Five minutes

This is the story of how EBL came to be blogging for your terror and delight. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

You see, last weekend I attended a writing day in nearby Pickering. I have never been to a writing day before so I was properly nervous about it. I had visions of reading out my drivelling word count to sniggers, and even roars, of derision; I felt I would never be brave enough to do that, but the very nice lady running the course assured me I would not have do any such thing if I didn’t want to. So off I went, admittedly with trepidation in my heart, but also hope and a flurry of antici…

…pation.

It’s a funny thing, my dears. I can happily witter on to you all with never a care in the world. You are patient and kind and tolerant. You don’t laugh in my face or make snide remarks in the post comments. I applaud you and thank you and am humbled by you.

I started playing about with this new blogging thing some years ago, largely to amuse myself, to understand the possibilities for work related projects, and to keep in touch with family and read their blogs. I had three or four blogs including this one, which is actually the newest. This is the secret blog. I didn’t tell anyone it was here and I used it to experiment a bit more. I hoped no one would read it, and to be fair, no one did. I still wrote in notebooks as well, and in fact I still do that now. Sometimes writing by hand on paper is simply the best way.

Then last Autumn I decided to give NaNoWriMo a pop. That all came about because I responded to a prompt or meme or something, and wrote a little story. The characters came alive in my head and a couple of people picked it up through the prompt tags and said nice things to me, which was a complete surprise and very frightening. Once in NaNoWriMo I made more links to people and by blogging my progress daily I got a few more comments and even a follower or two. Everyone was very nice and friendly and supportive so I felt braver and braver.

So when I saw the workshop advertised I decided to give it a go. I knew I would technically be free as I was due to have completed the software developments I was working on. So why not? I like to write and I like to get inspiration for writing. What could possibly go wrong?

Of course, when the day arrived I was trying to make up all kinds of excuses for not going. I have mentioned a couple of times recently that I am a workaholic. One of the effects this has on me is to make me completely anti-social away from work. I feel stripped right back to the core and very vulnerable. I don’t socialise because I am always working. When I am required to meet humans I find it very difficult. I was never a sociable being in the first place, and the workload has helped me to withdraw further. I have recently recognised this pattern and I want to change it.

So there I was on Saturday, making excuses. Sigoth saw right through that. When I couldn’t find food for lunch he found me something to eat. When I didn’t know what to take he talked me through packing a bag (notebook, pen, lunch, phone in case I wanted to come home, money). When I missed the bus he gave me a lift.

In I went and helped make tea for everyone as I was a few minutes early. Tea making is a great soother. Once I had a tray set up and a pot brewing I felt better. People arrived and had drinks. Biscuits appeared and we all sat around for half an hour not being dangerously inquisitive abut each other’s writing, but just discussing the apples and plums on the trees, and recipes for chutney. I could manage that.

Then we went into the main room to start and it was very peaceful and there was soothing music and a candle and we heard the rules about how the day would go and it all felt safe. I could manage that too.

The technique we used on the day was based on the techniques used by Joanne Klassen and in particular we followed the Just 5 Minutes technique. With this, as the name suggests, you time yourself to write for just 5 minutes, then stop. It can be any nonsense but the idea is to keep writing even so. This is similar to The Artist’s Way and various other authors and guides to writing, so I was familiar with the idea and felt comfortable doing it. Everyone else also settled down pretty quickly and soon we were all scratching away merrily in our notebooks, all very privately. I could even manage that.

Our theme, unsurprisingly, was Autumn, and we used a number of prompts and triggers to do a series of five minute writing exercises, then talked about them in small groups of four. Some people read out what they had written. Others, myself included, did not. I couldn’t quite manage that bit.

In the final session of the day we had the chance to share one thing we had written or learned during the day. Most people now felt able to read out a piece, and as more and more people in the circle did so I became increasingly determined to overcome my own anxiety. I wanted to manage that!

Suddenly I seized my chance and said I would read out my imaginative piece. Everyone waited as I sorted myself out and started to read. It was very quiet afterwards. My ears became attuned to stifled amusement. I didn’t dare look at anyone. Not managing.

Then one of the others said she would like to hear it again.

