A Decade In Review

You don’t really think about how much happens in just one decade. It’s hard to think of it like so many posts out there have as one big chunk of time because there were so many different states and transitions. It can’t be thought of as one entire entity, at least for me.

At the start of the decade, I was still in university. I was struggling. I struggled all the way. I only got through it the way I get through most things. With bullheaded determination. I didn’t have a natural talent for chemistry. Honestly, it doesn’t feel like I have a natural talent for anything I enjoy. But I fought and struggled and I made it. During this time, since the start of university, I didn’t write. I was too busy or exhausted to write. If I was doing something like writing or reading, it felt wrong if it wasn’t university related. I had barely done any on the build up to to university because I was working so much to save up the money. 

It wasn’t until 2012, five years on (in Scotland degrees take longer than some other places), that I started writing again. I started with a rewrite of a shockingly bad fan fiction I wrote in school. Unsurprisingly, my writing hadn’t improved much. That was the year that a friend told me about NaNoWriMo. I was so excited about it that I couldn’t wait for the main event and when I heard about the Camp event in August, I was sold. I thought all day about my story (I worked on a production line at the time, which was convenient for plotting purposes) and when the month came I poured it all out. By July the next year, I had full rough drafts of the Twyned Earth trilogy and a rekindled passion for writing that even the most difficult of periods couldn’t quash – even if they could slow me down. 

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I still have my original drafts of everything. I like to keep stuff archived, so that I can go back and make sure I haven’t removed anything important or otherwise useful for the story. Comparing the original 54k word draft of Through the Black to the current 96k word one, it’s clear to see that my writing has vastly improved (another good reason to keep old drafts, if you can handle the cringe of reading them). It also goes to show that, as with all writing advice, the “cut 10% when editing” spiel is not as cut and dry as it appears. 

Since that first Camp NaNoWriMo event, I have participated in and one every official November NaNo since, along with 7 additional camp events (with 2 participates and misses on top). That feels like I’m missing some as well – the website is a touch buggy at the moment. The 10’s were absolutely the decade where I not only reaffirmed my love of writing but took it to a whole new level. 

It may not be immediately obvious about me, but when I was a child/young teenager, art was just as much a part of my life as writing. I loved it and I was decent enough at it that I even sold a few pictures at school events. That stopped at the same time as the writing, when university just devoured everything that wasn’t itself from my life. That was a lot harder to get back into. My skill level seemed to have plummeted a lot more on the drawing front and I felt too demotivated whenever I tried and failed. It was only within the last couple of years, since 2017, that I started trying properly to push past my insecurities and accept that it’s okay to start from the ground up again, that it’s okay if I spend the next several years just learning how to draw again so long as I wasn’t avoiding something that I loved. Hardware held me back a lot but since getting a new tablet last October, I’ve been drawing and studying and I’ve done more art in that time than I have in ages and it feels great. 

It’s made me think a lot about a silly fantasy I’ve always had, to combine storytelling telling and art. It sounds daft but I don’t know if I’ve ever actually voiced my desire to draw comics before. It’s just always felt so far out of reach – both the artistic and storytelling telling skill required to do comics is immense. Even being able to say out loud that I’d like to try it someday is a big thing for me. 

Since leaving university, I have moved way too often and been through the hardest times of my life. I worked a plethora of jobs before finally landing in the field that I wanted. Some were okay, others were horrendous. I had a severe mental health incident that I’m still not fully recovered from. I finally understood and came to terms with my sexuality and gender. All in all, it’s been busy. 

In the 00’s I abandoned the things that defined me in the pursuit of something that would benefit the rest of my life. In the 10’s, I have taken what I gained from university, my degree and my partner, and clung to those while rediscovering the self I left behind. I am now a partner, a scientist, a writer, and an artist. And coming to that realisation that at the end of the decade I am all of these things, wow, it actually feels kinda good. 

Resolutions Roundup 2016

Happy 2017!

I meant to have this all posted before the turn of the new year but the holidays are a busy, busy time so sorry about that! Right at the start of 2016 I posted up my resolutions for the year so here is the roundup of how I did!

