Another Year Bites the Dust

It seems crazy, to be back here again – at the start of January, having welcomed the start of a new year at the beginning of the week. I’ve never really liked the atmosphere around January, something I discussed this time last year, with how we try so hard to cleanse ourselves of the year before that it makes us almost miserable. The constant dieting, the determined weeks of sticking to resolutions with the knowledge that it won’t last. I always felt a sense of defeat whenever I tried to set resolutions in the past, because I knew they wouldn’t come to fruition. I’ve thought of saying I’ll exercise more, that I’ll be healthier, that I won’t eat as much sugar, and every year I last a good month before binging in whatever way I had tried to restrict myself.

But what if I don’t want to cleanse myself of the year before? What if I don’t want a new start, and am happy that I’m in the middle of my journey? I don’t want to wash my hands of 2017, or the year before that, and the year before that, and so on. Each of those years has brought me to where I am now, and I can say with hand on heart that I couldn’t be happier with where I currently am.

Of course, it hasn’t always been like that, and I’m so incredibly lucky to be where I am now. Still, despite all of this talk of hating resolutions, I still like to set goals and markers – albeit, very vague ones that are more like a continuing goal that doesn’t really have an end goal.

Maybe I should stop this rambling, and get down to the nitty gritty of it.

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Last year I set myself three goals. They were to prioritise self care, to speak up and not sit quiet, and to ‘get out there’. The first was meant to be my take on the January Cleanse, but a more long-term effort. Like with all of these resolutions, I don’t have a plain ‘I succeeded’ or ‘I failed’ answer. I definitely improved on my self-care, that’s for certain, but there’s still a long way to go. I think I want to work even more on it, to set aside dedicated times of self-care instead of doing bits every now and then. I think it would be good to have one evening set aside to just pamper and relax, be that running a bath and luxuriating in bubbles or just climbing into bed and reading with a cup of tea and biscuits.

This leads to my first goal/resolution/whatever you want to call it, which is to be more self aware of my mental state. I’m so incredibly lucky and privileged not to suffer from a mental illness, but that doesn’t mean that I can mistreat my mental health like one would mistreat a body. I need to be more aware of when I’m in a low moment and feeling a lot of anxiety, and make an effort to combat that. Instead of feeling so low and depressed that it’s like I’m sinking, I need to get up and do something to help myself. The latter half of 2017 was filled with rejections for me, from jobs to love to plans that I had been looking forward to, and each rejection was like another blow to knock me down. I struggled a lot to stay positive and to pick myself up each time, but looking back I know that there were things I should have done. Instead of wallowing and wasting days to sadness, I should have tried some of that self care stuff I yammered on about. I should have gone out, tried to walk and breathe in fresh air, even go shopping for books or clothes or lush products (my current obsession). So that’s my first goal for this year: to look after my mental health.

For the second goal of to not sit quiet and speak up, I’m really not sure how to answer how I did. I definitely opened up more to my close friends about I felt, but I suppose a more accurate goal would be not to be so concerned with the thoughts of others. To just be, and not overthink how others see me – to not try to change myself to please someone else. I definitely learned how important that was in 2017; that it didn’t matter what other people thought, and really it’s down to me to decide how to act and live. Whether it’s on what other people think you should do with your career, or what they think about the people you surround yourself with – the important thing is to make sure that you’re happy, because the thoughts of strangers and of those you don’t care about really don’t matter.  So my second long goal of 2018 is to continue that – to work on what makes me happy.

The third goal was to ‘get out there’. I interpreted that vague cliche as pursuing my career-centred goals, from writing more to getting ahead in publishing. Well, I can say that this was successful. In terms of writing, I once more participated in NaNoWriMo and won, and in terms of publishing I not only made more contacts which led to some work experience in a large publishing house, but I also got a job in a large publishing house – and not just any job, but my dream job in my dream department. Yes, I’ve been successful, and the end of 2017 was like a dream come true for me.

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So my third goal for 2018 is less of a goal, and more of a mantra – and that is to keep going. Keep striving forwards, keep trying my best to be the best I can be, and don’t let that determination to move forwards settle. I want to maintain that drive and motivation to just keep going.

So that’s me for 2018. I don’t know exactly where I’ll be this time next year, but I definitely have some ideas and dreams of where I’d like to be next year. So, whether you’re the kind of person who loves those pesky resolutions or whether you’re more like me and prefer more open-ended goals (the vaguer the better), I wish you all the luck for 2018.

Let’s smash it.

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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.

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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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.