I nearly died with embarrassment. Was it so garbled they hadn’t understood it? It is true I get carried away with wild flights of fancy, and friends and colleagues are often left bemused by my non sequiturs. I read it again, not at all sure I wasn’t going to cry. This was far worse than blogging. It was desperately humiliating. There were real people in the same room hearing me read.

There was another silence, then someone said they really liked it and someone else said it made them shiver. I took that to mean a good thing. One of them asked to take my book and read it out loud again. How strange the words sounded in another voice, as she stumbled over my scribbles.

I did plan to share it with you here, but won’t. It was a few short sentences written in just five minutes. It is small and insignificant on the page. You had to be there.

What I really wanted to share with you was my amazement and gratitude for the generosity of others, and my journey from secret blogger to bold, brave writer who fearlessly shared a paragraph with humans in real-space. I wanted to thank the people who helped me feel safe in a group of strangers.

Many of you are confident, shining writers who don’t need to be told you produce marvellous works (although it never hurts to say it). However, some of us are not so confident, and if you, like me, have no faith in yourself, then take heart.

Live adventurously. Be brave, and trust the kindness of strangers to shine a light on your path to help you find your way.

Namaste

 

Advertisements

EBL’s One and Only Style Guide

Lately my mind has been distracted by thoughts of writing. Ooh, look, pretty, pretty writing!

In particular, by thoughts about my own writing, why it is so rubbish, whether I have the capacity or intention to improve it.

Let me take you, back, dear friends, to last November. I finally succumbed and signed up for NaNoWriMo because an idea for a novel had been rumbling in my brain and I had managed to work out what that novel was. I wrote like a demon, in the sputtering glare of candles made from the tallow-grease of bankers, my quill dripping scorching acid on the vellum of politician hide. I wrote my quota, oh yes. It was all about the numbers.

Now I would quite like to turn my carefully numbered words into beautifully crafted words, but I don’t know how. I read and re-read. I am occasionally struck by a passage and think, “Not too bad, that bit!” Then I remember Johnson’s sage advice:

“I would say to Robertson what an old tutor of a college said to one of his pupils: ‘Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.'”
Boswell: Life of Johnson

My heart sinks. How can I know what is good?

I read all the advice and guidance, I read the blogs. So many of you write so beautifully and so wisely about how to write. I yearn to emulate your creativity. I started to try to write every day, and to read more, paying attention to the structure and craft as well as the story. I bought John Banfield, for heaven’s sake!

What I have learned is:

  1. Writing here almost every day is fun and means I can avoid my novel
  2. Writing here almost every day relates to my novel very little
  3. I enjoy writing here more than writing my novel

I write in this blog in a stream-of-consciousness, conversational, devil-may-care way. It’s not supposed to be great literature (which is just as well), and it’s not supposed to be eternal (also just as well, although ironically thanks to Internet caches it may well outlast some novels). It’s a bit of fun, a playground to try out new things occasionally, and a chance to share toys with other kids.

I have written in a number of styles: academic texts and papers; work reports and strategies; letters; teenage poetry (not so much a style as a hormonal imbalance). I can do them all fairly well (except the poetry), and have been told so directly so I am confident of it.  I have never written a novel, although I have read thousands.

The styles, my dears, are not at all the same. This is not a Huge Revelation, but what I am learning is that I may prefer blog-style, and may never finish my novel. I am a little sad about that because I am still quite passionate about the story and I would like to share it. It still perturbs my thoughts and prods me to pay it attention.

I have too many hobbies, and no matter how I structure my life I must decide whether to focus on a Great Work, or dabble at the water’s edge, tracing lines in the sand. My confidence suggests dabbling is less risky; I can’t really fail badly at it, or if I do, it doesn’t matter. This approach has driven my life, but lately I am more inclined to take greater risks and reap greater rewards; I am starting to grow into my purple.

Fear, as we know, is the source of conflict (hey, bloggers4peace – got you in again!), and I am conflicted.

And I enjoy your company so very much.

Namaste.

 

Once upon a time….

Before I was seduced by the glamour and promises of glittery, shiny, popular NaNoWriMo, I found it hard to write every day. Other things happened to get in my way, like work, family, friends and basically having the attention span of a …

Sorry, back again now. Where was I? Oh yes.

