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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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.

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.

Dealing with Rejection

I’m just going to hold up my hands and say it: “I am crap at dealing with rejection”. I mean, let’s be honest, when you’ve just been rejected (from a job you applied for, a relationship you may have/have not been invested in, turned down by friends), the last thing you want to hear are those well-meaning souls who tell you it’s just not meant to be, or something must be around the corner, or something better will come along. Sure, those are more than welcome but personally, I don’t want to hear them immediately after being rejected. I want to shout, scream, cry, and do all three at the same time. All I want from other people is maybe a hug and for them to whisper “they/he/she/it is a bastard”. Because in those first few moments, I want to just be completely irrational and I need people to just tolerate my “the world is ending” moment so I can just get it out my system. Then bring me sugary snacks, cups of tea, and help me pick up the pieces.

This week has been my finals week, and I am now officially finished with university. Unfortunately this week I also heard back from all the grad schemes and summer work experience opportunities I applied for – all with a negative. In retrospect, I can nod and say “Ok, yes, they were the biggest companies with everyone and their mothers applying, so the competition was incredible fierce, but at the time? No way. At the time all I wanted to do was cry and give up. I wanted to cuddle up in my bed with some chocolate and watch a feel good film whilst I sobbed at the fact that I wasn’t wanted. Because, at least for me right now, it’s not just because I was rejected. It’s the addition of the fact that it’s a job that I really wanted, and I’m a soon-to-be university graduate hoping to get into my chosen field. So getting rejected? Felt like a kick in the teeth. And to have them on the week of my final exam? Like an extra kick when I’m on the ground for good measure.

That’s when everyone brings out the corny sayings: they don’t know what they’re missing, if they knew you they wouldn’t reject you, they just don’t understand, you’ll just get something better next time, chin up chuck etc etc. Again, it’s all meant well and after a day or so I feel like I can take those lines and feel happy after receiving them, but just after I’ve been rejected and staring at the empty abyss with no certainty about my future? Telling me I’ll get something better ‘next time’ just doesn’t do it for me, as although the person saying that is just trying to cheer you up, both of you know that there is no actual truth in that statement – that we know of. Sure, something could come along that’s better, but something could just as easily not come along – I’m presuming, of course, that you can’t see the future.

Honestly, I don’t know what the answer is to the plight of being rejected. I want to be the person who, when they get rejected, can just keep their chin up and move on. For now, though, I need that time just after – be it thirty minutes, an hour, or even half a day where I can just mope and feel sorry for myself. After a good angry venting session, it feels pretty cathartic. Once you expel those emotions it feels so much easier to move onto the next thing. And whilst it was a bitch to be rejected during revision, the revision itself had a strong enough pull for me to get my act together that I was able to move on relatively quick. Don’t get me wrong, I cried down the phone to my mum about how I was a failure, but soon enough after got back to reading about the contrasting presentations of the House of Fame between Ovid, Jonson, and Chaucer.

I think one thing does hold true though; whilst sometimes you need to have a cry or shout in anger, it does good to go into that next day fresh and determined. Instead of letting a rejection kick you down and keep you down, let it just knock you off guard for a moment before getting back into the ring and fighting on. At least, that’s what I’ll try to tell myself next time.

Always telling stories

I have always loved telling stories. From telling anecdotes of terrible customers at work to writing out fantastical ideas that I always dream of doing something with one day to share them with the world. There’s just something so incredible of creating a world in your head, of thinking up characters and descriptions that exist only in your imagination. There’s something special about that infinite space, and then looking at either a blank notebook or a blank word document with the cursor blinking, full of possibilities. Seeing the physical evidence of someone’s creativity is always astounding, but with books it’s even more so as the only materials the writer used were a combination of 26 letters. It’s probably why I love reading fantasy, just to see how other writer’s minds work and the things that they can imagine and create, see where they’ve been inspired and how they, in turn, can inspire me.

I’ve known that I want to one day write books for a very, very long time. In past posts I’ve gone into detail about some of my ‘early’ work, which included a very short play which was essentially Scooby Doo with a retriever (there was a graveyard, a vampire, and a witch), along with two pieces of fiction, a duology if you will, that was inspired by my seven-year-old-self’s crush who ended up moving to another country, which is what the second book deals with. Such heartbreak at such a young age, but if I remember correctly the only reason I liked him was because he was a fast runner, which probably isn’t the best thing to start a relationship for.

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So clearly I had a love for stories and imaginations as a child, but when thinking back I remember all the ways I loved stories. It seems child-me didn’t quite understand the very important difference between telling something as a story and telling a story as if it were a truth. AKA child-me lied about a lot of things, but didn’t think of them as lies, more as ‘stories’.

When I think back, a few of these little ‘stories’ come to mind, all that occurred in primary school up to the age of about nine or ten. There are minor ones, such as telling a girl that I had seen a unicorn or a friend that I had been taken from a tribe of magical warriors (though that one I blame on my brother, who I distinctly remember telling me that I was adopted in probably the most imaginative tale ever, which included our parents travelling to a tribe in the wilderness and doing some ritual in order to get me). But the one that spiralled entirely out of control, and which still makes me smile to this day, was the story that my cat had had kittens.