Where I am Now

It has happened – I have finally got to the point where I can say that I have finished university and my time in education (unless I’ve failed my final exam and messed up all my coursework so will have to do retakes in August, but hopefully that won’t be the case). Finishing university has always been a huge milestone for me, and tied up with the fact that I have never not been in education, it’s a big one. When you’re in school, you dream of the day that you won’t have to be in school any longer. No more exams, no more essays, no more petty childish drama – and pretty much all three happen still in university. I say ‘you’, which realistically is a big assumption to make on behalf of everyone reading this, but what I’m trying to grasp at is that feeling of anticipating the next stage of your life. I, for one, had big expectations of what I would be like once I’d finished in education. I had hopes, dreams, and plenty of those pesky assumptions which I’m now having to reflect on.

The first big thing is independence, which in essence I have achieved in terms of living away from home during university months, doing my own washing, cooking etc etc. Yet when I was younger independence did not look like going down to tesco just before it shuts because you needed to put a wash on and have run out of tablets. It did not look like eating the same meal for three nights in a row because you want to save money. It did not like forgetting simple things every now and then because you’re tired, such as hot ceramic dishes do not mix with cold water. I know, I know, it’s all about living and learning and growing and bettering yourself, but that mantra does no good at 1am drying your bed sheets with a hairdryer because you forgot about the wash you put on.

One big thing I always thought about was what job I would have – and the dream job has changed many, many times. Becoming an author (and by that I mean a good author who has people who like their books so much that they can making a living out of it) has always been a dream job, but there are always others that pop in and out of my mind. First I wanted to be a professional horse rider, then a pop star, and then deciding I wasn’t a good enough singer so a songwriter. Recently, the dream is to be in publishing, and I certainly expected to have a job lined up and ready once university was finished. Yet, here I am, and all those hopeful publishing applications I sent out have been returned with a ‘thanks, but no’. You’re always told that you go to school, then to university, then you’ll get a job – but nobody really talks that much about the in-between. When applying for universities, no one told me about how, even if I do well and get a great degree, a job won’t be there waiting for me. They didn’t tell me that even if you work your arse off not only at your degree but at applying for jobs, it won’t necessarily mean you’ll get one either.

With the job dreams also come the social life dreams, and I always assumed that by the time university was over I would be in a committed, happy relationship with someone who could celebrate with me over all those job offers I had coming in. Again, Little Miss Assumption over here, but when I was younger that was what I thought was the most important. It was like a list of items to take the Life Goals Supermarket, and you would tick each one as you went along. Job? Tick. Relationship? Tick. What else was needed?

I knew I was going to forget a big one, and that is the dream I’ve had for a long long time, probably starting at about 10 years old – and perhaps the saddest one when I look back at it. What I wanted all through secondary school was beauty. And isn’t that just awful? Sure, sure, we can just argue and brush it off by saying that society makes us try to value what we’re born with (looks, parent’s wealth, lack of both) over what we earn for ourselves (perseverance, patience, kindness). And sure, we can all stand around and say that no society, we will not be partaking in that thank you very much. But at the end of the day, when I would go home at 12 years old and look in the mirror, all I would see was acne, a big nose, un-styled hair, and chubby patches all over. I’ve spoken a lot about acne and appearances in the past and how I now feel more confident, but I’m still filled with the memories of standing in front of a mirror and wishing that there were no mirrors in the world so I wouldn’t have to look at myself. Wishing that there was some way to exchange your face for a new one. Wishing that there was a way that meant I could live my life without anyone looking at me. And I wished for that day in the future, the day when I finished school for good, when puberty should have been and gone and left me unblemished, with clear smooth skin, great hair, and a body I was happy with. That was what was going to be my biggest marker of how far I had come.

But, as is the way of life, things didn’t exactly go to plan. Here I am, university finished, but just after the days of stress with my emotions all over the place and a few days of very hot weather, I’ve had another skin breakout. I have red spots dotted around my face like some flicked paint at me with a toothbrush. I’ve got black heads on my chin and nose, and something resembling Mount Etna on my neck. You stare in that pesky mirror and it’s pretty hard to think that you haven’t come that far at all.

Then I have to slap myself for being so melodramatic. Because I am not that twelve year old girl thinking that people won’t like me just because I have a spot on my chin. Like, jesus christ Eleanor, it’s not the end of the world. Yes, it sucks. Yes, it kinda hurts when you poke it, but it’s just a spot. There’s the magic of makeup if you’re feeling super downhearted but other than that, your face and your looks do not define you. Twelve-year-old me hardly knew how to write paragraphs, and here I am having just written a 10,000 word dissertation on a topic I love on top of my various other coursework and exam revision. On top of that I have worked every single weekend for almost two years now so that I can keep living in London and support myself. On top of that I have been going to different opportunities to make contacts and get work experience. And on top of that I’ve surrounded myself with friends who I love (and who assure me they love me back when I’m not being so ridiculously melodramatic).

