Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Dreams for plans

It's that time of year when everyone is posting reviews of how their year has gone, and when it came to deciding what to write for my final post of 2015, I thought I would do the same. In fact, I felt obliged, but every time I considered it, it felt like a chore. A lot has happened this year, a lot of amazing, beautiful memories have been made, but I have also learned some valuable lessons, and one of them is to stop living in the past.

It's something I've done for a long time, looking back, and while I will continue to make a record of good moments and memories, I've also let the bad memories come back to haunt me too. There is always something I want to change or take back, but it's time I stopped thinking that way. I need to stop looking behind me, which is why I will be entering 2016 looking forward, making plans and living dreams and living in the moment with my loved ones.

So we'll get the review out of the way in a nice quick summary, a little paragraph where I tell you just how special 2015 has been to me. I spent the first half of it in Hamburg, Germany, fulfilling the little dream I was working towards since the first time I went to Germany back in 2011. I met some wonderful people (many of whom will surely be friends for life), learnt some beautiful and valuable life lessons and built up my German to the point where I now feel confident I can use it in a job. In the second part of the year I did a lot of moving around, but most importantly, I moved in with my partner, discovered a new city which I was very sad to leave, learnt I'm actually not that bad at cooking and worked a great deal on my writing. Before I knew it, September rolled around, and I ticked another dream off my bucket list with a visit to the Alhambra Palace in Granada, combined with a beautiful, relaxing holiday by the sea, where a certain somebody popped a certain question. I fell in love all over again, moved back to the place where I went to university (which also happens to be my fiancé's hometown) and launched into Christmas preparations. We bought our first Christmas tree (I'm like a kid at Christmas) and had a little fake Christmas on which I cooked a Christmas dinner I'm pretty proud of. And now, after spending Christmas itself with my family, I'm looking forward to welcoming the new year with all my nearest and dearest.

2016 has so much to offer. My new year's resolution is to get back into painting (I replenished my oils stock a few days ago with my Christmas money) and to continue work on my latest novel (and hopefully finish editing my last one). In April I am planning to revisit Hamburg and all the lovely people I met there. I am starting a new job at the end of January which will hopefully, finally be a step in the direction of the career I want and later in the year I will hopefully be ticking yet another item off the bucket list and having my dream trip around Italy. The planning for that holiday starts next week. Aside from that, we have a wedding to plan and money to save, and while I admit I buried my head in the sand for a while during the house move, it's definitely time to get the ball rolling on that front.

So I have a new year, a new home and a new job, basically, a whole fresh start. I have friends new and old to get in touch with and trips to go on and a life to plan, but I'll remember to leave room for plenty of spontaneity as well (in my experience, that's when the best memories are made). And I will stop looking back.

Happy New Year to you all!
Out with the old and in with the new :)

Thursday, 3 December 2015

NaNoWriMo - an overview of November 2015

My last post here was just before I dived into NaNoWriMo which, along with moving house and leaving my job, took over my November. You may recall how excited I was to get started, to begin writing a story that had been bubbling away in the background for years and to revisit characters I loved and didn't want to lose. Well, that excitement produced a nice, fat 6,404 words on November 1st, a NaNoWriMo first day personal best. I stayed two or three days ahead of target for the first two weeks, which is just as well as the stress of moving plus a couple of unforeseen obstacles set me back. Towards the end of the month, two five-hour-long train journeys between Liverpool and Portsmouth got me back on track, and I finished nicely with just over 50,000 on November 30th.

But I'm not writing this post to talk about my word count, even if this has been the nicest, easiest Nano I've done so far (not to mention the quickest, where did that month go??). Instead, I'd like to talk about some of the things I've learnt through winning Nano a 4th time, and this time it's after I've successfully finished a first draft of an earlier work in progress and moved on to the editing process.

In the past, I always stuck to the traditional values of NaNoWriMo: write something, anything, lock away your inner editor, unleash your creativity, get those words out and onto the page. Most importantly, in fact, get those words out. Write your 50,000. It doesn't matter how you get there. While I agree that in some cases sticking to these values is enjoyable and surprising (you never know what your imagination is going to produce when working to such a tight deadline), thinking this way has also let me down in the past, or else left me with a mess I have to untangle. My first two Nano wins were useless, once I got passed the beginning I had planned and realised I didn't have a middle. While I agree that some of what I wrote is better than I expected, it doesn't always match the plot I planned, and I'm left with a story that has gone off on a tangent, down a road I didn't want it to walk down. My third Nano win was more successful, and this is the draft I went on to finish and subsequently revise. But even then, even though I stayed closer to the path, I had huge gaps and threads of story that I somehow had to bring together, and it took me two years on and off to finally turn it into something I was happy with.

So, when putting pen to paper for this year's novel (which, for those of you wondering, is a complete overhaul of my first attempt at Nano back in 2009), I knew I didn't want to mess it up. This novel has been a baby I want to bring up the right way, and after years of waiting and feeding it ideas bit by bit, I've finally had another shot at getting it right. I occasionally found myself forgetting the true goal of this novel and getting caught up in the Nano rush, and once or twice I fell into the trap of writing any old thing to achieve the word count, but I pulled myself up on it before it went too far. I let the inner editor out once, to cut 700 words (which I got told off for by a fellow Wrimo and vowed to use the "strikeout" feature from now on, as per her instruction), but my novel is better for it. And in the past my tactic had always been to skip ahead when I got bored or blocked with what I was writing, and while I agree that this is a good way to keep the writing going instead of getting stuck, I often made the mistake of skipping too far ahead and struggling to link the scenes together later on. I've learnt my lesson from that and made the gaps smaller this time around, writing as lineally as possible. But please don't avoid writing later scenes altogether. If you already have the climax or the ending unravelling in your head, or even a scene you just really want in your novel, make sure you write it down while it's fresh in your mind and use it as something to work towards. Just make sure it fits in nicely with the rest of your story during re-writes!

So at the end of this year's NaNoWriMo, I've really understood how to make Nano work for me. As I've always said, the programme is a great way to kickstart your novel, and it goes without saying that the atmosphere, the people you meet both online and in write ins, the tips and tricks and moral support are invaluable and make for a wonderful experience. But, if you know how you want your novel to go and intend to edit it later on (instead of just writing for enjoyment and creativity's sake like I know a lot of people do), make sure you remember what the end goal is. It's not too difficult to write 50,000 words of just anything. Keeping your novel on track and producing something you want to show the world is much harder.

So I hope you all had a good November, whether or not you joined in with NaNoWriMo. If you are a regular participant or you are thinking of joining in next year, I would love to buddy up with you and hear how you do. My account can be found here:

All the best and happy holidays :)