NaNoWriMo 2017

Let’s do this.

I am officially participating in NaNoWriMo 2017 – which, for those of you who don’t know, is National Novel Writing Month where many attempt to write a novel in the month of November. The main goal is to hit 50k words, and whilst I have never ‘won’, my goal is always to write as much as I can and just have fun.

I have only participated once before, back in 2015, as last year I decided not to stress myself with hitting that word target every day and instead focus on my dissertation and final year of university. All month – heck, all year I have been so grumpy that I couldn’t join in last year, so I’ve been so excited for November 2017 to roll around.

I made a post about my experience in 2015 (click here to see), but I think there are several reasons why I’m so excited to participate again. Firstly, NaNo gets you into the routine of making time for writing every single day. I always say how much I want to be a writer one day, but I never manage to ‘find the time’ to knuckle down and write. NaNo teaches you to make that time, whether that’s only five minutes before you head to work or during your commute or just before you go to bed, you get into the habit of making that time.

Secondly, NaNo isn’t about creating a masterpiece. It’s simply about hitting that word target, hitting those 50k words, so of course it’s a very very rough first draft of a novel. It’s not about editing or musing over sentence structure, it’s about typing away at that keyboard and doing your upmost best to hit that goal. That in itself is so freeing – you don’t worry about whether your work is any good or that it doesn’t flow right. All you have to do is type type type, and worry about editing later.

There are several other things I’ve got going on next month (one of them may or may not be Sims 4 Cats and Dogs stop judging me), but I’m determined to throw myself into NaNo and have fun. So let me know if you’re participating, and definitely add me as a writing buddy – my name is Stammydodger, and no, don’t ask.

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Interval

I’ve been struggling to find inspiration for blogs recently, mainly due to tiredness and, currently, an irritating cold. After work every day my main desire is to eat some food, read a little, then go straight to bed. I’m at a stage in my life where I feel like I’m doing nothing and everything, which makes no sense whatsoever. It feels like I’m in an interval of a play, where I’ve just had an incredible first act and am preparing for the second, which hasn’t started yet. I’m stuck in this interval, and don’t really know how to get out of it – or when the next part is going to start.

Being a bookseller is something that I love; being able to say that I recommend people books for a living, that I can spend my time creating beautiful displays of books and on my breaks I discuss what I’m reading with my colleagues. And my colleagues are all complete angels, and over the past couple of years they’ve truly become my second family. I get on with everyone, and always feel happy around them – what more can you really want? But at the same time, there are downfalls to the job because, at the end of the day, it is working in retail which means customers who are nasty as well as nice. A nice customer can make your day, but it’s the nasty ones that stick to you. Ask me for an example of a nice customer and I could give you several, but ask about the nasty ones? I could write books on those people and never run out of inspiration.

Whether it’s being angry about the 5p plastic bag charge or about the state of the world, people throw their anger around in retail. I’ve had customers scream at me, shout, wail and every time I feel it chip away at my positivity. Some of the time it’s because we’ve failed in some way – an order hasn’t arrived, a purchase has been muddled up – but a lot of the time it’s on things I cannot control. I struggle not to get upset when someone decides that it’s my fault specifically that we don’t stock a certain item, or because they’ve come to the wrong store. When you have someone shouting at you and, quite often, insulting you, it takes a lot to stand there with a patient smile and apologise regardless.

99% of the time, I adore my job. It’s a great company, fun work, and brilliant people – a lot of whom have become some of my closest friends. But that 1% can really deal a heavy blow, and on days when I’m tired, full of cold, and lacking a will to do anything at all, I can only think about that 1%. How could I have avoided that confrontational man who insinuated that I contributed nothing to the company by not having paper bags? Was it truly my fault when a woman demanded I make her bags lighter, only to then complain that I under packed them on purpose?

I know that the answer is to not focus on the bad, and my efforts to fill my spare moments with friends and fun has helped a great deal, but for today I just want to sit, sleep, read, and not have to think about the 1%. There are days where I hate having an interval and want to go forward to something exciting and non-stop, but for now I need this interval – I need a break, a moment, peace.

And then I read back what I have written, and lose track of what it is that I’m trying to say. My mind jumps from one thing to the next, going back and forth on ideas and changing what I had thought was solid and secure. I suppose this is what tiredness and illness does to me, but for today this is all I can offer.

