On Almost Giving Up

Two days before the end of NaNoWriMo in November, I had ten thousand words still to write. So I thought to myself, I’m probably not going to be able to do it, I might as well not bother trying.

I probably don’t need to tell you that that’s a terrible attitude. I knew it myself even as I thought it, but that didn’t make giving up any less tempting.

So I went to a few friends and asked them for a pep talk. They waved their virtual pompoms, I wrote the ten thousand words, and the rest is history. I have another NaNoWriMo win under my belt, and that win had me riding high on good feels for good while.

Way back at the start of 2017, I wrote a blog post that stemmed from a lot of frustration with myself. I put on too much pressure, and I buckle, and I don’t finish a lot of projects (not compared to the number I start, anyway). But that’s only half the story, because you know what else I do? I get up and I try again.

Today has been a crappy day. The course I was supposed to start teaching tonight was cancelled for lack of people signed up. I turned down client work, because I wasn’t up to it. I cancelled an event; deleted my Patreon. Then I had a nap, and I started writing again.

I’m currently behind on my CampNaNo word count, but I’m still going. Tomorrow is a new day.

Reading and Writing Update – March 2018

What I’ve Been Reading

As of right this minute, I have read eleven books this year so far – three audiobooks, three poetry collections, two non-fiction books, a novel, a short story collection, and a novel-length piece of fan fiction – though I’m hoping to make it twelve this evening.

11 books off my goal of 52 is 21%, which means I’m exactly on track.

You can follow my reading challenge on Goodreads here.

What I’ve Been Writing

After a very slow start to the year, which I promise to stop going on about from here on out, I’m finally getting back in gear.

I wrote just over 5,000 words in January, almost 6,000 in February, and I’ve written roughly 3,000 so far this month but, again, I’m hoping to finish another piece tonight. Mostly, I’ve been editing. A lot. Which brings me on to my next topic.

Works Accepted & Published

In January I had a small, jokey piece of flash fiction posted on the Belfast Writers’ Group website – we decided that’s something we’re going to do periodically, now.

In March I had a poem published in the inaugural issue of the Bangor Literary Journal, AND I’ve recently heard that a flash fiction piece by myself will be included in Issue Two as part of a feature on Women Aloud NI members. That’s due out in April, as is a different literary journal that is publishing a flash fiction piece of mine – not sure if I can publically announce the details of that one, yet, but keep your eyes peeled on Twitter and Facebook.

Things Just Passed

I’ve just finished my first term at Crescent Arts Centre as a tutor and my last there as a student.

International Women’s Day is over for another year, but it was fantastic to be part of a brilliant set of events both on the day itself and the following weekend. There’s a video of my reading at the Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin here.

The past two days, I’ve have had Kindle editions of my books all on offer for free and was delighted to find that I topped a few of Amazon’s charts in doing so – see photo, below.

Things Still to Come

Camp NaNoWriMo is happening in April, and I’m all signed up. My target is set to 20,000 words which will see my novel finished. Hall-e-lu-jah! It can’t come soon enough. But, that said, I have one important thing before that – my birthday, which is on Friday *does happy dance* 

Finally, a new term is starting at Crescent Arts Centre soon – after Easter – and I’m all set to teach again. My class will be running on Friday evenings, and I’ll be trying out an all-day workshop as well. More details on that here.

Did I mention things had been busy?

Inconveniently Ill

I feel a bit all over the place. There’s a lot of cool and exciting things going on for me at the minute, as well as in the long term, and that’s obviously great, but I’ve also found myself in this headspace where I can’t fully appreciate it. Maybe I’ve come into a new season of depression, maybe I’m burnt out again, or – I was considering this option earlier – maybe I’m feeling stressed about this busy month because I know how stressful such times have been in the past and I’m really only feeling it because I expected to feel it, in a placebo kind of way.

I don’t know.

What I can tell you is that I’m exhausted, and a bit nauseated; I have a clouded mind that can’t quite seem to settle, and the physical health issue from the start of the year that I mentioned previously still ongoing.

When I said in my new year’s resolutions that I wanted to deal with my health in 2018, I didn’t mean this.

But I’m not here to bitch and moan. What I want to highlight it what it’s like being in this weird state where I’m both happy and sad. For those who haven’t experienced mental health issues, it might sound a bit ridiculous. That’s because it is. But it’s also 100% a thing that can actually happen.

On the one hand, I had a brilliant few days with Women Aloud NI that I’ll probably remember for years to come. But, on the other hand, while I was having those great, positive experiences, I was really struggling.

When I get exhausted like this, my emotions go haywire. I find myself forcing myself not to cry at, well, nothing. There is no logical reason for me to be upset. That only makes how I feel all the more annoying.

I wrote a tweet along these lines a little while ago, but one of the things people don’t really talk about in terms of illness is just how damn inconvenient it is. It’s unpredictable, and can’t be planned around. That’s a headache in itself.

I care for my husband, which is fine when I’m on top of my game, but when I’m sick, everything falls apart just that little bit.

I don’t want to sit here and complain about my life. Really, I, don’t. I just want to sleep, for like a month, and then get on with it again. That’s where I’m at right now.