And so, like most of these blog posts go, this has turned from reflection to being a self-affirmation that whilst all my hopes and dreams haven’t exactly come to pass, I’ve realised that they’re allowed to change a bit. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll be a bestselling author telling the story of how she almost let a pimple keep her from chasing her dream, and everyone will say, “Man, she was a melodramatic child”.

Moving on to 2017 [Part 2]

The phrase ‘New Year, New Me’ makes me feel hopeful as much as it does annoyed. First off, it implies that the 1st of January is the only time that you can make a change for the better. It also disregards everything you’ve done in the previous year, marking it as unworthy of the upcoming new you – as if you’re a computer updated with a new version of an old system. I’ve so become a bit disenchanted with the idea of set resolutions that just aren’t achievable. I’d far rather say ‘I want to try to eat less sugar’ rather than ‘I won’t eat chocolate all month’, because that’s just taunting you and setting you up for failure. Having a resolution, or even a goal, that isn’t just a box to tick but is a graph to map your continued progress.

With that in mind, let’s look at what my goals  were last year and whether I’ve made a move towards them.

  1. Be happy, be positive, keep going. — This is a bit of a tricky one, as it has become very apparent to me over the last year that chanting ‘be happy’ will not simply make it so. And, as we all learned from the film Inside Out, sometimes you need to let your emotions play out as they will for an overall balanced mind. For the most part I was able to remain positive when faced with certain situations with friends, but whilst this translated to them on the outside it by no means was concrete for me on the inside. I mistook being happy for forcing happiness, and that’s something I can definitely try to work on.
  2. Write more, contact agents. — This didn’t go to plan, though I did pitch a book idea to an agent who liked it at YALC. I want to keep writing, but university work alongside trying to break into publishing is definitely taking precedent at the moment. Writing has always been my outlet and I love it still, but although in the long run I’d love to have a book published, for now I’m happy with just writing for me.
  3. Read 50 books. — Finally, a goal I can happily say was completed. I was overjoyed that I was successful in this, yet again at times it was stressful and that’s something I want to make sure I reduce in the next coming year. As I’ve mentioned on my other book-related blog, I’ve set myself 17 book challenges for 2017 and on Goodreads have said I want to read 40 books. So whilst there is still an element of challenging myself, it leaves it slightly open for me to deviate and still enjoy it without it causing anxiety.

 

So when thinking about my goals for 2017, I wanted to focus on my own well-being as a goal to work on rather than measuring something by an achievement. My goals for 2017 are as follows:

  1. Prioritise self-care. — This year is going to be tough, what with my final year of university, turning 21, and entering the world of jobs, taxes, and leaving the bubble of education. I want to do all I can to help my body keep going, which means everything from doing yoga a few times a week to making sure I don’t gorge on too much sugar when fighting anxiety or sadness. This also means doing things that make me happy, so although I’ll try to keep healthy some days, other days I want to do something like baking to lift my mood. I want to try and make sure I don’t stare at a screen before trying to sleep, and read instead. Small changes to help in the long run.
  2. Speak up, don’t sit quiet. — There have been instances this year when I’ve been so nice people just assume I don’t get upset. I want to be able to voice my feelings more, whether that’s to friends or colleagues in rough work situations.
  3. Get out there. — A bit vague, I know, but I want this as my 2017 mantra. I want to make more time for writing and, if I decide it’s still what I want, pursue it. I want to do well in my career and keep trying, even when I get rejected or find it difficult to find anything. I want to go to new places, try even more new things, see my friends, and live a life full of sunshine as well as rain.

I should probably stop now before the metaphors completely take over. All I can say is this:

2017, you’re on.

The Dream

Apparently it’s my 3 year WordPress Anniversary today – so happy birthday to alwayslovetowrite. I thought it would be fitting to post about today what 16-year-old me had hoped for this blog to one day be.

Since I was in primary school, I knew I wanted to be writer. The earliest bits of writing I can remember include a play about a mystery involving some kids, a dog and a graveyard (I was big on Scooby Doo at the time), a book that explored a crush I had at the tender age of eight with it’s sequel written when said crush moved to another country, and several poems.

In secondary school, for the first year I thought I’d be a lawyer – but then I realised I had no interest at all in being a lawyer and went back to writing. In my second year, I fell in love with supernatural and fantasy genres due to the discovery of Twlilight. Even though I can say now that there are a million books better than Twilight and that the writing really isn’t all that great, I can’t deny that it did have an impact on me as a twelve year old girl. Soon I was writing my own fantasy stories, most of them about werewolves because it seemed obvious to me that turning into a wolf was ten times better than having a pair of fangs. My best friend and I started writing our own book in our third year, Year 9, about guardians for humans which were in fact angels – it also included two very attractive guys and a kickass heroine who rode a motorbike. We even wrote a song to go with the book and fell in love with a few secondary characters, which is when I first discovered that you didn’t have to be the attractive hero of the book in order to be the one that everyone loves.

