Thursday, 7 July 2011

Reflections on a Writing Retreat

This week I have been on what I've called a writing retreat. My parents were away on holiday and I asked if I could borrow their house. It's located in a relatively quiet suburb and most of the neighbours are approaching retirement age. Bonus points: there was a nice garden I could sit in of an evening with beer. Unfortunately, most of this week has been spent writing indoors, staring out at the pouring rain. I did have to deal with a minor roof leak that saw Him Indoors ascending some wobbly ladders when he came to visit. Poor sod, the first thing I said to him was not "Honey I've missed you!" but "Can you help me fix a leak in the roof?"

Asides from roof leaks, the week has been reasonably productive. My original plan was to create a body of short stories intended for e-publishing. That course has changed a little because I have found a character I would like to slot into a novel. Originally the character started off as a bit player in a short story I'd written. Then I found myself thinking "Actually I'd like to spend more time with this dude." Currently my story is set in New York City and the gay scene in the 1950s. It's a period of history I know little about but I'm going to have fun writing about it. Even as I type one of the characters is shouting in my head (someone has just broken a bottle of very expensive bourbon) as though he's a real person. I'm taking this to be a good sign and not that I might be hearing voices.

Another interesting occurrence: I have been writing plot outlines. This is not a technique I have done before. When I wrote in my teens, I just kept typing at the computer until I ran out of steam. No character profiles, no plot outlines. I would have struggled to physically describe how most of my characters looked, talked or thought about when they weren't appearing in the Word doc. files on my computer. The OU course I completed earlier this year went over the importance of getting to know your characters and planning your writing. I realised it made sense why I ran out of steam when I was writing stories. In a previous writing class, the tutor asked me "Why did you end this story a particular way?" Unfortunately they were not entirely impressed with my answer of "I was bored and wanted to finish it the quickest way possible."

Earlier this week a friend got in touch with me concerning a possible script writing venture. This is all shiny and new so I'm not going to talk about it too much. I have been working on those plans these week when The Novel has been annoying me. Now I have an extra two scenes that I didn't have last week. Same with the The Novel: I have an extra 3, 000 words and a plot outline I didn't have a week ago.

This week has been good. It reminded me that I enjoy writing, that I'm happier when I make time to write. Now I'm determined to keep up this commitment. There's a sign on my living room wall that says If you have time to piss about on the Internet, then you have time to clean! Perhaps I should change "clean" to "write."

On a side note, I told the Mothership I was writing a novel. Her response was "Hmmm.....that's nice." Since she found out there were "naughty" bits, she is demanding advanced copies. 

Friday, 1 July 2011

Goals for 2011: Halfway Point Check In

Ho hum, it has been a little while since I’ve posted an update on here. I cannot believe it is almost halfway through 2011. Where has this year gone? So much for writing a monthly update about my progress. Bet some of you can guess how well I’ve done for goal no. 3: Be more organised.

1. Lose weight

This has probably been my most successful goal of the year. At the end of February I had had enough and decide to bite the bullet (pardon the awful and unintentional pun). One of my friends had re-joined Weight Watchers and was having a great success with it. However he was not going to the dreaded meetings. He was following their online system which was a bit nicer than being weighed in a drafty church hall in front of lots of people. Instead you can leap onto the scales in the comfort of your own home and without anyone tutting their disapproval.

I joined Weight Watchers at the beginning of March and have lost 1.5 stone since then. Tracking what I eat has really helped me lose weight. The points system helps my brain make sense of how many calories foods contain. For example, a bag of crisps is the same number of points as five portions of my breakfast porridge. That helps me reach for the bananas at snack time.

Two months ago I started doing a Couch to 5k program and I have been really enjoying it. Before the start of June I was easily mastering 1.5. The last time I did proper exercise was at P.E. in school: over ten years ago. To do 1.5k was a major achievement for me. Alas I have discovered the hard way that you cannot take time off from running. I took two weeks off due to a hen weekend and a cold I caught whilst on the hen weekend. Last week I went back on my route and was really struggling to run 1k. I was so disappointed in myself but I’m not giving up. One of my goals for 2012 is to run the Women’s 5k in Bellahouston Park.

