determined. By putting it out there in this blog post (eep!) I hope to make myself accountable, and therefore spur myself on to actually achieve this. I’ve even been avidly perusing the internet for any advice that can be gleaned from there (I never learn!). Of course, not all of it’s useful, but I have found some great stuff on Kristen Lamb’s blog, which is definitely worth a read.

And if it’s too hard? Well, nothing worth having is ever easy, and no worthwhile achievement can ever be gained without working for it.

And if I fail? Well, at least I’ll have gained something! And there’s always next year…

What about you? Is anyone else doing NaNoWriMo? Any advice or encouragements? I’d love to hear from you.

Journeys in Learning – The Trouble with Advice

Sometimes, being new at something is really hard.

It is hard to jump into something feeling like everyone knows more about that something than you do. It can be very tempting, instead of diving into that something and working at it until you get better, to try and find every piece of advice you can about it. This is certainly what I tend to do.

In some ways, finding out how to do something from more experienced people is a great thing. It provides important signposts for the journey, and helps you know what to expect, and if you’re on the right track. The trouble is, most advice you find on the internet (which is where I get most of mine!), or even in books, will not be tailor made for your needs. It is near enough impossible to find a piece of universal advice that will suit every person and every nuance of situation, even if it seems to be quite specific to your problem.

Allow me to give you an example.

This summer, having decided (rather tentatively) to give writing a try, it was my first instinct to plunge head-first into an overwhelming ocean of writing advice, from authors, publishers, bloggers, even newspapers and magazines. I soon found, however, that, rather than making me feel prepared to begin my actual journey as a writer, it was making me feel disheartened and inadequate. Take this article for example:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/feb/20/ten-rules-for-writing-fiction-part-one

It’s a huge list of writing tips proffered by successful authors. You don’t actually have to click on the link (it’s a pretty sizeable list, and that’s only part one!), because I’ve picked out just a few pieces of advice to illustrate my point:

“Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they’ll know it too.”

“Write only when you have something to say.”

“Remember you love writing. It wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back.”

How on earth do I breathe life into something? Am I over-explaining things? How do I trust a reader when I don’t really believe anyone will ever read this?

Do I really have something to say? Is what I’m about to write good/important/worthy enough to even put into words?

Do I really love writing enough to make this work? What if I don’t want this enough? Am I just kidding myself???

Do you see what I’m getting at? None of those were bad pieces of advice, quite the opposite. But it’s my reaction to them that is the problem. What immediately springs to mind is not how I can incorporate these into my writing, but rather all the ways I can possibly fail to do so. This may just be my insecurities talking (when do they ever shut up?). But I’ve found that my writing (and peace of mind) is much more content when I shut out others’ advice (I’ve already read enough of it to last me a lifetime!) and just WRITE!

Now I just need to take my own advice…

FORTUNE’S PAWN! An unconventional post

This post is not in the usual format, and will be very brief, partly because I already posted today (death by bombardment of blog posts), and partly because what I want to say needs few words (Here goes):

Fortune’s Pawn (the what I can only assume will be brilliant new novel from Rachel Bach (it’s actually Rachel Aaron people, and you know how I feel about her!)) is coming out on the 5th November! Be excited! And to celebrate, she’s giving away loads of signed copies via a contest on her blog. So check it out, enter the contest (or even buy the book when it comes out using real money!), and get reading.

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(Sorry for the over-enthusiastic use of brackets.) (Wow, there really are a lot of brackets in this post.) (Sincere apologies.)

Over and out.

Journeys in Writing – Overcoming the Shame-Spiral

Just over three months ago, I started this blog as a means of getting some daily (well, that was the intention!) writing practice, and maybe learning some truths about myself along the way. Instead, I’ve created another task-master, another box to be ticked, another thing to fail at and feel guilty about. That’s the trouble I’ve found with writing so far. The hardest thing, for me, is to get back up and keep going when I feel as though I’ve already failed.

The more I write, the more inspired I become, so the more I write… And so the cycle of positivity continues. When I don’t write, as I haven’t been for a while, the more my page starts to look like this:

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The negative cycle, or shame-spiral as I sometimes call it, is my number 1 cause of writers’ block. I don’t write, so I feel bad about myself, so I don’t want to face the issue, so I don’t write… Thus the shame-spiral continues.

I think my attitude is very aptly summed up in this blog post by the brilliant Allie Brosh: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.de/2010/06/this-is-why-ill-never-be-adult.html. The subject matter is slightly different, but the concept is very much the same.

I know I’m not the only one who experiences this, as evidenced here. But what is the solution? How on earth can I break out of this spiral and force myself to just WRITE!!