Birdsong (a Poem)

This time last year, after our main events for International Women’s Day, the Women Aloud NI crew went cross-border the following Saturday to do a day-long event there too.

Tomorrow, we’re going to do it all again.

So I thought I would share the poem I wrote for the event – I began it as I waited for the bus that would take me to the train that would take me to Dublin last year, and I finished it just now.

At the time, someone suggested we wear pin badges of birds so we could identify each other, seeing as most of us had only ever met online to that point, but I’m happy to report there’s no need for such an identifier this year, as we’re all familiar faces now.

Birdsong

Bright as shining pins,
we paraded through the Dublin streets;
Pins working double time
to keep up with the rest of the flock.

Then, at the roost, we gathered;
more of us – a murmuration.
Silence fell, we opened our beaks,
and sang.

March Events

I’ve said elsewhere that March is set to be a busy month for me. It got off to a slower start than intended, with my first lot of appointments called off or postponed because of the storm at the weekend, but things are back in full swing now. Here’s the up to date list of what’s happening:

This Thursday (the 8th of March) is International Women’s Day and, as such, Women Aloud NI are gathering again across the country for a series of readings. There are two in Belfast, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. I’ll be reading at the evening event – 7 to 9pm – at Easons bookstore, Donegall Place. It’s a free event, and you don’t need to be a woman to attend.

Then, on Saturday, the Women Aloud crew are heading to Dublin, where we’ll be engaging in a readathon at the Irish Writers’ Centre alongside writers from the south. Because there will be so many of us, it unfortunately has to be a closed event – no other people will be able to fit in the building! But, afterwards (at 3.30pm), we’ll be gathering in Parnell Square where there will be a public mass reading (as in, we will all read en masse). It’s really a sight to behold.

Later in the month, on March 22nd, there’s a poetry showcase in at Waterstones Belfast followed by an open-mic session where anyone can come and read. I’m one of the eight poets being showcased (the rest are in the image, above). Kick off is at 6.30pm.

I hope to see you there!

What I Wrote in 2017

It took me some time, but I now have a typed record of everything I wrote last year, and I can tell you it all totals one-hundred-and-forty-six-thousand (146,000) words (rounded figure). That equates to a decent sized novel.

For context and comparison, it’s quite a bit more than Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and a bit less than Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (which are 107,253 and 168,923 words, respectively – source for that info. here).

On average, it’s 400 words per day, which is just shy of the 500 words per day that Ernest Hemingway wrote during his life (source).

So, this blog post can be summarized by me saying I’m basically the Ernest Hemingway of Harry Potter. Except, you know, nothing like that at all.

A lot of the words I wrote were towards my novel, but most of them were scattered across a lot of other projects, including 42 blog posts, 80 poems, 20 pieces of flash fiction, a hefty amount of fan fiction (as always), and non-fiction (reports and memoir).

All of the blog posts made it into the world (most of them here on this very website), the fan fiction was all published, and some of the flash fiction got shared online, too, while most of the poems form the second micropoetry collection I’m working on.

I had a poem published in print as part of an Arlen House anthology, had two-and-a-half short stories published in anthologies by Belfast Writers’ Group, a poem published on the website of the Imagine Festival, a short story in an anthology by A New Ulster, and another one published by ANU in their regular journal. (Full list of publishing credits for all years here).

I’d say that’s pretty good output for a year that threw me more than a few curve balls. We’ll have to wait and see how the rest of 2018 pans out for comparison.

The Fear

I have wanted to be an author for a very long time and have been working on novel drafts since 2009/2010. That’s nine years ago, give or take, which seems crazy to me.

Undoubtedly, a lot has happened in that time, not least of which, I have improved my writing and related skills.

I’ve said before that the novel I’m working on at the minute (that I started at the beginning of 2017, I think) just feels right to me. I really think this is the one that could see me getting an agent and publisher. I’m also so close to finishing it; on the pinnacle of sending it off for submission. My beta readers have given me nothing but positive feedback (and I’m not even bribing them, promise!).

And here’s the thing: I am scared to go that last mile.

For all I’ve dreamed about coming to this point and talked almost incessantly about nothing else for months of my life at a time – and for all of the hugely terrifying, genuinely important things going on in the world for other people (like, you know, terrorism and Brexit) – I am currently gripped by the sudden realization that this is real. Or it could be.

I’ve built this up in my head and heart for so long, I… I’m not scared I’ll fail, I don’t think. I’m not sure what it is that’s behind the fear, I just know that it’s here and it’s making me hesitate.

Maybe I’m worried I’ll actually succeed – get an agent and publisher – and that it won’t live up to my expectations, which aren’t even that inflated, realistically. I’ve done my research. I’m under no illusions that I’ll become a rich and famous. And yet… there’s something.

For the very fact that I can’t pin down that ‘something’, it’s clear to me that this fear is not especially logical. I feel foolish about that, particularly given the fact that it’s like the first world-iest of all first world non-problems and there’s the aforementioned terrorism going on in other people’s lives. I have nothing to say for myself on that account other than, really, this is a big deal for me and I felt the need to acknowledge it before it ate me alive.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for sympathy here. Just airing my thoughts and feelings. (And why do I feel the need to justify sharing my own feelings on my own website? Well, I don’t. Note to Self: Your guilt complex is showing.)

