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.

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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…

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:

Image

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 Upheaval – In with the New

Today finds me writing a blog post much later than I would have liked (yet again). As I mentioned in my previous post, I have moved abroad as part of my language degree, and am currently residing in the small town of Lemgo, Germany. While this is certainly a convenient, and in parts true, reason for my silence, there are definitely other factors involved.

I started a separate blog, following a request from my sister, to document my experiences and keep everyone at home up to date with what I’ve been doing. (If you’re interested, you can find it here at http://yearabroadfuntimes.blogspot.de/ ) However, posting on this blog, along with another writing commitment and a teaching job, has been taking up a lot of writing head-space. Not only that, but I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to write a simple description of what I’ve been doing than it is to delve a bit deeper. The purpose of the other blog is just to keep people informed of where I am physically rather than emotionally, which is where these two blogs differ.

Here are some things that have changed since arriving, things that haven’t made it onto my other blog, either because they’re irrelevant to its purpose (as a means to inform rather than evaluate), or they’re simply too personal:

Writing

This is one thing that is particularly annoying me. Before I came, I had a significant writing project on the go, one that I was excited about, and was really hoping to see to completion. Since arriving, this project has hit a road-block, which I can’t seem to shift. Why have I stopped writing?* Does this mean I’m really not cut out to pursue this as my career after all? I certainly hope that’s not the case!

Language

What I’m about to say may seem strange, since I’ve spoken German for 8 years (or is it 9?) and learning the language is the whole point of coming. But it is still the absolute hardest thing about being here. Never before have I so appreciated the ability to express my thoughts without much restriction, to express my personality and desires, and to use nuance to imply my emotions. These are definitely things I took for granted before. And I just can’t do them in the same way in German. This, I’m sure, will get better with time. But for now I’m stuck…

Faith

This is a hard thing to admit. It’s always tempting to put up a front and pretend everything’s fine, so as not to discourage others. But the fact is, even the most faithful Christians have doubts, and I certainly fall far below them.  I’m in a faith-rut of my own making. I know that God’s still there, that He’s still faithful to me. But how do I get close to Him again?

So there you have it. My current biggest struggles. I must admit, they were much harder to put into writing than I’d anticipated! It’s certainly a lot easier to write about my day-to-day experiences, rather than my innermost thoughts!

Does anyone have any advice? Or anything at all that could help me? And what are you struggling with at the moment?

*I haven’t stopped altogether! I’m just making frustratingly little progress with my project. And by ‘frustratingly little progress’, I actually mean none at all! Oops.

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!

Journeys in Inadequacy

So, until recently I’d started to come to terms with the fact that feeling inadequate is just a part of life. I’ve played the piano for years, and I’ve got pretty good at it. I’ll admit (slightly ashamedly, but then again I started this blog with the aim of being honest!) that I got, and still get, satisfaction from being better than other people. But on many occasions, and especially since going to university, I’ve had to face the fact that there are a huge number of people out there who are better at playing the piano than me. They are also better at organising their lives (something I continually struggle with), are better looking than me, have more friends and are more talented in a million different ways. No matter how good I get at something, there will always be someone better.

There comes a point where I have to stop and ask myself, ‘why am I doing this?’ Come to think of it, why am I doing anything at all? What, if I’m being completely honest with myself, is my true motivation in life?

The answer to that question is not easy, not because it’s really that complicated, but because I’m embarrassed by it. I’m motivated by achievement. But not just any type of achievement. I need my achievements to be tangible, enviable and flauntable (is that even a word?), to be trophies that I can subtly show off. For example, I study French and German at university, and I also speak Italian. Now, while I did actually choose to study languages because I enjoy it, I do derive enormous satisfaction from the fact that being able to speak foreign languages is impressive. Studying physics or history requires the same effort, the same love for the subject, the same perseverance and dedication as studying languages, and yet they are not trophies in the same way. They are not things that people necessarily envy about you.

However, thinking about things in this way has drawbacks. I know because I experience them constantly. I know how destructive it can be to constantly compare yourself to others, bitterly envious of their success. Even if you’re at the top, it’s exhausting to try and defend that position, and you will discover that, in the end, you’re fighting a losing battle. Now, I’m not against aiming high. But I do know for sure that if your (and my) only goal is achievement and success in the eyes of others, in other words, collecting trophies, you’re ultimately destined for disappointment.

So what needs to change? What does my motivation need to be if I want to gain something meaningful and lasting, and not get discouraged?

I found my answer while trawling through writing blogs. In an article in one of my favourites (http://goinswriter.com/passion/), the writer, Jeff Goins, shares his own experiences of bitter disappointment when aiming purely for fame and success, before discovering a more satisfying, and more fruitful, path. He urges his readers to focus instead on the actual craft of writing, and on nourishing a passion for honing this discipline, rather than focussing on external rewards.

So I’m taking this tip to heart – I’m determined to embark on my writing journey with a completely new attitude! I will focus only on loving my craft, not on possible failures or successes. I will not pointlessly compare myself to others, or be envious of their skills (or, at least, I can try!).

From now on, I will (try to) take Jeff Goins’s advice, and do things for passion, not for recognition.

Besides, playing the piano is rewarding and fun, even when no one hears it but me. 🙂

Journeys in Writing

So, I’ve decided to try and become a writer.

Probably. We’ll see.

But the trouble is, getting better at anything takes practice, and I just don’t think what I’m doing is enough. I sometimes feel that there are so many ideas bubbling to the surface of my mind, but I’m not able to nurture them and turn them into anything because I lack the skill as a writer. And the confidence.

So, that’s what this blog is for. It’s a chance to hone my writing skills, and maybe find out some things about myself along the way. I’m writing this mainly for my own benefit, but if anyone else reads this and gets something from it I’ll be thrilled!

I have chosen to make ‘Journeys’ the subject of this blog, partly because (cliché alert!) I believe that the whole of life is made up of journeys that shape us and make us who we are.  I may not feel confident about my writing skills right now, but creating this blog (i.e. grimly forcing myself to put pen to paper, or, in this case, fingers to keyboard) is an important first step in the journey of improving myself and of getting where I want to be in life. Who knows, maybe I’ll make some surprising discoveries along the way.