The Inevitable Resolution Post

I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions – primarily because I’m not very good at keeping them – but given that my wedding is now fast approaching (six months? Where did the last nine go?), it is imperative that I start as I mean to go on where health and fitness are concerned, because, funnily enough, I’m not that keen for people to remember my fat arms more than anything else from my wedding day. Having spent most of the festive season stuffing turkey, roast potatoes and mince pies into my face at staggeringly frequent intervals – all washed down with cirrhosis-inducing quantities of alcohol – I am actually feeling ready for the challenge.

What I am less ready for is the inevitable January gym scrum, but I suppose that goes with the territory. Given my current bad back situation, however, it may be a while yet before I’m doing sprints on the treadmill and lifting my own weight on the LAT pull down machine. Hopefully a few chiropractor sessions and some gentle exercise and Pilates will do the trick, because I’m not enjoying feeling more like 94 than 34, and it depresses me no end that last year I was training for a marathon and now it hurts to stand up and walk to the toilet. But hey ho, we all have our crosses to bear.

Where food is concerned I am aiming to keep fresh and healthy as much as possible in 2016 (or at least up to the wedding in June, after which I’ll have nabbed him and can pile the pounds back on – only kidding, my love). Last night I managed this admirably, whipping up a quinoa rice pilau with dill and roasted tomatoes for dinner, as well as a mackerel, quinoa and watercress salad for today’s lunch and overnight oats with red berries, almonds and chia seeds for breakfast. As tasty and virtuous as this is, I can’t deny it was a struggle getting everything prepared. Dinner wasn’t ready until 9.30pm, and once the oats were boxed up and put in the fridge it was 11pm and time for bed. Healthy eating, it would seem, is not conducive to having a life. Hopefully I’ll get better at it with practice…

And then there’s booze. We all know it’s the devil (albeit an alluring one), but I can’t quite bring myself to partake in the misguided (in my opinion) saint-fest that is Dry January, so instead I will be sticking to one tipple for the whole of this month – red wine, whose wide-ranging health benefits have been widely touted in official studies like this one. So there.

And finally, there’s my biggest nemesis: Procrastination. To kick off the year in the right frame of mind I have unsubscribed from all the crap emails I receive daily into my Hotmail account which my FOMO had until now prevented me from doing (it’s all very well being kept abreast of the latest pop up tiki bars and arty plays in your favourite corner of south west London, but when you now reside permanently in another country, it’s kind of pointless continuing to receive a stream of constant updates about them). I’m not quite ready to eschew social media, but I do plan to cut down in my eternal quest to make room for writing. I’m sick to death of making promises on that front, but I really hope that 2016 is the year I get my head back in the writing space once and for all. There is already one exciting project in the pipeline (more on this tomorrow), so I am at least starting as I mean to go on.

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Day 11/Day 12: The Hangover/Recovery

My good intentions to spend the Belgian public holiday novelling furiously from dawn to dusk were put paid by an over-enthusiastic booze-up the night before with two ex-colleagues. In the face of good company and fine wine I am utterly powerless to resist temptation, especially when there is the very real prospect of a lie-in. Needless to say, when I woke up at ten o’clock the next morning with a dehydration headache I was somewhat (read: very) disappointed by my lack of willpower. But nonetheless, and in the true spirit of NaNo, I pulled myself together enough to battle through, still managing a surprisingly impressive 3,000 words before the day was out, taking me just over my target. I can’t say it wasn’t painful, but I did it, and that’s what counts, right?

Today was another matter entirely. After a long day in the office I wasn’t holding out much hope for a decent writing session tonight, but after getting home, banging my knee so hard on the cupboard door I think the neighbours might have thought I was being murdered, and doing a twenty minute pilates workout on YouTube, I sat down and wrote non-stop for over an hour, easily managing my daily workout, and then a few hundred words to boot. It’s funny how that happens on the days you least expect it. It wasn’t my best work, I think that’s fair to say, but it sufficed in nudging the plot along a little, putting my main characters in a touch of strife and bringing them closer together in the process. So I’m taking that as a win. And I’m delighted to say I’ve broken the 20,000 word mark. Hooray! Nearly halfway. Take THAT week two. And they say you’re the worst of the lot. Not for this old soak. Cheers!