My cat, of course, hadn’t had kittens. Bundle was, in fact, neutered, and so would never have kittens ever, but little me (I’m pretty sure I was in Reception or Year One, so maybe five or six years old) really liked the idea of my cat having kittens. So much so, that I imagined how great it would be if Bundle had actually had kittens. All I can remember is telling a few of my friends and perhaps even my teacher, the ever-wonderful Mrs Hill – she was involved in another one of my story-related obsessions, in which I took home a lot of books from the school library, but didn’t want to give them back, and so soon collected a box-full of books, which my Mum discovered, but luckily Mrs Hill didn’t tell me off. Apparently stealing is not ok, but when it could demonstrate a child’s love of reading there isn’t much of a punishment.

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Back to the cat. So all I remember is telling a few people that my cat had had kittens, the dream of any five-maybe-six year old girl. After that I don’t remember much at all, apart from what I’ve since been told by my Mum and brother. Apparently the news of kittens spread through the primary school like wildfire, a primary school that my older brother still attended at this time, possibly in his final year there before secondary school. He found out about our cat supposedly having kittens when one of his friends asked if the kittens were for sale. Next thing I know, my Mum is telling me that it’s wrong to lie after people kept enquiring after our kittens. I’m pretty sure little-me was as confused as everyone else – I mean, after all, it had been a story, and was it really my fault that other people couldn’t recognise such excellent creativity and imagination?

It’s safe to say that the story-telling, or ‘lying’ as others called it, died down after that, and by the time I reached secondary school I understood the importance of clarifying to the mere mortals when I was telling a story.

My only regret? That I threw away the original manuscripts for those two books I wrote about my heartbreak over this boy. Man, would I love to be able to read them now. That would be some serious entertainment right there – though I seem to remember in the second one that he moved to Australia and was bitten by a black widow spider, because apparently little-me was a spiteful so-and-so.

 

NaNoWriMo 2016

Last year I did something crazy, and that was signing up to NaNoWriMo saying that I was going to write a whole novel in a month. For those new to the concept, National Novel Writing Month has been running for several years now, pushed on by its loyal and growing community of crazy wannabe writers who attempt this ridiculous, but wonderful, challenge. If you’re interested in my experience, check out my blog post on it.

What I loved about NaNo was the encouragement to just sit down and make time to write every single day. The focus was not on writing a masterpiece, it was on writing those one thousand, six hundred and something words a day. It wasn’t about going back over what you’d written previously and editing it until it was somewhat satisfactory. It was about reaching that target, whether you had planned out a story from start to end or you were just making it up as you went along (I was the latter half). Instead of spending ages staring at one sentence because it didn’t feel quite right, or looking up synonyms for words, or scrolling through baby name websites for that perfect name (all of which I frequently do), I simply sat down and wrote. Who cares if my sentence uses the same word twice or the language is a bit simplistic or if I call my main character John Smith? Creating a word of genius wasn’t the point of NaNo, and I loved that more than anything. It takes the pressure off of you, and brings you back to the core reason for doing this in the first place – the sheer love of writing and storytelling.

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As soon as November ended last year, I said I couldn’t wait until next year. That feeling hasn’t changed – I am desperate to get back to that mindset of just writing whenever I can, and making the time to do it. Yet last year I made the joke that, despite having several essays, I was going to take on the challenge. It seems that this year, my final year of university, the deadlines I have for the next month, let alone the next year, are too many to manage alongside NaNo.

It is so with a very heavy heart, I’m announcing that I will not be participating in NaNo 2017. Writing 50,000 words for fun is just not going to be possible alongside dissertation reading/planning/writing, midterm assignments, reading for modules – you get the idea. Although it would be very easy for everyone to come up with an excuse for why they don’t have the time to write a novel in a month (I’d be concerned if you thought you had lots of time to get that done with no issues), for me it’s the added stress and pressure from doing well in my final year of university. I know that if I decide to take on NaNo, it will become something that it isn’t supposed to be – a source of stress, anxiety, and just plain not fun. And I don’t want writing to become that. I need writing as my outlet (Exhibit A: what you’re reading now. Exhibit B: the fact I have two blogs. TWO. As if managing one wasn’t enough).

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However, it isn’t all bad news. Instead of completely abandoning all hope of NaNo, I’ve decided to revisit what I wrote last year – which I still quite like, and have since had many ideas on how to extend and improve it, including a follow up novel – I’m ambitious (read: hopeful). Instead of writing a completely new novel, I’m going to go back to last year’s attempt and try to rework it. This includes changing the voice of the book, which was originally written in first person and, because I’ve had an idea, I’m going to change it to third person. I’m also going to change certain characters, certain scenes that I rushed through to reach the word count, and basically do everything that NaNo doesn’t. I’m going to edit, polish, tidy up all those terrible sentences, and hopefully create something I’m truly proud of.

NaNo 2016 forced me into writing a novel idea that I loved within a month. This year, I’m going to take that novel and make it shine. Or, at least, I’m going to try. Uni might be a hell of a lot more work this year, but it isn’t going to stop me from writing. Or, well, editing, I suppose.