Anyway – acknowledgement now done, I plan to ignore the fear, and I’m setting myself a deadline to get my sh*t together, which I’ve decided will be April, during Camp NaNoWriMo.

It would probably be even sooner than that, but I have a lot to wrap up in March with the end of the current term at the Crescent Arts Centre, my birthday, and a bunch of events I’m taking part in. But I will get there. I will!

Tears in Heaven: Eulogising Myself

To be read in the event of my death (read my previous blog post for context).

This may be obvious just by the fact that I wanted to write my own eulogy, but I’ve always revelled in being different; in doing the unexpected thing, and embracing my quirkiness.

I have always felt different – never quite fit in – but I like to think I learned to fake it when the occasion arose. Eventually.

It’s no secret that I had a dark, lonely childhood, except maybe to the few people who were around for it, who never seemed to notice. I don’t want to dwell on that, but I want to acknowledge it. It’s something I could never really escape and, as such, it became a part of my person, not to mention many, many poems.

Aside from Steve – who we all know is so perfect for me, it’s as if we were specifically sculpted by life to come together – words and stories have been the great love in my life. I said once, that there was a time I made a list of all the things I wanted to do, and it turned out to be a list of books I wanted to write.

There’s so much I could write here. I’m not entirely sure if this should be in third person, or if I should force it into past tense. No doubt, given the circumstances, the people I have left behind are negotiating that same challenge.

How do you deal with someone just being… gone? I don’t pretend to know, but I do try and plan ahead as much as possible.

As I sit here, in my first home with Steve, I try and think about what parting words I want to leave you all with. I think it can be fairly well summed up in these song lyrics by Linkin Park:

Weep not for roads untraveled
Weep not for sights unseen
May your love never end
And if you need a friend
There’s a seat here alongside me

[Roads Untraveled]

I want to just follow that up with the words of a poem:

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

[Mary Elizabeth Frye]

Finally, continuing on a theme, I present you with my favourite quote:

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” [Dr. Seuss.]

Which is not to say I’m adamant you don’t shed a tear for me, so much as I urge you to think about why you cry. If you cry for me, it must be because you cared. And that’s no bad thing.

I love you too.

Death Wishes

One of my ex-boyfriends found the idea of bucket lists really morbid and was horrified when I asked him, conversationally, what he wanted to achieve or do before he dies. (I’m always asking questions like that. It must be such smooth talk that helped me woo my husband.)

Given the reaction, I can only imagine how he (and no doubt others reading this) would feel about this blog post, which is going to be the first in a set of two. In one – this one – I want to outline my wishes for when I die. And in part two (which I’ll put out probably tomorrow, if I see it), I plan to share a eulogy for myself – written by myself, about myself (because who better to write it?) – to be read at my eventual funeral.

Cheery, cheery stuff, I think to myself, with a heavy dose of sarcasm; but here’s the thing: I don’t find thinking, or talking, or writing about death morbid. Not really. I find it fascinating, which is maybe morbid in itself, I guess.

Maybe it’s down to having been severely depressed for a lot of years, and suicidal on and off during that time, but I think about death a lot. I’ve formulated a lot of strong opinions about it. And – here’s the main, main thing – I am going to die. Everyone is. That’s not bad news, or good news; it shouldn’t even be news, just a simple fact. Facts hold no emotion. They don’t have to be scary.

Now, having just said that, I’m aware I’ve probably spooked a few people reading this already, so let be backtrack a bit before I proceed: I would just like to clarify that I am not currently depressed or suicidal, I don’t have some terminal condition, and I don’t particularly foresee myself dying in the near future. But it will come, at some point – maybe tomorrow, or next year, or before I finish writing this blog post. We don’t and can’t know when, but can be certain it will happen sooner or later. So, me being the very organized person that I am, I thought I would plan ahead and put my wishes down in black and white so there’s never any uncertainty about them. Also, I want to open a discussion, because I think talking about death before we have to face it is not only a good idea, but the most reasonable idea around.  Continue reading

February Update

For me, January felt like a too-long month but, despite the fact that it seemed to stretch and stretch, I never quite managed to fit in everything I had planned. I only finished reading one book (a novel-length piece of fan fiction) though I did listen to most of an audiobook, too. I finished it (Star Wartz by Patrick Tilley) in the early hours of this morning. So, here I am on the first of Feb. with two books off my 52 book goal for the year and five-thousand words written of my ten-thousand-word January goal.

I think it was getting sick right at the start of the year that threw me off. For about a week, all I could focus on was the physical pain I was in and whether I was going to be taken into hospital. The jury’s still out on that one. I may be sent back there tomorrow after I see my GP again, or I might have to wait a year – who knows?

On the plus side, after having to cancel the first week of my class, I started it a week late and it is going well. My task for tomorrow is to put in a proposal for next term. Now that my taxes are (finally!) in, I can really focus on it.

Maybe I can even get back to writing fiction after that. I certainly hope so!