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NaNoWriMo Days 7 & 8 – Back on Track

It’s late, so I will be brief. In short, I’m back on track for a November 30th finish! Have pulled victory from the jaws of week one defeat, just in the nick of time, after an uber productive writing group today. Phew.

In other, possibly-NaNo-related news, I’ve had a tremendously productive weekend in other respects too, primarily in terms of getting a new hair colour (not, I suspect, all that easily detectable to the untrained eye, but exciting for me nonetheless), buying some Christmas presents (groan) and organising a baby shower.

I say possibly-NaNo-related with regard to the above because I really am wondering whether NaNo has a positive effect in other areas of my life besides my writing. In the past week I have felt more positive and capable than I have for some weeks, and this weekend has been a really calm and focused time, full of rewarding pursuits and positive reflections about what I want to achieve in my writing and in life in general.

I suppose the learning is to always have a tangible and (relatively) immediate goal, to never stop striving for that goal and to spend time every single day working towards achieving it. A lesson I will endeavour to remember long after my sixth NaNoWriMo has ended.

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NaNoWriMo Day 5 & 6 Update

Fuelled by the complacency of (almost) hitting my word target four days in a row, I happily allowed myself a lighter writing session on day five (what? It was a long day, I was tired – excuses ad infinitum). Despite feeling justified at the time, I am kicking myself today. Because, the fact is, week one of NaNo is about getting AS MANY WORDS DOWN AS POSSIBLE. I KNOW this, because I’ve done it several times before. According to Chris Baty in No Plot, No Problem (the edited version of which I have started re-reading to aid me along this attempt at the challenge) Week One is the fun part, when all the words come tumbling out and your characters are romping away. Week One’s evil twin, Week Two, is the bitch of the family, and by cutting myself some slack now I’ve played right into her cunning little hands.

The truth is, my characters were romping away, getting themselves into all sorts of scrapes without my even having to exert any influence. But all of a sudden, after yesterday’s pithy seven hundred words, the well of inspiration has run dry. Actually, that’s not true. It’s not inspiration that’s run dry, it’s my brain that has decided to down tools and stop. Take now for example. It is telling me, quite clearly, that it is Friday night at 9pm and I should, categorically and without question, be curled up on the sofa with a LARGE glass of Cab Sauv watching some heinously terrible TV programme. It does not, and let’s make no bones about it, wish to be sitting at the same computer it’s been sitting in front of all week, trying to make up stories about fictional people. In short, it’s just not having it.

So you see my dilemma. And even as I’ve been ruminating on this blog I have been switching over to the WIP, limping along with a broken stream of uninspired words, wishing my way to the word count target for today. And, to be fair, I have at least crossed the 8,000 mark, which feels like a bit of a milestone (until you consider I started today at 7,004 words). But it’s not flowing and I want with every fibre of my being just to stop and veg the hell out. ARGH. This is torture. But I SHALL NOT be defeated. I shall pour myself a glass of wine (hell, it IS Friday. I’m not a bloody saint) and plough on for just a little longer….

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NaNoWriMo Day Four (Belated): Smooth Sailing on Fatberg Seas

When I started yesterday’s session I took solace in the fact my chapter headings and the words ‘The End’ would count towards my total word count, which gives you an insight into my level of conviction about being able to complete this challenge. But then, just like Chris Baty says in No Plot, No Problem!, something magical happened. I fired up the laptop, began typing, and a little over an hour later I had typed 1,900 words! Best of all, the majority of those words were about (weirdly) one of my favourite topics: Fatbergs. Yep, those giant balls of congealed fat, rotting food and sanitary wipes form a crazy amount of fodder for the stalling novelist, or so it would seem. And so, after sailing on a sea of fatberg-related sentences, I cruised right up to within 300 words of my day four word count target. Here’s hoping the rest of the month will be as plain sailing (something tells me it won’t..).