The Post-Uni Void

All my life, I’ve had some semblance of direction in terms of education and work. I’ve always known that I first go to primary school and do well to then try to get into a good secondary school. Then, you work hard for your GCSEs to make sure you get into a good sixth form. After that, you have A-Levels for two years that need to be good enough to get into your chosen university to do a degree. Then it all starts to get a bit hazy. You complete your three (or however many) years, perhaps doing a dissertation because ’employers like that’, and work hard with the notion of getting a good job at the end of it.

For people who do degrees such as engineering and medicine, degrees that are career-based if you will, pretty much have no problem (and I say this with experience personally having a humanities degree, and family who have gone through with career-based degrees such as medicine, nursing etc). Their main focus is to pass their degree – and, of course, there are other levels in terms of the better you do the better your placement etc, but at the end of the day all they need to do to get a job is pass.

Now I know, I know, I’m making it all sound like a piece of cake. My point here is not the degree itself, because obviously doing a degree in nursing is no walk in the park. Everyone can argue about the difficulty of their chosen degrees, so I’m not going to delve into that here. My point is merely that post-uni void, the one that for those of us without career-based degrees have to face. Whilst others are discussing their careers, essentially awarded to them as soon as their positive results came in, I’m left surrounded by applications and notifications from various job websites, alerting me to anything popping up in my area. Whilst some of my friends are settling into careers they’ve been preparing for throughout university, others are trying to figure out what career they’d even like to do. In my last year at university, not only did I have to worry about modules and essays and exams, but also about internships and securing work experience, going to talks to try to meet people and make contacts. I had to go to a job interview during my second term, so sacrificed several days of university work in an effort to prepare.

And then come the rejections. I imagine those in career-led degrees know rejection just as well, but I’m pretty sure that they don’t (at least, I hope they don’t) spend their post-uni months trying to stay positive as rejection after rejection comes in. Most of them are in secure jobs, a lot of them pretty well paid, whilst others (myself included) are trying to figure out how exactly to manage in a world with no more student loan, but a shit ton of taxes and bills they never had to worry about before.

I talk a lot, maybe too much, about rejection – mainly because at the moment it’s what I’m experiencing. The other reason is because, when I read encouragement posts or blogs about life achievements or similar, they’re all by people who have already succeeded. Or even just in everyday life, when someone tells me ‘oh you’ll get there’ and ‘this one just isn’t meant to be’ or, my favourite, ‘you’re great, of course someone will pick you soon’. Whilst it all comes from a good place, more often than not it’s from someone who is in a very stable place in their life. Blog posts and videos from people that are there to inspire are all from people who have already won their prize. It’s difficult to listen to their words without feeling bitter, or at least that’s how I feel. It’s hard to hear about how fantastic someone’s life is turning out and hear their advice, when you’re in a place where it feels like no one can relate.

For the past few months, I’ve been living in a post-uni void where I’ve let those reassurances from other people linger in my mind every night when I go to sleep. I’ve thought to myself ‘it’s just the wrong time’ or ‘something better is coming’, but when I see yet another rejection – be it for a publishing job that I wanted more than anything, or from an agent who didn’t like my manuscript – it makes me start to doubt. It’s like university gives you rose-tinted glasses, and you look at that degree on your CV and think it’s like a key that unlocks the next level, but that key doesn’t always work. People without that key seem to be just as successful and not, so really what is the point of this key?

Of course, then you start to think that of course that key is going to get you places, you just have to put in the work to keep it gleaming and find the right door. I’ve only been able to gain access to such a thing because of my privilege, as someone who comes from a family who was able to send me to good schools and someone who hasn’t had to worry about anything other than working hard. When I read this back, I can’t help but think of myself as being seen as the whiny white girl, who at the first hurdle sits down and cries. But damn, for me this hurdle is bloody huge. It seems every time I try to make a leap and think I’ve gained some ground, I just can’t get past it – even putting in all the effort and hours of work doesn’t seem to work.

There are too many metaphors and similes going on here, which is when you know that I’m being increasingly dramatic.

It’s hard. Life is bloody hard. Trying to keep that positivity in the face of failure and (what feels like) constant rejection is hard. Hearing from successful people the cliche sayings that it’s not meant to be is hard. Looking at people rising up all around you when it feels like you’re standing still is especially hard. I feel like I jump from happiness one day to despair the next, and this is one rollercoaster that I can’t really navigate. It’s like my head space is one tangled web and I just can’t figure out what is going on anymore.

