Monday, 25 April 2016

Finding Balance

A very strange thing has been happening these last few months. Something that I can honestly say has never happened before; my day job and life no longer feel like two distinct, separate entities. I have, somehow, created a congruity between the two that has always eluded me.

For as long as I can remember I've always felt a division between what I do for work and my "real" life. In fact even school felt the same way, with time spent in the classroom distinct and separate from my life. That stopped for a time when I was at University but started up again as soon as I started working for a living. Every hour spent at work was an hour deprived from me, an hour where I couldn't focus on my "real" life, preventing me from the things I really wanted. It was hard and ultimately resulted in working for the weekend, for the time you do have to yourself and on your own terms.

I suspect a lot of, even most, people live like this. It's normal for there to be a distinction between "what you do" and "what you want to be". Or at least, it was normal for me - until now.

I've been doing a lot of self-inspection this year, really working out what I want from my day job, where I want it to go. That in turn led me to do the same with my own writing. And I recognised that the lack of progress in both of these zones of my life was down to me not doing two things:

    a) Planning (realistically)
    b) Pushing (myself and others to get things in motion)

So in March I got myself a Passion Planner. I'd learned about them over a year previously but had done nothing about it, putting it off and saying to myself I didn't really need something like that. I was wrong - my Passion Planner forced me to re-assess what I really wanted (something I'd done before a few years ago but hadn't moved forward with) and forced me to see what I was going to have to prioritise and what I'd have to let go of. But I did something I don't think I'd have done in earlier years; I included my day job in my Passion Planner. Suddenly I could see how my day job could help me get the skills I needed for my writing goals and how the writing could in turn help me in my day job. Suddenly the two things were not in competition, they were allies that were going to get me where I wanted to be.

I don't know if this works for everyone. Some day jobs are likely too monotonous or restrictive to offer much in the way of personal development. But I've definitely had a revelation and it's resulted in me prioritising my fiction writing by doing it before work three times a week and setting up a working backward plan for my writing projects (something I have to do in my day job as standard). It also made me include my fitness goals into my life so now I visit the gym in the morning twice a week and have a once a week session with a Personal Trainer (who happens to be my boyfriend, but still). It requires some sacrifices, like getting up earlier, staying at work later, but so far it seems to be working. But the most important part, to me, is that I no longer feel like I'm being pulled in different directions, or being forced to make a choice I don't want to make. And maybe, just maybe, this will be the year I can look back and say "this is when it started" when I look back at a writing career. Dreams are where achievements start after all.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

The Wait Continues

I'm not sure I'm okay. I mean, it's just so frustrating and disappointing, two emotions I do not do well. I'll grin and bear it, like always, but I... just... don't know. I don't know how much more of this I can take.

Winds of Winter will not be coming out before March.

In fact it may not be coming out for some time, as according to Mr. Martin there is "a lot still left to write. I am months away still... and that's if the writing goes well." 

I sometimes wish I hadn't started reading the damned books and had started with the TV show instead. Especially as at this point I'm going to be as clueless as everyone else come Season 6 in April, which will no doubt have spoilers for the books. Then again shoulda, coulda, woulda isn't my style so I'll go into the next season hoping they continue the trend of diverging massively from the books. And where they cross, well, at least it means I get to find out what happens. Because the more Winds of Winter is delayed (and the consequential delay to the one after it, A Dream of Spring) the more I fear a Mervyn Peak situation. If that were to happen I'm not sure how I'd handle it - to say I'm invested in The Song of Ice and Fire would be... an understatement. It just doesn't bear thinking about.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Star Wars, Pressure and Thoughts

Today has been a good day - I got to see Star Wars: A Force Awakens and despite my massive misgivings about the continuation of the saga I loved it. Can't claim it's perfect but it comes close enough for me. Fear not - no spoilers here. But if you haven't seen it and you loved A New Hope, you have to watch this one; you're going to love it.

I'm in the process of clearing out the many emails I have as I'm terrible at keeping up with them. This has resulted in a present I was buying not being sent, as apparently I had an invoice sent to me a week ago which I didn't see. Why businesses can't just take the money when I've given them my Paypal details I don't know, but here we are; one pleading email of "please charge me again, I promise I'll pay this time" and now waiting for a response. Fingers and toes are crossed.