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NaNoWriMo Day Two: Return of the Speedy Dinner

Mondays are rarely, if ever, good days. So when you roll in from work at 8pm with 1,600 words to write until you hit your daily word count it can be disheartening. Until, that is, you realise for the month of November certain things are okay. It is, for example, okay to only make dinners that take under five minutes to prepare. It’s also okay to ignore the pile of washing in the basket, and to put your environmentally friendly leanings to one side and use the dishwasher. Tonight, employing these strategies bought me enough time to write 1,100 words. My NaNo dashboard is still somewhat depressingly telling me at my current rate I will cross the finish line a month and a week after the deadline. But not to worry, there are plenty more speedy dinners, unwashed clothes and dishwasher cycles to rectify that little oroblem…

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NaNoWriMo Day One

I’m pretty sure this is sixth time I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo. I know that because I wrote down the names of all the previous ‘novels’ I’ve written this afternoon – when I was meant to be getting my first day’s word count down.

And so it begins. A month of furious head-down-pedal-to-the-metal determination to succeed in the face of extreme adversity and near-total lack of self-belief. Fuelled by coffee and cake, we NaNo veterans hurl ourselves once more unto the breach, the sails of our stories flapping precariously in the force of our wayward imaginations.

Today I did at least manage to hit the daily word count. This bodes well, or at least would bode well were it not for the fact my first 1,500 words have already exposed a major plot flaw that I’m struggling to find a solution to before tomorrow’s session. But hey, this kind of thing is common in NaNo Land. We set sail in one direction only to find over the course of thirty days we have gone quite off course and are now heading in another altogether. Such is the life of the speedy novelist (and poor sailor). Worse things, after all, have happened at sea….

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Breaking the Silence

It’s been a month since my last post. Life is such a whirlwind at the moment that I’m struggling to catch my breath. I mean, life’s always busy – despite my best intentions I don’t seem capable of living any other way – but having a new job that is ten times as busy as the last, in parallel with the often stressful process of planning a wedding (there’s nothing quite so thrilling – excuse the heavy sarcasm – as the feeling you get when your venue cancels on you three months after you sent the invites) is leaving precious little room for anything or anyone else (except of course my constant companion Guilt, who naturally manages to elbow his way into almost every situation).

But, tempting though it is to retreat into my head and bob up and down on the familiar sea of anxiety and worry (Guilt bobbing up and down beside me in his rubber ring), before drowning out the internal noise with crap TV and pointless social media staring (which, I won’t lie, I did a fair bit of in plucking up the courage to write this), I know in my heart that my best means of finding some clarity and peace of mind is through writing. Which is why, after several aborted attempts at updating this blog, I’ve finally sat down to do it. And also why I’ve taken the big decision to reassess my writing priorities, to take time out of screenplay writing and go back to what I love most: novel writing.

And what better way to get back into that than by attempting NaNoWriMo again in November? I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve done it before, how many first drafts of novels are languishing in the metaphorical drawer, dusty and undeveloped. And I’ve no reason to think this time will be any different. Given how crazy life is at the moment I’ve no reason to think I will even manage to complete it. I just know I want to do it, or try to do it, to get the creative juices flowing again – and drown out those hateful voices telling me that I’ll never be good enough.

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Thought this was particularly appropriate given the circumstances. Come on NaNoWriMo, let’s get that crappy first draft underway..

Eating Frogs

My old boss used to say ‘time to eat the frog’ when talking about the thing on his to do list that most troubled him – you know, the one that lurks at the bottom, perpetually torturing you with its very existence, until it grows to toad-like proportions, usurping all other tasks. And he was right to eat the frog from time to time, because it’s funny how spending even the smallest amount of time on the things you ritually avoid can instill a sense of calm. Or maybe not so funny, given that procrastination is surely one of the greatest stressors of the modern world.