Because, really, at the end of the day I do have a job. Yes, it’s in retail and, yes, it’s my part-time job that I’ve taken full-time, but it’s also a job that I love and am passionate about. It’s a job where I love what I do and love the people I work with, and isn’t that what anybody can ever really ask for? I’m in a flat, living with my best friend, and spending far too much money on food – which I can only just about do before going completely broke. My parents support me, and that’s shown in the fact that they’ll probably read this first and immediately call or text to tell me that they think it’s written well, even though 9 times out of 10 I don’t really think it is.

So when I go to sleep at night (and then wake up blurry eyed in the morning), I’m going to stop repeating those stupid sayings that make me think something will just turn up round the corner. Or, to put it better, I’m going to stop placing all my hope on words that really don’t mean or promise anything. It’s far easier, and I’m sure far healthier, to focus on the present day instead of wishing for something that may or may not be just around the corner. Instead, I’m going to try to think about what I do have and what I’ve already achieved, which I guess is what all those successful people are trying to say anyway in their inspiring speeches. And, hell, I’m successful in my own right, even if it feels that in my current stage of life with its goals I’m not. I’m sure a fifteen year old trying to get into a good sixth form and university would count me as successful, high paying job or no.

Or maybe they’d just think I’m a bit dramatic, and tell me I should probably just go get some tea, have a little sit down, and think of some nicer things. So on that note, I’m going to go put the kettle on and watch some dog videos. Feel free to join me, whether you feel successful or not (that’s the great thing about dog videos, or cat ones if you’re that kind of person; they don’t give a damn who you are, they just like the views).

‘Big Life Changes’

It’s kind of ironic that after a post talking about finding inspiration, there’s such a huge gap in time before the next post. In my defence, I’ve have to go through a few of those things we deem ‘big life changes’.

The first thing that happened was that I graduated. After the fancy gowns, the short walk across a stage and countless photos, there was one heck of a comedown. No longer do I get to go to classes a few times a week and learn about this or that. I also don’t get student loan any longer, and if that wasn’t such a huge shock the whole ‘council tax’ drama has pushed my bank balance over the edge. Luckily I could take my part-time job at a bookshop to full-time, so at least I’m not stranded in London unemployed.

That was the next ‘big change’ I had to adjust to: full-time work. It’s not quite the same as university, which whilst was taxing it wasn’t quite the same as being on your feet all day, running around for one customer or another trying to locate a book that someone else has managed to hide behind another book. It especially didn’t help that I went from classes to exams to weeks of lounging about enjoying myself before launching straight into full-time work. As it’s retail, there’s also the slight problem of an ever-changing routine, with no steady 9-5 shift pattern with the same days off each week. One day I’m waking up at 6.30, and the next I don’t have to leave the house until midday.

As if that weren’t all enough, I also just moved flats in London. All I can say is thank god for the friends I’ve made here, because without them I wouldn’t have been able to move. With no family in London to help, I had to rely on their kindness to get me from one side of London to the other. I’m officially ‘in’ now, and slowly settling to every new little thing. My only problem so far is that I have two suitcases of books that have nowhere to go, and a large box of bits and bobs that I’m not quite sure what to do with.

Whilst I’m still trying to write and look out for any publishing jobs, I’m not sure how many more changes I’ll be able to manage in the near future. Here’s hoping I can have some peace and calm before the next storm hits – though saying that, I’ve almost no doubt that I’ve just jinxed it.

Stay tuned.

Finding Inspiration

I’ve been struggling recently on what to talk about on here for two main reasons. First, I’m trying to juggle lots of different things which include job applications, full-time work at a different job, applying for writing competitions, graduating, moving flat, and more. (These are excuses I tell myself, whilst I sat and watched Love Island – in my defence, you need time to wind down and relax, y’know? Self care and all that.) Secondly, I’ve lost track of my inspiration.

Maybe ‘lost track’ is the wrong expression to use here, but it’s the only one that I can think of (and I blame that on being tired and uninspired, which is kinda the whole point). It’s like my brain had a little Idea jar inside it somewhere, which had my various little musings and thoughts and what have you. Within it are several books that I want to write, plans I have for the odd project or two, and birthday present ideas. One of the main things, however, is what to write on my two blogs. For my book blog, I find it slightly easier – I’m always reading something, so I can do a review, or even talk about what I’ve read or want to read. On Alwayslovetowrite, however, it’s a bit trickier.