New York

One day in May this year, in the midst of panicked revising and one too many snacks, my friend called me up to ask if I wanted to go with her to see a play she’d spontaneously bought tickets for – only after I said yes did she tell me that the play was in New York. So began the months of booking flights, finding an airbnb, and mass excitement as we planned are first trip to New York (for the grand total of four days there). I thought, instead of doing a day-by-day description of what we did each day, I’d go through the things that were completely different to London – from transport to food to the weird and wonderful.

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Times Square

Our first full day we managed to find our way to a CVS to pick up the necessities, swinging by a Dunkin Donuts on the way back to see what the fuss was all about. Then we started our journey to more central Manhattan, which is where we first experienced the subway, which still confuses me. We succeeded in finding the right station and descending into the depths of their underground, purchasing a Metrocard that we could use for the rest of the day. We then failed by going through the barriers, only to see that we were on the Uptown platform. ‘Not a problem’ we thought, our naive London minds going instantly to memories of ending up on a Northbound Victoria line train instead of Southbound. Surely this number 6 train would be the same.

We were very wrong.

Turns out that for some stations, the only way to get on the right platform is by crossing the road above the station itself. There’s no underground path to the right platform, no, you’re stuck. So starts the hasty exit and the pleading with the staff on the other platform to please let us through because our Metrocards told us that they were ‘just used’ so couldn’t possibly let us onto another platform. It’s safe to say that for the whole subway trip we reminisced about the London underground system, with the coloured tube lines that have names instead of a mix of numbers and letters. We also missed the armrests some tubes have, which stop people from taking up three seats instead of one. (It seems we also lived up to British stereotype and complained a bit).

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Grand Central Terminal

What I found most interesting about the layout of New York was the fact that it was a grid, all straight lines and corners – very much unlike the higgildy piggildy layout of London with it’s various twisting alleyways and secret paths. With New York, your directions were just ‘straight up until you get there’ or ‘take a left then a right’. Each street was a number, counting up and down. Still didn’t mean that we had an easy time not getting lost. We had numerous, desperate hunts for wifi spots in order to connect to Citymapper so we could find our way around.

On a side note of public transport, their traffic light system needs some serious work. For pedestrians, there are no buttons to press in order to get the lights to change – you just have to wait until the red man turns white (instead of our green). Not only that, but when you cross the road, cars can still turn in. No wonder there were so many signs for the majority of accidents happening on corners – as you cross the road, cars are still speeding around bends, hurtling towards you as you try and make sure you don’t end up being roadkill.

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We went to see Hamilton and it was incredible.

Besides the obvious highlight (aka Hamilton is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen/heard/experienced), food was what I was most looking forward to trying. Everything seemed to be bigger and far sweeter than anything we’d ever tasted, and experiencing a proper Diner was great fun – from all the memorabilia on the walls to the waiters carrying fishbowls of filter coffee. However, there were a few things that weren’t as good as I had hoped – chocolate, for one. Hershey’s chocolate doesn’t even hold a candle to the classic cadbury bar. There was also a place that asked me whether I wanted my tea ‘hot or cold’, as if ‘cold’ was an option for a mug of green tea. Barbaric, I tell you.

And the final thing that left us completely perplexed, was tipping. My god, the tipping. We had some vague idea that you tipped around 15% at lunch, 20% at dinner, and that was all we knew. We were already astounded by the fact they had notes for $1, and the coins were all cents and quarters. Somebody seriously needs to write an ‘idiots guide to tipping’, though come to think of it there probably already is one. What had us confused was the way you tipped when charged by card. How it’s supposed to happen is this:

Your meal costs $20, so they charge you that amount and on the receipt you write on the tip, eg. $5, and then the total $25. They then take that receipt and ‘close’ the cheque (side note, you don’t ask for the bill, you ask for the cheque), charging you for the total you’ve left.

Yet no one told us this. So up until the final day, we were asking to be charged $25, and writing $20 total and $5 tip on the cheques. After getting the impression that the waitress was acting offended when we asked to be charged $25, we asked if she could explain. Then came the laughter, the look in her eyes which, as someone who works in retail knows, meant ‘I am so telling everyone this when I go on my break’, and general amusement at the British girls.

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Beautiful view from our trip on the Staten Island Ferry

With a lack of signs and queues, it’s sure that NYC is a very different place to London, but I loved it nevertheless. The pancakes were incredible, Broadway simply magical, and the High Line is a sight I won’t soon forget. Part of me wished those four days would never end, but my bank account was very glad that there was a limit to our stay. And that, in a nutshell, was my experience of New York.

p.s – to any English travellers, do not, I repeat, do not, ask where the ‘loo’ is. It is always the restroom. ‘Toilet’ might get some funny looks too.

p.p.s – to any London travellers, be warned that not only to people make eye contact out in the open and on public transport, but Americans are prone to starting up conversations with complete strangers. Gone are the subtle sighs and tuts, instead are out-loud complaints and nudges to the person next to you. *shudders*