On a side note I have noticed my calves becoming more toned since I started running. Unfortunately that has not happened to my other wobbly bits! A yoga class might be in my future but that’s still to be confirmed. I’m not, and highly doubt I ever will be, a gym bunny. However I need to find a method to tone up and yoga seems to be the best way to go about it.

Assessment: Excellent, keep going

2. Make more of an effort with my writing

I finished my OU writing course in April. It was a struggle towards the end to find time to complete the assignments. In March I was asked to provide cover at my old job because someone was on long term sick leave. Straight away I lost two full days I had been using to work on my OU assignments. Him Indoors became a freelancer around the same time and suffered from the freelancers’ curse of working all hours and taking any job that came his way. I snapped up what little time we could spent together, free of the bloody laptop. What I’m really trying to say is that excuses kept cropping up and I couldn’t find time to write. Scratch that: wouldn’t make time to write. I did send off some submissions at the end of May. So far I’ve had one rejection and I’m still waiting to hear back from the others.

On Monday I went to a talk by Sara Sheridan which you can read more about here. The short version is that I am going to work on creating a collection of short stories to self-publish on Amazon. Fortunately writing does not need to be my full time job (although it would be lovely) so I do not need to make a lot of profit from it. I would love more people to read my work so perhaps self-publishing a good path to take. 

Assessment: You were off track for a wee while but stick to the path you’re on

3. Be more organised (and this does not mean buying 101 pocket diaries)

Again, I’m plodding along with this goal. I became the owner of a Blackberry and have managed to sync it up to my Google Calendar. This has helped keep me a little more organised. Remember the Milk has been a great help especially with self-imposed deadlines. I appear to respond well to deadlines highlighted in red.

I have done away with carrying a paper diary and stick to using my Blackberry to mark in appointments and meetings to remember. The only drawback is that its calendar only syncs my Google Calendar entries that are happening in the next four weeks. In order to check more long term plans I have to log into my Google Calendar on my netbook. Not a major problem but it does annoy me, especially if I’m being asked to do more shifts in work.

Alas I sometimes still forget certain things, especially if I’m changing handbags over. I have toyed with pinning a checklist to my front door. That does tap into my mild OCD a little too much so I may avoid doing that.

Assessment: Don’t forget your bloody purse.

4. Be better at keeping in touch with people

There’s an amazing correlation between being more sociable and having a larger disposable income. Since my wages increased I have been going out a lot more for friends. Some of us are getting grown up and meet up for coffee rather than heading to the local pub. Shocking state of affairs.

As mentioned above, I went on a hen weekend in the first week of June. It was for a friend I had known since my first round of college, when we were both seventeen. Her hen do was fabulous but it made me sad about all the times I’ve forgotten to met up with her or made excuses not to. That’s something I plan to resolve when she returns from her honeymoon in a couple of weeks.

Assessment: Could do better

5. Be better at managing  in more control of my finances 

This goal has been a complete joke recently. When my income increased not once did I think “I’ll use some of that to clear my student debt.” No, instead I bought stuff. Lots of stuff, especially stuff that comes in brown boxes from Amazon. That came to an abrupt halt earlier this month. My dear bank decided to end my interest-free overdraft despite several assurances earlier this year that they would allow me to keep it until September. Fortunately I have some untapped resources I can use to pay it off and stop incurring the ridiculous charges they have.

That, dear readers, was my wake up call. I’ve managed to pay off some of my overdraft and should have it cleared by mid-July. One more step to being in more control of my finances. Looking back on my last entry, I can see not much has changed.

Assessment: Use the mantra of “Can I afford it? Do I need it? Can I buy it somewhere cheaper?”

All in all not a bad position to be in for this time of year. I have lost pounds from my figure and my purse (har har). Still as unorganised as ever though I never see that changing. Full steam ahead and let’s see what the rest of 2011 holds.