You see, this blog has almost been like a more PG friendly version of my diary. Whilst I don’t go into all the gruesome details, usually I blog when I’m feeling strongly about something – be that how much I love dogs, what I think about politics, or how I’m feeling more anxious or stressed. It’s the place where I can discuss about whatever I like, a platform that, in the age of the internet, I’m able to have. Anyone with access to the internet can have a blog, and that’s so exciting – all of a sudden you have a space where you can talk about what you want, because it belongs to you.

But what happens when you start to feel a bit down and tired? What happens when you come home from work or a busy day and you just want to watch some trashy TV? What happens when the only emotion you feel the most is just weariness? What do you do when you reach into that jar and the inspiration is all gone?

Because really, it’s not ideas that are running out, it’s the inspiration. I keep a small notes file on my phone where I jot down all the various ideas for blogs that come to me, and there are still a few on there that I could just use. But looking at them doesn’t stir anything within me. Nothing is standing out as being interesting enough that I want to tell the internet about it.

Some days, you just don’t feel like writing. And, like always with me, I don’t really have the answers. I think self-care is incredibly important – so much so that I kind of want to write a blog about it, which kind of helps in this current situation. Finding that thing that, in this moment, you feel strongly about, something that is important to you, is the exact thing that I always search for before I write these blogs. They’re not about perfectly crafted pieces of work, but a stream of consciousness as I work through what I’m feeling – which followers are subjected to (I’d say I’m sorry, but really I’m just rather happy you’re here).

Finding inspiration is always difficult. I like the advise of taking that much needed break, which calls to the very obese lazy lady inside me who just wants to sit around and eat all day whilst reading all the books I want to read. But I also like the proactive approach, of going out and trying to find that inspiration. Doing something new, trying different foods, reading a genre I never delve into. Meeting up with friends, going for a walk, or even taking a different route to work. It’s inspiration tied up with motivation, along with a good head space and positive attitude – a list of goals that, at least for today, I don’t feel like I can tick off.

Sometimes, all you need is a good night of sleep, with the hope that when morning comes, you’ll feel just a bit stronger to tackle the rest of the day. Fingers crossed.

On Anxiety, Stress, and Worrying

I have always been a worrier. Sometimes I say this to people and they think I’m saying ‘warrior’ (though with the amount of stress I face, really I should get to say that as well), but this is to clarify that I mean the less fun version. I’ve always been a worrier, and so faced a lot of stress – but the main issue is that because I worry about everything, most of the stress is just completely unnecessary. I swear if I had a Superpower, I’d be one of those lame Superheroes who had the power of extreme worrying. “But what if the villain has a gun? What if they have a hostage? What if this is all a trap? What if they’re actually good? Are we doing the right thing? How can anyone know for sure? Did I leave the oven on?”

Who would my arch nemesis be? Super-Chilled-Man?

Anyway, I digress.

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Whenever I get these emotions of pure terror, I’ve always called it worrying – but ‘worry’ just doesn’t feel like a strong enough word sometimes. If you say to someone ‘oh I’ve been worrying about it’, the response is normally a ‘aw don’t worry, it’s all fine!’ (And fyi, that isn’t helpful – I’ll still worry until I have physical proof everything is fine thank you – and then probably panic that it will all go downhill). It’s only over the last few years that people are openly discussing issues related to depression and anxiety, and whilst I by no means believe that I suffer from depression, I do tend to think that – like I’m sure most people do – have a heck ton of anxiety. Then again, I wouldn’t go as far to say that I suffer from anxiety, as it feels like taking it away from people who genuinely have the illness. So once more, I’m left with calling it worrying – but is it worrying when you constantly struggle to sleep because you over-analyse every possible scenario, that you always arrive at least 30 minutes (if not more) early because you worried 10 minutes early would not give you enough leeway? Is it worrying that when you go out with friends, as soon as it hits 9pm you start to panic about it getting dark and thinking that you risk of being attacked is increasing, and if you don’t get back soon something awful is going to happen? Or is all of this just culture. Is it the media that have taught me this, that have ingrained this panic?

Unfortunately for everyone reading this, I have no answers.

(Just so you’re aware).

I feel like everyone feels stress, so there’s almost no point in complaining about stress – there’s always going to be someone who one-ups you – and is it really ‘beating’ you if the ‘winner’ is the one who is more stressed out? Every time I’m stressed about something – be it work, university, getting rejected, unable to find a place to live, waiting for results – there is always someone right there to say that they are more stressed, and so insinuating that I do not have the right to be stressed. My brother is a perfect example of this. Without fail, whenever I claim to be stressed or tired or have a lot going on, he’ll immediately say that he is more stressed. He’s currently a first year Junior Doctor, and to be fair to him he probably is more stressed, but through his whole degree (and mine), it does not matter what is happening. If I’ve had a week of work and he’s had a week off and I say I’m tired, he’ll say ‘you don’t even know what tired is’.