As a struggling writer (with the emphasis firmly on the ‘struggling’ and often barely on the ‘writer’) it baffles me no end that the things I routinely attempt to hide from are usually related to the one thing I claim to want to do the most. We humans are complex – read ‘stupid’ – creatures. Or maybe it’s just me. Plenty of writers do, after all, write. Many do so for a living. I just dabble part time (or, if I’m really honest, spend 90% of my time worrying about it and 10% actually doing it), and even that is enough to raise my anxiety levels to red. And, while we’re on the topic of anxiety, there’s another by-product of today’s western society, where we have the luxury of almost infinite choice, and yet are simultaneously paralysed by it. In short, we are ruined by our own hands. But then, of course, it’s not all bad. Things rarely are.

The key to not just surviving but thriving in this crazy life is, I’ve begun to realise, taking our feet off the gas pedals once in a while; flicking on the cruise control and acknowledging we can only do what we can do. I’m not advocating laziness, or complacency. But what personal experience over the last thirty three years has shown me is that when I put the most pressure on myself I usually perform the worst. Setting goals is great, but when those goals are metaphorically akin to climbing Everest, it’s unsurprising that it’s often hard to take even the very first step. In scaling back ambition – reigning it in just enough to make it achievable – it dissipates the feelings of anxiety and fear of failure that often stop us from beginning our journey in the first place.

By all means eat the frog – it will invariably make you feel much better. But don’t put so many frogs in your way you have to eat them all. Aside from anything else, it will give you terrible indigestion.

Disclaimer: No frogs were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

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Blocking Time

Do you ever feel there isn’t enough time to do the things you want to do outside of your day job? Are you often just so tired at the end of the working day that all you want to do is lie on the sofa and watch crap TV just to relax your mind? But then the guilt sets in, because such activity feels like it actively diminishes your intelligence rather than bolstering it, and if you don’t use your time wisely how will you ever finish that novel/Open University course/improving tome etc.?

If you do feel that way, you’re not alone. I for one experience this cycle of worry and guilt on a daily basis. Even though I know that being a published writer is my goal, somehow it seems that writing at the end of a full day’s work (and, when I can be bothered, a post-work gym session) is always the last thing I want to do.

But then, yesterday, I struck on the most blindingly obvious and simple concept: Instead of telling myself that I had to spend the whole evening writing, with no time to do anything else (the usual mantra due to guilt at not having written enough in the preceding days/weeks), I told myself to spend just one hour working on my screenplay, at the end of which I could spend an hour watching any TV programme I liked. And at the end of that, I would go to bed and spend an hour reading my book (because, in my experience – and somewhat ironically given the benefits – when you’re feeling overtired and too busy the first thing to go is the luxury of reading before bed).

And you know what? It worked. I didn’t do a huge amount of my screenplay, but I did more than I had done in the past few days. And, more than anything, it felt like I had removed a big obstacle that had been standing in my way. I no longer felt scared of the enormity of the task I was facing, because I had broken it down into a manageable task. Moreover, I didn’t feel (as I so often do) that writing meant having to sacrifice all other enjoyment, or that I had to choose between writing and reading (a horrendous choice for a writer because without reading how can you improve your writing? Catch 22).

So often we tell ourselves that we are useless, that it’s impossible to realise our dreams. But what if we’re just framing things incorrectly? What if the problem is not our lack of talent, or even commitment, but rather the very simple and easily corrected issue of time management?

We all know that if we want to do something we must make time for it. But what makes so many people stumble at the first hurdle is the misguided view they must devote every spare moment to the pursuit of that goal. Wrong. Start small, with ten, twenty, thirty minutes a day – whatever feels achievable to you. And make sure that you stick to doing it – simple. It takes time to form a habit, and it isn’t always easy. But if you don’t start, the only person you’ll have to blame for not achieving your potential is yourself.

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