Monthly Archives: October 2013

Finding My Muse Rather Than Finding Excuses

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Illustration by Nicola Whetstone © 2013 NKW-Illustration 

‘The dog ate my homework’

– Unknown

This time, let’s start with a question – who first claimed that their dog ate their homework? And who among you has ever claimed the equivalent? The saying sure caught on and is still a lot catchier than, ‘My computer didn’t save it, even though I pressed save, and backed up, and emailed it to myself, and threw my computer out the window‘ (we’ve all been there?!). Wikipedia calls it the ‘sine qua non of dubious excuses,’ which I enjoy, because what’s not to like about a bit of Latin?

Anyway, I’ve become increasingly aware this week that I’ve signed up to write 60,000 words in a month, completing the first draft of a novel in November, which is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). More and more of my favourite blogs have been offering up tips and treats – plotting techniques, craft lessons, general approaches – the theme of which, I think, is the unsubtle warning: Fail to plan and plan to fail.

I like writing lists and crossing things off them. I often do that nifty trick where you add items onto your list that you’ve already done, just so you can cross them off (who exactly am I kidding? Only I read the lists!). I’m a spontaneous person, mostly, and I’ve definitely not done enough planning since signing up in order to face Friday 1st with joyful anticipation rather than abject terror. I do intend to rectify this situation on Thursday 31st (if you leave things to the last minute, they only take a minute!). However, I already find myself presenting myself with excuses for failure – not only my failure to plan but also my failure to succeed in something I haven’t even started yet. It’s been a black October, but there really is no excuse worthy of allowing myself the indulgence of excusing myself. It’s as much an indulgence as creating chores I can complete in a minute so I can cross them off a list and feel like I’ve done something today.

I’m amazing at articulating excuses. I have a sheaf of them for every bad thing that’s happened since, well, ever. I’m constantly vindicating myself and seeking vindication from others involved. I then tell 10 people who aren’t even remotely interested and try get vindication from them as well (witness my last post!). This is because nothing is ever my fault. The dog ate my homework. I had no control over this dog. I deserve pity, not blame.

But for NaNo, I need to buck up my ideas. And saying that, I really ought to buck them up across the board. NaNo is like any challenge that needs facing or problem that needs fixing. Excuses won’t help change anything, only action will. Effective action is boosted by help, support, guidance and advice. Well, I have a whole inbox of that for NaNo – it’s time to take some of that advice and see what works for me (better late than never); make more time (my go-to excuse is not having time); find my Muse (she’s been reported missing, I need to stop finding all those excuses and find her instead); and get the job done. Oh, and enjoy it.

There’s no time‘ is probably my favourite excuse. Let’s rearrange some things and find some time hiding under the sofa cushions (that’s hopefully where my Muse is hiding out, keeping Time company). Let’s also find some better words: There’s no time like the present; there’s no time for excuses; and there’s no time to lose! Who’s with me?! 

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The Pain Of Packing & The Two Sides To Every Story

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‘Every truth has two sides; it is as well to look at both, 

before we commit ourselves to either.’

– Aesop

Step into my study! It’s small but, then, so am I… And it’s perfectly proportioned. To my left is a NZ-centric map of the world (perfect distraction) underscored by a choice selection of cards from friends full of stories and good feeling (perfect procrastination).

I am finally, as of tomorrow, free of my old flat. I mentioned before that I had moved to my dream pad – a fairytale cottage in the woods. The overlap has been pesky and the move has not been without some warfare. I hate packing. And I hate that in every place I’ve called home, it’s not been mine. I’ve rented but not owned. And so I’ve always had to justify myself in some way before, during or after my tenancy.

In my previous flat, the estate agents claim that something is broken that wasn’t (to my knowledge) in any disrepair before I vacated the property. Further, the carpets (which I’ve had professionally cleaned) bear some wear. In vain have I pointed out that the carpets were not exactly squeaky clean or free of wear when I took the place on.  Meanwhile, I’ve had to move a couple of old, disused television sets over to my new port of call, in the dark, in the torrential rain, because the local Salvation Army aren’t accepting second-hand televisions and, hence, I need to take them to the tip. Being 5 foot nothing (that’s 152cm to you metric folk!) and 8 stone (50kg), with the upper body strength of a small penguin, I need help to achieve this. And partner in crime is working away this week. I rolled the sets out of my car (with help from a friend) to the side of my drive (past my gate). At the top of my drive, admittedly by the road, lay an old rowing boat on a faulty trailer that we acquired to fix up and had to bring over from the ex-home. I couldn’t safely move this out the way without assistance (anyone who has seen me parallel park would back this up).

Within 12 hours of television sets being left overnight on my own drive, I have had neighbours complain about them and a call from my new estate agents. They also mentioned the boat. And threw in an accusation of subletting because friends visiting us were spotted in my new home (looking too at home?! If so, I’m glad). It was also noted that we entered the garage that we weren’t supposed to. This was in order to desperately find some jump leads to start a vehicle that should have been on its way to work on a 4 hour journey already.