One email that got my attention was from Goodreads, "Your year in books". It listed how many books I've read, how many I challenged myself to read, how many I added to my "To Read" pile... essentially a lot of numbers that told me I've not been particularly productive this year. That got me to thinking, Why do we put this pressure on ourselves?  It makes sense for companies to bombard us with messages and what better way to prompt someone to interact with their product then setting goals, otherwise known as "gamification". But why do we so willingly play? In my case I think it's a fear of missing out, of not doing enough in my life and just turning into a couch potato mindlessly consuming and never creating. We see so many inspirational stories of people who turned their life around through hard work and dedication, so many examples of how good it could be if we only put a bit of effort in. In reality though "effort" can often translate into burning out or being unhappy. Spending hours on something that you don't really enjoy all in the hope of a pay off at the end, whether that's setting up a small business, or trying to read your way through a Colossus sized pile of books.

This is not me saying it's not worth it; it is. Of equal importance though is your sanity - I've been much happier since I put the brakes on my writing and instead focused on doing little things one at a time or one big thing over a period of time, rather than everything plus day job, plus reading, plus games, plus keeping up with TV shows... There's only so much the brain can cope with. So this year coming will be my year of focus on only one thing at a time, with no guilt if I change my focus to relax or to learn or to grow in other ways. Because while there are many paths to success, you can't walk all of them at once. Sometimes you've just got to stick to the one your own and not worry about what you might be missing.

Happy Winter Solstice!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

USA Bound

Work are sending me off to Seattle for the week - I finally get to see the mothership. Sunday has been spent fighting with my hand luggage to make sure it's within the measly 10kg the airline allows. Turns out my work laptop and charger weigh half of that so I can safely say I did not enjoy this game of 4D Tetris. Somehow it all came together and I'm now in the "what have I forgotten" phase.

I've never had a chance to go to the original head office until now. We're kind of big on the whole "frugality" thing and so far I've not had a good reason to go. But at last I get to see where it all began. I also get to see the city I heard about growing up watching Frasier. Though I can't promise I'll partake of the (in)famous coffee - maybe a hot chocolate instead.

The result of my minimalist packing has also been getting some apps on my phone to make blogging and writing easier. This post is entirely written on my iPhone - an experiment to see if I can get more writing practise by removing the need for a computer of any kind. I predict there may be an exponential rise in typos... But it should make it easier to write updates and I'm even going to give writing stories a go, though the thumb typing will either give me arthritis or drive me crazy. Only time will tell. The main point is that I'm trying to stop letting little things get in the way of dreams - it's so easy for mini excuses to pile up and blockade progress. So instead I'm going to remove those little problems one at a time, starting with the whole "but I don't have a laptop to write on" or "my laptop's too heavy to take everywhere". 

Now I just have to hope I get time away from work to actually do the thumb typing. No doubt the jet lag will help with that...

Monday, 26 October 2015

Steering the Craft - The Sound of Your Writing

This is the first in my exercises for Steering the Craft. It was actually really enjoyable, an opportunity to play with language in a way I normally forget to do when I'm writing. What you can discover just by not worrying about the final result is remarkable. There's still progress to make, but I'm pretty pleased with the results. Hopefully you'll enjoy them too, and I highly recommend giving these exercises a go yourself: the discovery alone will make it worth it.

Exercise One: Being Gorgeous

"Part One: Write a paragraph to a page of narrative that's meant to be read aloud. Use onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, rhythmic effects, made-up words or names, dialect - any kinds of sound effect you like - but NOT rhyme or meter."

