NanoWriMo ‘Wrap Up’

So. I won.

Yes, you heard me, I actually ‘won’ NaNoWriMo and managed to write 50,000 words in a single month. For those of you who have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, please check out my previous posts including this one here.

I first participated in NaNo two years ago, in which I reached 30k words (something I was very proud about). I started off really strong and kept to the word count every day, but it tapered off halfway through the month. After stressing out last year with dissertation and various essays, I decided to skip out doing NaNo and instead just tried to write a little more in that month. Ever since I’ve been itching to do it again, needing that extra drive and excuse to write write write. So, this year, I started off NaNo in high spirits with twitching fingers reading to write like I was running out of time (which I was) Hamilton style.

Like two years ago, I started out very strong and stuck to my word count, even going above it on some days. Feeling pretty smug about it, I was rather chuffed with how it was all working out. Instead of reading on the tube, I’d be typing away on my phone. On my breaks at work, I’d jot down some ideas, and my time at home was spent writing away. It’s very freeing writing for NaNo, knowing that it doesn’t matter whether it’s perfect or not, you just write as much as you can every single day. I know the vast majority of what I wrote will need serious editing, but I equally know that there are a few gems there. It helped me work out the plot of a story I’ve been thinking about for the better part of a year, and it’s the first time I’ve found that I didn’t need to forcibly stretch my plot to reach 50k. Instead, I feel like I’m only two thirds of the way through the book, and think it could easily reach 70,000 or even 80,000 words if I put my mind to it.

I talk a little about the benefits of NaNo over on my reading blog (which you can read here), mainly about how I’d been in such a reading slump and the break from reading meant that I felt revitalised when I could finally go back to it. NaNo showed me that it’s not about finding time to do something you love, but making time – something which I now know I can do, and really there are no excuses.

About mid-November, I was thrown way off track with NaNo due to some exciting things going on in my work life, which has resulted in me getting a new job! All very exciting, but it meant that on my day off I wrote something crazy like 5000 words just to get back on track.

Towards the end of November, I managed to keep up and even keep ahead at times, until finally on the last day I reached that elusive 50k, and couldn’t have felt prouder of myself. It was a great goal that I didn’t for a second think I’d reach, which only made the win even sweeter.

So even though I know what I wrote is mostly tripe, and may never see the light of day outside of my computer, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

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NaNoWriMo Midway Update

Up until a few days ago, I have been right on track with writing for NaNo (National Novel Writing Month, see here for more details). Unfortunately the last few days have been unbelievably hectic, so whilst I have been writing everyday I have fallen a bit behind with the goal of hitting 1167 words every day. Still, I think I’ve been doing pretty damn well (especially compared to the first time I took on the challenge a couple of years ago), and currently my word count is at 24,000 words. To be ‘on track’ I would have to be at 28,333 words, something which I don’t think will happen today.

NaNo is such an interesting challenge to be taking part in, because part of me is itching to go back over everything – checking names, small information, edit sentences, craft a few beautiful similes I’ve thought of – but that’s not in the spirit of NaNo. It’s difficult to remind yourself that this isn’t about being perfect, because at least for me I want to just go over it again and again to fix things I think read badly or don’t work. Then I remind myself that you’re not meant to stress over these things, and really it’s far better to save your stress for your word count.

It’s amazing really, how much you can do when you change your priorities, as usually in my spare time I’m dedicated fully to reading. As I’m participating in NaNo this month, my reading for this month has been so terrible I can’t even think about it without feeling guilty and slightly sad. Every spare moment has been filled with writing, and whereas I spent a lot of my time on the tube or waiting around or on my lunch breaks reading, now I’ve had my phone out typing away. Whilst in a normal scenario I’d rather read on the tube and save writing for sitting at home with my computer and a cup of tea, it’s been fun to try it out this month.

And that’s my mid-way update for NaNo 2017. A little bit behind, but still enjoying it and having fun with the story.

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Is this the real life?

There are sometimes moments where I think to myself ‘this only ever happens in movies’. Of course there are great moments in life – incredible holidays, brilliant friendships, fun romances – but the big moments? No. They’re few and far between, but they do come around every now and then – and when they do, they always throw me off-guard and leave me questioning whether or not this is the real life (or if it’s just fantasy).

Queen really knew what they were talking about.

In my life, I can think of four big moments where I’ve thought ‘is this really happening’, where it seems like my perspective shifts to above and I’m looking down at myself, blinking as if I’m staring at what’s occurring on a television screen rather than experiencing it myself. One of these moments happened today.

Of each of my four mad experiences, two are about my dog (go figure) – the first of which, if we’re going chronologically, is when I first got Pete, our older dog (who now has a companion in the rescue dog Minnie). My parents had kept Pete as a secret, and when we drove to pick him up I was under the assumption that we were picking up a leather jacket, which was to be my big Christmas present. Then we pulled up outside a kennels, I was led in and a puppy was dumped into my arms. I was in shock for a good few days after that.

The second moment, again with Pete, was when I was recovering from having my gallbladder removed at home. My Mum was upstairs and I downstairs resting on the sofa, when I needed to go to the bathroom. I managed to make my way there, but feeling woozy and disorientated I collapsed to the floor and cried out. Luckily my Dad was downstairs, so he heard me calling out after a few minutes. Yet Pete went upstairs and stood in the doorway to my parent’s room, and after refusing to come to my Mum’s beckoning, she went toward him to investigate. He headed straight downstairs, to which she followed to find me – just as my Dad had got me off the ground. Whilst you could easily argue that Pete had no idea what was going on, it definitely felt like a movie moment with him literally fetching my Mum when I needed her.

The next moment, which was to be expected, was when I graduated. The surreal 8 seconds I spent walking across the stage and shaking the hand of the Dean of the university felt stretched out, and I remember every moment of it very clearly.

Which brings us to today. I had sat down to write a blog post (this one, actually) about my Grandma. She passed away July last year, and in a few days time we are spreading her ashes. I had wanted to write about her, as she had been on my mind a lot recently, about her positivity and spirit and overall personality, how close we had been, when I remembered something I’d written on my old computer – one I hadn’t removed from its case since before she passed away. I went to get it, only to hear something clink, and turning the case upside down the ring she gave me fell out.

You see, she’d left me one of her rings after she died, which I of course cherished and adored. I had never wanted to speak about it online because I didn’t want certain members of my family to discover and be upset or disappointed or angry, but in February of this year it went missing. I had left the flat in the cold weather, but as I went to answer my phone I took off my glove. I had been certain the ring had been on my finger when I left, but after the phone call I realised it was gone. Rushing back, I ran up and down the pavement searching to no avail. My best friend came to look with me and we teared apart my room, still to no luck – this was a ring I had worn every single day since my Grandma had died, and the only time I took it off was to shower.

Yet if I had taken it off I would have left it on my desk – but between then and now, it had somehow made it’s way into the closed drawer of my wardrobe and into the sealed laptop case.

Many people will scoff with disbelief, but for me today it felt like an incredible movie moment – so much so that I called my Mum and cried on the phone whilst laughing. It felt like my Grandma was there, wanting me to have her ring for when we spread her ashes in a few days time. It’s crazy, it’s unbelievable, but that’s what happened.

I’m sure we could try and think of some kind of explanation, but for me it felt like my Grandma had been watching over me, and after a particularly awful week, this was something I needed desperately. So whether it’s something as universal as graduating, as classically cute as a getting a puppy, as touching as a dog looking after you, or as unbelievable as discovering a ring you’d thought you lost on the streets of Lambeth – these moments happen. I treasure each of them and will do for the rest of my life, and I can only hope that there are more to come.

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.

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.