Aaaahh but this is where I need to remind myself that there are two sides to every story. Hopefully, you’re on my side so far. The calls from the estate agents today put more nails in an already painful week of packing and moving and cleaning, which would already have been unmanageable without my friends. It’s difficult to take with equanimity a suggestion that you haven’t taken care of a place, when you’ve spent the last however long doing your best to do just that. And it’s equally difficult not to be hurt that your new neighbours choose to think the worst of you and tell tales, rather than ask the reason why a situation they have observed is the way it is. I mean, heaven forbid they could even offer assistance where it would be welcome!

And yet, from the other point of view, I could be another in a long line of tenants who have taken liberties at someone else’s expense. I could be someone who’s broken into a new neighbourhood and started scuffing it up without a care in the world or any respect for my neighbours.

Rather than stewing over the fact that I am not either of these people, I need to take on the lesson and learn not to judge. I clearly have no appetite for being judged myself! I need to appreciate the other side of the story in all of the stories that happen. Hopefully, this will also help me write a better story than the ones that are overly one-sided. How about you? Has anyone had a run-in with a real estate or landlord, but there was a reasonable explanation?! Is one-sidedness your foe, too? 

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Warm Bodies & Writing People Off

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‘That’s why we have memory. And the opposite of memory – hope.

So things that are gone can still matter.

So we can build off our pasts and make future’

Isaac Marion – Warm Bodies

Zombie romance – I didn’t realise that it was out there. And then I was told to watch Warm Bodies, a movie I enjoyed very much and, now that I’ve realised it’s a book, a book I’m going to read. Here’s the link to the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07s-cNFffDM

We all know that people can change. Some bemoan that people they know won’t change back to the way they were before. Others bemoan the fact that people they know refuse to change. The consensus is that change is possible. But have you ever tried to change someone’s mind? Some people embrace zombiehood and seem constantly out to get you – hang around too long and they’ll eat your brains. It’s only healthy to avoid people who are out to eat your brains, but I think it’s necessary to take into consideration that you shouldn’t write off those people. Everyone’s important. No one is a write-off. 

You’d think that turning into a zombie would be the end of the matter, but Warm Bodies explores the possibility of change. Change and hope. Zombies can have dreams too – they just need to remember how. In the movie, a bit of love brings that about. 

Is anyone out there eating your brains? Do they not understand your dreams so they’re trying to quash them? Are you banging your head against a brick wall trying to change their mind? Do you wonder if they’re dead inside?! Sometimes it takes something major to change someone… But throw some love at them, even if you have to do it from a distance. And don’t write them off, you never know – they might change.

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Why I Went To WanaCon

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Image by Cellar Door Films sharing in WANA Commons

‘Let us be grateful to people who make us happy,

they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom’

– Marcel Proust

In November I’m participating in NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. Before this weekend I hadn’t even heard of it. On Wednesday, I’m meeting with Laird Sapir of Memphis McKay and Jay Donovan of TechSurgeons, neither of whom I knew of before this weekend, to help me achieve a professional business/author website, something my technically-challenged self has been struggling with for a while. I’ve attended craft lessons from best-selling authors and technology lessons from social-media experts. I’ve started a brilliant new book – Firelands by Piper Bayard, which wasn’t on my radar. I’ve laughed. A lot. I’ve made new friends on Twitter – but most importantly, in real life. I’ve met Kristen Lamb. All of this came from the best last-minute decision I’ve ever made – to sign up for WANACon, a digital worldwide writers’ conference. 

My return on investment? More than taken care of in the first half an hour of attending well-structured, easily accessible sessions and meeting the presenters and attendees. Over the last year, I’ve been reevaluating many of my old romantic notions. My previous (and unrealised) imagining of Sara The Writer was someone sitting loftily alone in an attic study, quill in hand, writing beauteous prose and bestowing it upon the world (and the world loved it). Sara The Writer would attend writers’ conferences, but in person and would never have thought to travel to one when not yet published by a big name publisher. Wow, what a turnaround. I’m pre-published, I’ve embraced the digital age and the indie age, and I’ve learnt this last month exactly what WANA stands for – We Are Not Alone. 

How amazing how much so many want to share – their time; their wisdom; their support. Writers here aren’t acting as rivals – they are cheering each other on, with words of encouragement from their own experience. I think a strong network can be the difference between success and failure. After discovering the ‘WANA Way’ and attending WANACon, I think I’m on the right path. 