Then it was like a miracle. I decided to do the November writing shuffle and try to meet a 50,000 word target. I wrote almost every day, come hell or high water. We have had flooding here so I’m not joking. The Hellmouth thing was hushed up though. It’s all true, but they hunt you down if you try to talk about it. I’ve probably said too much already.

Where was I, again?

Oh yes, the miracle of writing. Prior to NaNoWriMo, when capitals were at the beginning of proper nouns and sentences, I struggled to write regularly. I tried the fifteen minutes a day rule, I tried prompts form various places, like Plinky, or Daily Post. I tried doing those 30 days of Whatever lists. I tried, my dears, but I did not succeed.

You know what they say, of course. No, not that, the other thing. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! Honestly, do keep up!

So I tried NaNoEtc and I succeeded. Now it’s December and all those anti-writing, word-hating, finger-deadening, mind-swallowing, ideas-munching demons are back and I can’t write every day. I have done a little bit of work on Da Novel, but not as much as I would like. I have started a few posts, but they have been pretty shambolic. The least shambolic have been posted up for good measure, just to show willing.

Is it the post-NaNo stress? Did I just hold life back, but now it’s overwhelmed me? Did I win the battle, but lose the war? Is Santa to blame – because I would be doing better without his shenanigans, I can tell you.

I’ve been having fun though, visiting Offspring in the West, knitting a very little bit (that’s another target for this weekend: to finish a gift by next Tuesday), reading all the great blogs I found in November, as well as those I already followed, trying to restart the yoga now my eye is getting better, and also dealing with life’s harsh realities.

Must be off now though – quiz to print for tonight’s episode at the Village Hall.

Thanks for dropping by.

 

NaNoWriMo Finale – Looking back in celebration

So here we are, on the final day of NaNoWriMo, and clutching our total word counts in delight or not, pride or not, amazement or not.

NaNoWriMo, how do I thank thee? Let me count the ways…

  1. Without you, I would not have written my story without the push to achieve the word count. It has been sitting on my computer in embryo for months.
  2. Without you, I would not have read so many great blogs without the immersion in the process. I loved discovering all those great bloggers and learning from them.
  3. Without you, I would not have considered that I dare call myself a writer. I learned that being a writer is about what I do, not what other people say.
  4. Without you, I would not have discovered that the difficulties I faced were normal and surmountable. If other writers face them and have ways of dealing with them, then I can too, and it doesn’t mean I can’t write.
  5. Without you, I would not have found help in thinking about structure and form and all those things that turn a good idea into an actual novel.
  6. Without you, I would not have discovered that I can write a novel, and actually I can’t write short stories (at least, not yet).
  7. Without you, I would not also have rediscovered the pleasure I take in blogging. I may not continue an almost daily blog, in the interests of humanity, but I know I genuinely want to do it more often than in the past.
  8. Without you, Sigoth may never have plotted his own novel. OK, he’s still not actually writing – but maybe by next year.
  9. Without you, I would not have learned that, for me, writing is an important tool for my own mental well-being. I feel happier and calmer by writing regularly.
  10. Without you, I would not have had the nerve to finish a list of things at less than ten. Oh, wait…

I can be all cheery because I reached the word count. I’ll let you into a secret though. I don’t like to fail targets – it’s why I like project management. I accepted the deadline because I was already confident I had a full novel to write, and I already knew I could produce volumes of words from having written a dissertation. I do SMART.

In a moment of characteristically indulgent self-reflection: did I take a goal that I was confident would be easy (low expectation and low challenge) or did I avoid setting myself up to fail (managed expectation with genuine challenge)? I have never done NaNoWriMo in previous years, but this year I had a story clearly in my head and over 10k already written. My novel is well over 60k now.

If I look at myself from the outside, as best I can, I am amused to notice I am already playing down the fact I did write a lot of words. I am giving reasons for why it was no big deal, why it wasn’t special. Well, I am British, after all.

It has taken me a number of years to reach this target, not just 30 days. So I will give myself a small pat on the back, and move on. Well done for persistence, EBL, you old tortoise, you.

I had to write this story. It simply would not fit inside my head any more. Whether anyone else ever reads it is less important; it isn’t going to bring about peace in the Middle East or feed the starving. It is now birthed. As any parent knows, the next bit is harder still. Potty training might be tricky. To be honest, I am dreading the teenage years already.