Years passed and I wrote story after another on my laptop up until the point that I had literally hundreds of documents in my ‘Stories’ folder filled with ideas that I’d started. I’d be writing every day, whether it was in a notebook, on my computer or even on my phone. In a few of my lessons, I would stop the person next to me paying attention to the teacher by telling them all my latest story ideas. Some of them were downright awful and my writing completely undeveloped, but none of my wonderful friends every complained.

So it’s safe to say that my dream has always been to be an author and be able to live off my books. I attended a journalism course in sixth form when I was seventeen and that showed me a completely different way that I could live off writing, but my ultimate dream is still to be an author.

There was one story that I wrote 54,000 words of in sixth form, though reading it today it has elements of being a good book but isn’t written well at all – which is ok. I’m still developing as a writer, and I’m slowly learning that what I once thought was my best writing ever isn’t my best writing now. There was, however, a small story that I had started to write and used to always send little excerpts to one of my best friends and, like a true friend, she’d tell me how much she loved it. I poured my heart into this book with scenes that I’d experienced, from the bad to the good, and little one-liners that friends or family had said that stuck with me. When I finished school, I left this little story and spent my first year at university, but this summer I discovered it again and started to write. At only 20,000 words, I felt that it was finished. And I liked it.

My Mum always has this little joking quip of ‘When are you going to do it?’ when I talk about being an author. I always claim that I’ll send off my work to someone someday, but I’ve never done it. I suppose when you’ve dreamed about something for so long, when it comes to it you just don’t know where to start or if you can start. All my journalism work and university has done wonders to help build up my confidence, so this summer I decided ‘screw it’ and I sent off my little book to a huge list of agents.

Then, the rejections started coming.

I’ve always heard – well, I’m sure we’ve all heard some story – that all writers get rejected and it can be years before you get that first ‘yes’. Everyone likes to use the example of J.K Rowling with rejection stories and it’s all well and good telling yourself this, but it’s hard. It’s horrible. I hate it. Of course you know not everyone is going to like you or your writing, but being told that they don’t like it is something entirely different. I’ve spent the last week – because yes, I’ve only sent off my work to agents over the last week or so – feeling completely demoralised. Is my dream that far out of reach? Am I actually just a shit writer? Why am I even bothering with all these rejections? Why don’t I just give up?

Again, it’s hard to do things like this when you’re life’s dream is on the line. This is all I’ve ever wanted, and alwayslovetowrite has helped bring me to this place as much as anyone. Every time I get a notification of a new follower or someone liking one of my posts, I do a childish little happy dance, or squeal, or grin, or punch the air, or all of the above. 16 year old me started this blog to just post chapters of my writing, searching for some reassurance that she could write and that other people liked it. It’s fine having friends or family tell you it’s good, but to have a complete stranger make a nice comment is completely different. Of course then I didn’t think that anyone would just copy and paste my work or steal my ideas, which is what I was certain a famous author had done when I wrote a chapter of an idea on mythical water horses – which wasn’t that good, but I was very proud of the title ‘Race Against the Tide’ – and then a few months later an author released a book on water horses. Obviously they hadn’t stolen my idea, as it takes a lot longer to write a book and then have it published than a month, but I stopped posting chapters after that.

So now alwayslovetowrite is a true blog, where I vent, complain, attempt to relate – all that fun stuff. I thought for this anniversary I’d go back to the roots, tell you a little story and give you an update that is now constantly on my mind. For those of you who are curious, I’ve written to 44 agents and have had 8 replies; 7 rejections, one of which gave me some pointers and another which gave me a positive response, and 1 request for the full manuscript. We’ll see where this all goes, most likely to nowhere as it’s my first attempt to actually put my name out there (or, more accurate, my writing out there with a pseudonym because no one can say my surname) but I’m still trying. There’s that saying that goes along the lines of if you never try you’ll never succeed, so this is me ‘giving a go’ at actually achieving my dream.

I kind of feel like I’m giving a speech or an origin story, so to make it even more generic I’m going to say a bunch of thank yous even though I haven’t actually achieved anything yet. To my friends at school who probably didn’t do as well in class as they should have because I kept telling you about my latest story, you rock. To one of my best friends who has always read my work and told me how great it was or asked on updates for the characters, you know who you are and you know that you’re the best person in the world. To my parents, my biggest cheerleaders who read every blog I post, especially my Dad who remains the ‘Top Comment-er’, words can’t describe my thanks – especially for putting up for my mood swings and existential crisis recently.

Finally, to all of the people that read/follow/accidentally found my blog – thank you for the support, the love, the constructive feedback and everything else. Happy third anniversary, I guess!

This turned soppy far too quickly.