But before I knew all this, why did I go? It’s because I practise what I preach. I believed in the idea as it was presented to me, so I followed through. It wasn’t just for published authors so being pre-published shouldn’t stop someone. If it had been a physical conference I could have travelled to, I would have. But if it had been a physical conference in the US, I couldn’t have. So being online was a bonus. I went because of posts like this one, from Kristen Lamb’s blog – Doubt, Fear, False Alarms & “Giving Birth” To Our Dreams. I lost sight of my dreams and have piles of unfinished masterpieces lying around. At least I started writing again. Now, I’m actually going to finish something! And I’m going to do it surrounded by inspirational people actively motivating me to do so.

Do you feel alone? I’m not just talking to writers, but everyone, whatever it is you do.  Don’t be an island. There is so much more joy and comfort in joining up with people who have the same loves and the same struggles. With the wonder of the internet, we can now connect with such people, even if they’re nowhere to be found nearby. We can all help each other. We are not alone.  

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Pride & Projection

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‘A true friend stabs you in the front’

– Oscar Wilde

Before I say anything meaningful, I just want to shout out a couple of things: 1. I love the fact that googling images for projection lead me to discover Doug Savage and www.savagechickens.com – amazing. 2. I didn’t hit my Monday evening self-imposed deadline last night because I was feeling grumpy (it can happen however happy life is) and I didn’t want to publish any grumpiness. It’s rather against the spirit of a hopeful / happy blog :p That’s not to say we can’t talk about negative things, though. I just think it’s important to talk about negative things with a positive attitude.

I’m glad that there are so many funny things and funny friends in the world to lift you out of grump when you find yourself there. My best friend (since we were sevenish!) has always been one of them. Let’s call her Amster. She wrote me a lovely well-wishing email a while back with congrats on the blog and business and a suggestion for a potential post – and here it is!

The best friends are not necessarily the ones who agree with everything we say and do. Nor are they the ones who disagree with us, but support us blindly regardless of their opinion (though this can be nice!). The best of friends are the ones who are capable of challenging us and confronting us – the ones from whom we can take constructive criticism because it comes out of care.

Even when a comment comes out of care, however, it can be difficult to swallow. It’s so easy to put someone’s back up and push them on the defensive. That’s because you’re threatening them – who they are; what they’re doing; why they’re doing it. And sometimes it’s worth asking yourself why you have something to say about it. Why have they made you critical? Is it because they’ve made you uncomfortable?

Amster become increasingly frustrated with me after I left my life in London. I didn’t know what I wanted to do – just that I didn’t want to do what I had been doing. And so I drifted. I had a lot of fun. I travelled. I read. I wrote. But without much direction or purpose. I suffered from inertia. I didn’t want to be captured back into the life I had before, but I still needed to make a living. And I wanted to make it doing something I loved, but my pipe-dream plans were all half-formed and half-followed-through. As I pondered this, I floundered somewhat. At the same time, however, I felt like it would all come good. I’d find my calling and sort my life out. It was just too early to find out what that life would be.

This was a source of contention for my friend. Why couldn’t I just sort my life out now? Why was I floating through this inertia? Why wasn’t I just figuring it all out and fixing it? I needed the time I took, even though I didn’t know then where it was taking me. Amster was on the brink of bringing it up and harassing me about it. She was goaded by my choices to the point of being about to ‘have a go.’ It would have come out of care, but I know that I would have reacted badly. I would have gone on the defensive out of pride. This would partly be because of the truth in her frustration – I did have an underlying worry that I wasn’t doing enough to get on the right path. I was just going with it – and now I’m glad. At the time, however, I didn’t have the confidence to have endured the knock of an attack from an ally. I needed the support I was getting. It wouldn’t have gone well.

What did happen was much more interesting. Amster paused for thought and asked herself why she was so annoyed. She realised that the reason for her frustration was that my life was reflecting hers back at her. She was doing much the same thing – being inert; being unsure; not making progress. She realised that just because she was doing it from a position of relative security, it didn’t make it less of a pain. And she was about to take that pain out on me. Because of her epiphany, however, she didn’t. And we ended up with dialogue instead of diatribe.

This was a thousand times more motivating. We made a plan. We promised to keep each other up to date and cheer each other on. We pushed each other on and pulled each other up. We achieved big changes. We made great progress. We came closer to our dreams because we became more conscious of our thoughts, feelings and actions. We held each other accountable.

We still do all of these things and it’s a source of never-ending happiness for me. I am never alone. I can share my failures along with my triumphs. I can criticise and receive criticism – I know it comes out of care. I also know that it is carefully considered.

Who is annoying you right now? Who is putting you on the defensive; paining you; causing you to bite your tongue to the point that you’re coming close to biting their head off? Now pause for thought. Before you let out your frustration, ask yourself why you feel frustrated. Is it them? Or might it be you? It could be both.

I’m not saying, if you can’t say something nice – don’t say nothing at all (though that can be a good lesson, thanks Thumper). Rather, if you can’t say something nice – wonder why. And if you have some constructive criticism – deliver it in context. This is how the best friendships foster.

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