When the day is swallowed by the sneaking dark and shadows stretch their arms to share their cloak, that's when the Ingrilin come out. No one sees them, that's their gift, their curse, but they see all. The long fingers slide over the ground ahead, scraping away the soil in the days when forests ruled the land. Now they simply slither over the concrete, their sleekit forms sliding over the tacky tarmac, past the cars careening to their destinations. Around the people bobbing along under their umbrellas, oblivious to the pitch black shadows by their feet.
Ingrilin do not know wherefor they go, only that they must. Each night they depart, only to be concealed in their lairs by the time the first rays of the sun kiss the ground. No one knows what they do in the between time, but even people in the enlightened age shiver and hurry past the black alley, avoid the street where the lamps are off. The shadow, with its languorous stretch across the uneven paving stones, is stepped over quickly. The mind remembers, even if the person does not.
What of those who forget completely? Those who step off the luminous path and into the unlit nook? Mostly, they are safe to trot away, continue their life of oblivion. But some are not so fortunate. And the Ingrilin are always waiting.

"Part Two: In a paragraph or so, describe an action, or a person feeling strong emotion - joy, fear, grief. Try to make the rhythm and movement of the sentences embody or represent the physical reality you're writing about."

There are some who enjoy speaking in public. Those people are mad. Most feel their insides quiver, their tongue retreat to their throat, as though to escape via the oesophagus. Sweat breaks out in all the worst places, and before they know it their nails are nibbled and turned to stubs. The notes so carefully taken are made damp, crushed under the pressure of what's to come. All this before the performance itself when the many eyes stare, expectant.
The voice croaks, the words all trying to beat the others to be heard. The tumbling oratory is matched by the rolling gut, just waiting for it to be over. The many eyes glaze, lost to inner thoughts. But still the vernacular somersaults must go on until, by a miracle of time and space, the notes are read, the words are said. The polite applause releases the speaker to their freedom. As they sit, a rush of comfort settles. And they hope next time will be easier.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Forcing the Muse

Three weeks since returning from my holiday, I'm making myself post something as it's safe to say the writing bug has not been with me lately. It's not that I don't want to write but I'm finding the words are stuck; I need a plumber to remove the blockage with one of those amusingly shaped plungers. Though I have just realised how much I like the word "plunger".

To combat the lack of words I've decided I need to approach this like I do going to the gym; make myself do it at set times, on set days, no matter how I feel. When exercise is the activity this often leads to a lot of internal whinging and negotiation with my inner self; bargains are proposed and regrettably rejected. Wails of "but I can't" are met with "but you must". So far I haven't had a routine for the writing to allow this fun dialogue to happen in my head, but here we are. Now I have two activities in which to explore the depths of my insanity.

I tried to do a bit of writing on holiday but was never that optimistic it would lead to much. In Magaluf there are lots of distractions of the sun, pool, drinks and dancing variety. And as it turned out food poisoning, when me and my man made the mistake of having the hotel's freshly cooked omelettes. I may never eat an omelette again. Couple with a decided lack of sun, grumpy neighbours, and a gym that was more a death trap then a work out area, it wasn't the smoothest of holidays, but it was still fun.

Another aid to writing I'm trying is working my way through Ursula K. Le Guin's "Steering the Craft - A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story". It's a short book on writing, with exercises to do at the end of each chapter, and I plan to post my attempts here. Alongside this I've set out my writing goals for the next three months, broken down into the actual pieces I want to have finished in that time and what should be in progress. Waiting for inspiration just isn't working, so a checklist will have to do. I'm even getting up earlier with the express purpose of writing something everyday, before I do anything else. I really like my sleep, so this is a significant step for me.

Hopefully all of this will mean more words on the page, and more posts on this ol' blog. And maybe, just maybe, some stories to show for it all.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Rachel Dolezal: Is Identity Skin Deep?

Identity. It isn't what it used to be. Religion, gender, sexuality, all have seen the barriers that once existed come crashing down, leading to a more fluid notion of where one group ends and another begins. The most recent challenger is now race, brought to the fore by the revelations around rights activist Rachel Dolezal. This has prompted a furore in the media and online about whether or not she is black and whether you can change your racial identity through desire alone.

Others have written at length about the Rachel Dolezal case but few are diving into the issue of identity and what it means in the 21st century. Self-identity has and will always be important to human beings: it's who we are, what we like, even why we are. Globalisation has massively affected our identity concepts; it would be hard to identify with a demographic if you didn't know anything about them or even if they existed. In fact one of the greatest strengths of a connected world, with open communication available to all, is the opportunity to learn about other people and their identity. But it has it's pitfalls; it's a thin line between self-identity and appropriation.