Whatever writing you have done this month, I hope you are happy if you have written at all, or that you have enjoyed reading what others have written. I have managed both for this short while, and I am grateful. Now I plan to continue at a reduced rate, and catch up on my knitting as well.

Namaste.

 

NaNoWriMo Day 26 – looking back in wobbliness

Do you ever have this experience? A job looms over you, with big scary teeth and dripping fangs, and possibly tentacles? Laser eyes may be involved, it depends on the task.

Anyway, you bolt on your trusty taskbuster, and go take out that beast. If you have friends or colleagues with you, you may have to cross the beams; otherwise reversing the polarity is a popular option. Whatever it takes you grimly wrestle the task to the ground, wrap it in ropes or chains and remove its mask to reveal the caretaker / chap on the fairground ride / childcatcher.

You relax. Your task is completed and bundled away safely, never to threaten you again. You tick it off your list, put the kettle on and admire yourself.

But wait! What’s that? Just as Grendel had a Mother, so this task has a Little Sister. She is not little. It turns out she is even more scarily-toothed, drippier-fanged and tentacularly-endowed.

So, editing. What’s that about? How can all my beautifully crafted words clash and tear and rend each other in such an unhelpful way? Who broke my writing?

I am still writing small paragraphs and making amends. But trying to fit it all together seamlessly and enjoyably is difficult. Wah, wah, make it easier!

Thank you, I feel better for that.

To be honest the editing was clearly going to be a problem as soon as I realised that writing a novel in a random order was going to be horrid to tape together. At the moment the glue and bits of string I am having to use are making it look a little more like a Blue Peter contraption I made earlier and less like a finely crafted piece of Art.

I realise I am not producing high Art. I am not that demented. I am also pretty certain that artists are messy. I hope to make it through, and am determined to do so. It’s my first time, though, so it is a little intimidating.

So here I go, making growly faces to show how brave I am, like a writerly haka.

What do you do?

May your words flow freely and your pages fill in an orderly fashion.

Namaste

NaNoWriMo day 25 – looking back in contentment

It is a truth universally acknowledged that it is not very fashionable to be contented. We must all strive ever harder for more and more things, most of which need to be upgraded, replaced or renewed at ever-decreasing intervals.

So today I had an unfashionable day. Various offspring might be inclined to comment wryly that perhaps, mother, you don’t have any other kind of day. To which I might retort, somewhat tartly, that actually yes I have, thank you so very much, as recently as 15 August 1976. Now go and do something useful, like the washing up.

Unfashionable? Why so, EBL?

Let me tell you. Today I was simply content with the things going on in my life. I don’t need no education, I don’t need no thought control, advertisers leave this kid alone!

I didn’t promise this was going to be an exciting post, did I? No? Thank goodness for that. I don’t like to break promises. To prove it, I kept one today which I made to myself, so no living humans were at risk of harm. I reached my 50k word count for NaNoWriMo. Yay.

Regular readers will be aware that yesterday I came within a gnat’s whisker of it anyway, so this is perhaps not a surprise. I was, however, buoyed up to read that an author whose work I quite enjoy blogged to say he had written 40k since 1 November on his new novel, and he reckoned that was 90% of the job done. He’s a real author and publishes lots of books and is actually quite popular, so I felt in good company. Admittedly his first draft is more likely to resemble a real novel than mine, but it’s a good start.

Lots more work to do on my novel, but the barrier is overcome, the basic body of work is there. In a sense, the Rubicon is crossed. I am now editing, not writing afresh. I have produced something akin to a novel. For the moment, I am content with that.

I am also aware hard work is to follow, but I am content with that too.

Further contentment ensued as I sat in front of the fire, caught up on emails, did a job I had been putting off, and then in the afternoon, went to visit Sigoth’s parents and his cousin and new spouse on a visit from NZ. Tea, cakes and chat are pleasant occupations for a Sunday afternoon. This is especially true if they are provided by other people so that there are no significant implications of the washing up or clearing away variety. What made this even more enjoyable (I know! More!) was the fact that we spent quite a lot of time talking about books.