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And that’s the problem with conversations about things like stress and anxiety. Everyone has at least one example of when they’ve felt stressed, and so everyone can simultaneously understand what you’re going through but also feel that their stress is that much worse. Some people will refuse to think that anyone can possibly understand what ‘real’ stress is, and look down their noses with superiority at anyone they deem unworthy. But that simply doesn’t work. Just because someone is in business whereas the other does manual labour does not mean that one is entitled to claim to get more stressed than the other. Everyone feels stress in relation to what they’re doing, and unless you have done every single job in the world, you have no idea what the other person is feeling. Because it’s not even just the work or the job, it’s the person. Do you know their mental well-being? Sure, you have a stressful job, but do you have their lifestyle? Do you have that white privilege that has allowed you to be stressed about generic things like work instead of things like race and discrimination? Do you come from a family that supports you, whereas someone else might have no family whatsoever to back them up?

Mental well-being is still such a new topic to a lot of people, and the biggest dilemma we face is that we cannot physically gage a person’s mental health from just looking at them. From my limited knowledge, the best indicator is what the actual person says they’re feeling – and everyone is so distrustful, that you can never truly know. An acquaintance can be nasty and blame it on depression, and there should be no reason for you to distrust that – but of course you do. Sure, they’re horrible and then out of nowhere they bring in depression. You want to immediately trust they’re being honest, because only someone awful would lie about a thing like that, but the case of the matter is that they could lie. There is no way to look at someone and be able to say ‘yup, they suffer from ___, I can see that with my own eyes’.

So once more, I’m left unable to say anything concrete on my actual mental health and just leave it with ‘I’m a worrier, as in I worry, not that I’m a warrior, though I feel like one’. My only hope is that people remember to be empathetic, and show compassion instead of wariness. I hope that when someone says “I’m stressed” or “I’m tired”, people don’t jump to “Not as stressed/tired as me” and instead just offer sympathy, and invite an open discussion.

Wouldn’t that be grand.

Musings of a 21-year-old

That’s right, I made it to 21 without any unwanted pregnancies, flunking out of school, or giving up on everything and becoming a full-time dog walker (though let’s be honest, the latter is something I’d be very happy to do).

21 has always been a big milestone for me. It seems the big ones in my mind were always the ones that are featured a lot on TV or have a lot of meaning attached to them, such as Sweet Sixteen in America. I thought when I reached 18, the legal drinking age in the UK, that would be the moment I became a ‘proper adult’. When I turned 18, I realised that was a load of bollocks and looked forward to not being a teenager anymore, whilst at the same time being absolutely terrified that I wouldn’t be a teen anymore.

So 21 was the age I had in my mind. Me turning 21 would mean that I would have finished university. Turning 21 would (hopefully) mean that I knew what I wanted to do with my life. 21 was going to be the new me, the adult me, the improved me, the me that has her shit together and goals written down on a checklist that I would tick off each day.

Well, in all honesty past-me and readers of this blog, 21 pretty much feels like 20. That’s the problem with birthdays; you big them up so much, have a countdown until the day whilst your excitement grows and grows like some great fire, only to be snuffed out on the anti-climatic day when you look in the mirror and think: I look no different than yesterday. Because your birthday is not the day that everything clicks into place. It is not the day where you feel like an adult or the day that your goals are all met or that you feel so much older than you did the year before. Those things happen in the in-between. I didn’t get more confident when I hit 20; it happened somewhere between my milestones of 18 and 20 without realising. I didn’t figure out what I wanted from life as soon as I turned 21, and I doubt I’ll fully know what I want from life if I just muse about it to a computer screen.

Birthdays in general make me muse more than often, and I wonder if it’s due to the fact that, as the years go on, events like birthdays, easter, christmas and other celebrations slowly start to lose their magic. All through childhood I wouldn’t be able to sleep the night before Christmas, or my birthday, imagining all the fantastic and wonderful things that were a few mere hours away. The next year is exciting and filled with the unknown, which only made it more exciting. Yes, the next year is still filled with the unknown, but it’s about as exciting as it is terrifying.

Still, I’ve made it this far – which in retrospect, isn’t even that far at all – so I might as well keep going and hope that, along the way, I live my life the way I want to. You’ll hear about, regardless.