Journeys in Childhood – My Top 11 Children’s Books

Moving to a foreign country, I have found, makes you look at the concept of home in a completely new light. This blog post, that I wrote months ago but never got round to finishing, now strikes me on a whole new level. These books that I loved so much when I was younger (and still do!), not only have inspired me to write, but provide a concrete link to a time that is gone forever, and a place from which I am separated by hundreds of miles. I hope you enjoy this list as much as I enjoyed making it!

Looking back, my fascination with literature and reading began at a young age, when I discovered the magic of books and their wonderful ability to transport you to different worlds and open your mind to new ideas. For this reason, I have decided to list the top 11 books (in no particular order) that stuck with me in some way, either because they changed my ideas about something, inspired me to write myself, or even just created a magical world I could get lost in!

  1. The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson – Absolutely bursting with lush descriptions of Viennese cakes that made me desperately want to go to Vienna! This is one of the first books that made me realise the power of setting and description, when executed well (as it so often isn’t).
  2. Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman – I haven’t actually re-visited this book since I first read it many years ago, but I remember being extremely moved and struck by the issues being raised, as well as engaging with the characters in a way that shifted the focus and gave it more depth.
  3. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech – Simply written but absolutely heartbreaking, as with all of Creech’s books. She just has a magical way of capturing emotion which has particularly stuck with me.
  4. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – I have always found this book absolutely captivating! One that I have re-read again and again.
  5. Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling – I couldn’t narrow it down to just one of the books, since it is as a whole series that they make the most impact, and that they showcase the thing that, for me, makes these books so memorable and engaging, which is the incredible detail and thoughtfulness with which the world of magic is created and sculpted around the reader. It has inspired me to try and create a fantasy world of my own.
  6. Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster – This book evokes strong memories of my childhood, when I was ill and my mum read it to me. A bit of a silly story really, but also charming, and I love how the main character’s voice is so strong throughout.
  7. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis – Powerfully symbolic but in a way that is understandable for children, and somehow easy to identify with, even though it is set in a fantasy world.
  8. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman – Known as the Golden Compass in the US, this was recently (ish) made into a film, and I was supremely unimpressed by the way the magic of the setting was lost, even though the descriptions in the book are so visual. I suppose it is the mark of a great story, when the images in the reader’s head are so vivid that no visual adaptation can live up to it.
  9. The Railway Children by E. Nesbit – One of those books that you read on different levels as a child and as an adult.
  10. Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo – Morpurgo is the absolute king of writing poignant, deep, but also fun, children’s literature. I loved this book, but found it absolutely heartbreaking.
  11. The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett – This is still one of my absolute favourite books. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what makes It so special, but possibly it is the perfect balance of wry humour, inventiveness, originality and mystery (combined with great characters and plot, of course!). This book has definitely inspired me to write!

Do you agree with my list? What are your favourite children’s books? Let me know in the comments.

Journeys in Inspiration – Rachel Aaron

Hooray! WordPress is working again! Finally 😀

This short post follows a spur of the moment purchase on amazon, which has completely changed my approach to writing!

Recently, a blog post on a writing blog I’ve been reading (I forget which, I’m afraid) mentioned some sort of writing guide you could pick up cheaply on amazon. So, I duly headed over there to see if it was something I could use to help me get started in writing, since I’m still in the very early stages. It was not this book, however, that caught my eye, but one by Rachel Aaron, which wasvery impressively named ‘2k to 10k’, and claimed to be able to help me increase my word count from 2,000 words a day to 10,000! Now, since I was not writing anywhere near 2,000 words a day, I felt dubious as to how much this book would actually be able to help me. But the low price, combined with the perilous 1-click purchase system on amazon (extremely dangerous, I can tell you, especially for people like me who have an unhealthy addiction to buying books!), persuaded me to buy it.

I won’t go into too many details of the book’s contents, which you can easily find out by buying and reading the book yourself (I’m not being paid commission by the author, I promise!), because that is not the reason for this post. The real inspiration came from reading her blog.

Since deciding to give writing a try, I have spent a lot of my time on writing blogs, and I have to say, although I have found quite a few good ones, hers comes out on top. Why? I think I’d have to put this down to her honesty. Her posts are personal. They are relatable. Even though she is a fully fledged author with 12 (I think) books under her belt, and I am barely taking my first baby steps into the world of writing, I still feel like I can relate to her. I’m starting to wish I lived in the USA so I could meet her!

If I have any advice to give about writing, it’s this:

Go and check out her blog! Do it. Now!

Here are 5 of my favourite posts to get you started:

 

Enjoy!