Oh, the luxury! I haven’t had a good book discussion in ages. We had similar tastes as well, so books Sigoth’s Cousin had enjoyed and recommended are now on my list of possible purchases. I realise I miss this kind of conversation very much so I will now have to get my thinking cap on about how to do something about that. Sigoth and I can have rousing discussions, even rumbustious ones, including some robust exchanges of views (for which, read “arguments”), but in the end we are only two people who have spent so long together now that we can read each other’s thoughts. It’s like talking to yourself.

 

Contentment, if we can only recognise it, is a wonderful gift. My batteries feel recharged, after a virtual soak in a hot bath for the soul.

I wish you bubbles and candlelight and clean, soapy goodness, real or virtual (or both) as you prefer.

Namaste.

NaNoWriMo day 24 – looking back in lists

Just ticking off the words: 49,891 so far. Or as NaNoWriMo would say, “Words Remaining 109; Words Per Day To Finish On Time 19”. That looks achievable.

Anyway, I have another 10k in hand from pre-November, and as I mentioned previously, I don’t care about word count per se. I just don’t like to give false impressions to those who take the challenge properly. After all, I reckon both “The Uncommon Reader” and “War and Peace” count as published literature, even if one is a novella and the other is a doorstop.

Yesterday was a day for ticking things off a list.

My first job, as I indicated yesterday , was to upload my posts, and to read the blogs I follow (thank you all for being so lovely and warm and witty and inspiring!). I had shoddy Internet connectivity all morning until I gave in and switched the router off and on again. Sometimes it’s best to get back to basics, unless you are a politician, in which case you are an idiot. (Although that’s an oxymoron.) My interpretation of back to basics is that you start with solid foundations and build up from there. In political terms it appears to mean leaving vulnerable people to die in the gutter and sending single mothers to asylums or condoning the casual wife beater because he uses a stick no wider than his thumb.

Anyway, moving on…it would seem the technotroubles have left me a little irritable this morning. I haven’t had my coffee yet, either, although the smell of it brewing is soothing me slightly. Lord, give me patience, right now!

Back to the list then. Sigoth spent the day putting up long-awaited shelves in the bedroom alcove. Admittedly that was his list, but a list is a list. He’s such a treasure. I think part of the reason was to leave me to get on with this alleged novel. He has plans for one himself, so hopefully he will make a start on it soon. We keep talking about the plot but it’s a bit tricky. We agree it might be better as a series of related short stories, but Sigoth likes to have everything ready before starting, whereas I charge in like a bull in a china shop and just write any old rubbish.

I admit, but only to you, dear friends (ssh, don’t tell Sigoth), that he has a point. Although I wrote 3344 words yesterday in a sort of edit mode, I spent too long doing it because I was trying to sequence everything. I wrote minus-822 words at one point after I slashed a section in a frenzy of self-criticism. That was largely caused by not writing in order. It doesn’t help that there are lots of flashbacks either – at what point do I introduce them to the reader? At this point it mat help to imagine EBL clutching her head in mortal anguish.

In real life I am a project manager. I do plans and contingencies and risks and deadlines for my actual paid living. It’s true. Not only that, I do it pretty well most of the time. I manage IT projects to time, quality and budget. I should have a medal.

EBL, wait to edit later. This is still November! Patience, cherie.

I also realised I need to learn Spanish. Either that or I have to relocate part of the story from the Spanish civil war to the Germans walking into Paris, as I do have sufficient French and, indeed, German. It puts me out by a few years but might be better. The actual conflict is less important than the fact it was a conflict, if that makes sense. I just need trauma, people!

So, lists. I wish you wouldn’t keep distracting me…

The next thing to tick off was changing the bed and washing the sheets, which I accomplished with aplomb and grace, as always.

The rest of the list included things like washing up, dusting and hoovering, and sorting out the linen cupboard. Not so successful, in that they didn’t happen at all. It is generally understood that artists have to suffer for their art, so I have to manage to cope with a dusty house and chaotic linen cupboard. I’m being brave about it; I knew the risks when I started this job. Plus the house is always dusty but now I have an excuse. You can’t argue with Art. She always wins. (Unless you are a politician – see above.)

And finally, as the Two Ronnies would say, a glass of wine, Sarah Lund, knitwear and adrenaline. Some things are sacrosanct.

Tak for læsning.