 

  1. Diversify my reading – This went well! While I didn’t read as much in general as I would have liked last year (and I blame the curse of 2016 for that one!), at least 50% of the books I read had diverse main characters written by diverse authors. I found some absolute gems that I would have missed if I hadn’t gone on the hunt for them specifically. This highlighted part of the problem as well – at times I struggled to find reads within the genres I was looking for. In future I’m going to continue putting more effort into hunting out these novels – and yelling about them on Goodreads!
  1. Start leaving short reviews on Goodreads again – Not quite a success unfortunately. I didn’t manage one a month like I had planned (the second half of the year really was an event and a half) but I got more than half of my goal done which is something. I think I’ll aim for one a month again this year, though it won’t be an official resolution, to try and help me keep a more critical eye as I read—and learn—from books.
  1. Lose weight – Finally an actual success! I not only hit the numerical value I was aiming for half way through the year, but I ended the year on it too. Huzzah!
  1. Finish next draft of Through the Black This is the big one! And a success! Excitingly, this shiny revised draft is completed! Which also means I need to send it to people again soon! Eeeep! I’m currently doing a last final read through and then I will be compiling a list of beta readers. If you’d like to be on it, drop me a line!
  1. Get tattoo – Tah daaaaaaaah!

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  1. Move in with partner – Another success! And the shiny beacon in an otherwise awful year.
  1. Submit more short stories – Success! I hit my set submission goal and got what had to be one of the quickest rejections in history (it took them less than half an hour) but if you don’t submit you can’t succeed. Considering how long a year is, it wasn’t a huge number of submissions but it’s a start. I’m building up to getting things sent out relatively regularly.

 

So I didn’t do too bad, all things considered. Now it’s time to start working on those 2017 goals, which you’ll see next time! How did you do on your goals for last year? And Happy New Year all!

Small Goals

Small goals lead to big rewards.

Big goals can be massively overwhelming. Consider writing a novel. First you have to write it. That’s a lot. That’s like 80,000 different words, all supposed to be making sense. Then you have to edit and revise the whole thing. Over. And over. And over. That journey can often seem insurmountable. It’s easy to look at the end game, a queryable novel, and think that that point is so far in the future that you convince yourself you’re never going to make it. I’ve been there a few times, calling myself a hack and pointless and just telling myself to give up, that I’ll never be able to achieve this enormous goal at the end. It sucks but it’s something that almost all writers will feel at some point.

Something I’ve learned the hard way is that sometimes it’s best to forget the end game. Instead break down that overall goal into lots of little milestones. It’s easier to aim for the end of a chapter than the end of a novel, just like it’s easier to jump a stream instead of a river. It’s not just writing where this is relevant either. There are so many things in life that can be made much simpler by just breaking them down.

Take for example weight – losing or gaining weight is a massive struggle for a lot of people. I know, I’m one of them as you may recall from my resolutions posts. With weight loss I’ve broken my goal (originally huge and terrifying) down into small percentage based goals. Every time I get a certain percent closer to my final goal, it comes with a massive sense of achievement and newfound motivation. With writing, I’ve been breaking down my editing process with chapters. The sense of achievement every time I complete a chapter motivates me more, helps push me onwards and reminds myself that I am getting ever closer to my goal.

Whatever minor goals set, they have to be achievable. Even if that means they’re small. That doesn’t matter. What matters is progress and being able to feel like I’m doing something.

Until very recently I had a lot of trouble finding the energy to exercise and it felt like a huge chore. I felt like a massive failure when I couldn’t accomplish it. I would do really well for a certain stretch of time then the will would collapse from beneath me like wet plasterboard and I’d be stuck, unable to get up again. I got myself a FitBit with Christmas money and it’s done me a world of good. It speaks so much more to how my brain likes to operate. There are lots of little goals to try and achieve and you can work towards them all day. Instead of having the one set in concrete objective (let’s take 45 mins on the exercise bike – my previous aim) I have the goal of a set number of steps throughout the whole day (which I’ve been slowly increasing since I got the thing). Every time I get up I go the long way places, even if it’s just a few dozen extra steps. It all adds up over time. Plus, seeing it progress pushes me to keep trying to hit these goals and achieve past them. I believe this is called gamificiation and it works wonders for me.

Lots of folks apply this to their writing, often with stickers for a certain number of words or something similar. I partook in this for a time but managed to let it fall by the wayside. It seems that particular method wasn’t for me, no matter how fun stickers might be.

The secret is to find that little thing that keeps you going, even if it is just a sense of progress and an imaginary pat on the back. That’s what I’ve found working for me. Not thinking of a chapter or a scene as a part of the whole giant work but instead as a thing all in itself – a thing which I’ve completed, an accomplishment and a job well done.

How do you keep yourself motivated while working? What methods have you found work for you?