#NaNoWriMo Check In – Day 2

Day 2 of NaNoWriMo is here and the prompt for #wrimohero is ‘Ordinary World: What’s your setting like?’ This is the beautiful building that inspired the first seed of my story: it’s the incredible John Rylands Library in Manchester. A key part of my setting is a stunning gothic library. I’m also going to be sneaking in a few of my other favourite Manchester places and Peak District haunts, all alongside and mysterious other-world where ideas manifest and thrive with none of the restrictions of our human world.

NaNo Word Count: 5,448

Taking The Plunge

I wasn’t going to do this. I really wasn’t going to do this. Why would I? November is ALWAYS one of the busiest months in my year. Extra intervention programmes to run at work means increased workload and longer working hours. My birthday (Yay!) means fun outings with friends and family. Drawing closer to the big C the following month means there’s shopping to be done and family to be visited. It’s entering theatre season for us which means we have tickets booked for multiple shows. And on top of all that, this year we’re still at the tail end of our DIY/home renovation adventures, which we want to have finished before Christmas. Plus, we now have a dog who needs walking and playing with, and even if she didn’t NEED those things I’d do them anyway because she’s far too cute to ignore.

So why, oh, why, I hear myself ask, have I decided to sign up for NaNoWriMo? Why have I decided to take on the, already ridiculous, challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, when I’m clearly too busy to do so? I can feel me giving myself accusatory glances and hear my brain muttering things like “always taking on too much!”…well maybe it will be too much, maybe I won’t manage it, but do you know what I realised? I am always going to be too busy to write a book. There will always be other priorities. I will always be busy with work and swamped with housework. But if writing a book is something I truly want to do (and it is) then one day I’m just going to have to sit down and make time to write the damn thing. And why shouldn’t ‘one day’ be now?

There is no reason why it shouldn’t be now. No real reason anyway. No reason that won’t still exist next month or next year or in a decade.

So, lovely readers, here I go. Plunging in at the deep end. I have set myself the traditional NaNoWriMo target of 50,000 words in 30 days. I’m going to do my damnedest to hit that goal. If I do, brilliant! If I don’t, I won’t beat myself up about it and will try again. And hopefully, in the meantime, I’ll have written more than I would have done normally.

I won’t be writing anything for the blog, aside from, potentially, the odd NaNo update to chronicle my progress (or lament my lack there-of…). I will be putting any writing energy I manage to muster into this mysterious and as yet unknown story.

Wish me luck! See you on the other side…

If you’re a NaNo-er and want to add me as a writing buddy, you can find me under the username Bookwormdancer.

Autumn Mornings

Last September we got a puppy. She turned our lives upside down (mostly for the better – who can resist a happy puppy face in the morning and when you get home from work?) but probably the biggest change she made is that I now actually HAVE to get up when my alarm goes off in the morning. No more snoozing. No more lying awake but savouring the warmth of my duvet. I am not a morning person but I have actually found that, once I’m up and out, I genuinely enjoy my morning walks with the pup. Hubby and I alternate the morning walk so we both get alternate days where we can be a tad more lazy/slow to wake up. But on my walking days, even when it’s raining, it’s nice to start the day with some fresh air. I can listen to my audiobook or some season or mood appropriate music to set me up for the day. Sometimes I blog as I walk (like I am now) with breaks, of course, to throw a stick or chase my playful not-quite-a-pup-anymore, or just to watch her revel in the general joy of being a dog off the lead. It’s lovely.

But…

Now we are getting into autumn proper and winter is creeping it’s way toward the northern hemisphere, our morning walks are happening in the pitch black. I’m not so much watching the pup playing as I I am watching a disembodied LED collar trace circles round the park. Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE this time of year – the boots! The scarves! The autumnal food and music! It’s my favourite. And I still enjoy stepping out into the crisp morning air. But, this morning, as I walked, I couldn’t help but pen a realistic portrait of how I felt…

The Sacred Everyday

Some time ago, I discovered the Harry Potter And The Sacred Text podcast. This was a wonderful discovery. HP and the Sacred Text takes one of my (and the world’s) most beloved series of books, and engaged with them in a thoughtful and inquisitive way, exploring the lessons and ideas the story has to offer us and providing tools for treating any text – and I would argue any part of life – as sacred.

Here’s how the founders and hosts, Vanessa and Casper, explain what they are trying to do with the podcast:

This podcast creates time in your week to think about life’s big questions. Because reading fiction doesn’t help us escape the world, it helps us live in it.

On this podcast, we ask: What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred texts? 

Each week, we explore a central theme through which to explore the characters and context, always grounding ourselves in the text. We’ll engage in traditional forms of sacred reading to unearth the hidden gifts within even the most mundane sentences.

Vanessa and Casper are so thoughtful and engaging in their exploration of Harry Potter and I have taken great joy and great comfort in approaching these much loved books in a new way.

I am also intrigued by the idea of viewing those things that might be considered ‘everyday’ as sacred, especially in light of my recent musings on my experience of religion and the church. When I was actively involved in the Christian church, one of the things I loved most about it was the chance to take a more considered approach to reading a text. I enjoyed the opportunity to explore deeper meanings and ideas and desperately wanted the change to question those ideas. The sacred practices shared on Harry Potter and the Sacred Text allow me to do just that.

On a recent episode, Vanessa beautifully broke down the elements they believe are necessary for applying this kind of sacred practice to wider contexts – not just the reading of any text but to things like writing or running – and I loved the simple clarity of it so much that I wanted to share it with you today.

  1. Faith – you must have faith that the more you do or engage with something the more gifts you will receive from it. If I persistently dedicate time to reading, writing, running, cooking or any other thing, then those things will reward me more and more.
  2. Rigour – the time you give to these things will be more rewarding still if you approach them with rigour. By ritualising the processes you use, the time you spend will be more focused and valuable. If I want to approach the reading of a text in a rigorous way, I can take notes and I can research or discuss the ideas that arise. If I want to approach my writing in a rigorous and sacred way, I can switch off my phone and focus my attention, I can carry out a mindfulness meditation before I begin.
  3. Community – find others to share the process with. By engaging in these practices alongside like-minded individuals – or even very un-like-minded individuals – you open up more opportunities for questioning, exploring and sharing ideas. If I share ideas about a text with people in my community, their ideas further enrich my own and open my mind to new perspectives. If I share my writing with other writers and readers, I will better understand the impact of my words and will be able to share the struggles and triumphs of the process.
  • I love the possibility that anything in life can be treated as sacred if we only give it the right attention and approach it with intention to do so. This is something I hope to explore and experiment with, especially with regards to writing.
  • I’d love to hear if you decide to give it a go (or decide to listen to the podcast!) too.
  • In This Moment

    Outside my window… the sky stretches wide and blue overhead, streaked with wisps of white. The air is warm and still. The street is quiet. A summer weekday morning lull has settled over the neighbourhood. There is a white butterfly flutter past, stark against the red brick of the house across the road.

    I am thinking… that I should probably get on with the work I have to do but I’m enjoying taking a moment to relax so I’m going to ignore that nagging should, just for a little while.

    I am thankful… for the school holidays and the opportunities they give me. For the incredible friends and family I have around me. For the opportunities that are presenting themselves and the support from those around me to take them.

    In the kitchen… there is currently complete chaos as the whole room is about to be ripped out and rebuilt! That’s the work I should be doing…finishing packing it up…just a little bit more lazy time first.

    I am wearing… black treggings and a rust t-shirt – comfy clothes for a mooching round the house kind of day.

    I am creating… a novel, a blog series, a collection of poetry and short stories, bookstagram content – so much of my creating these days is in writing form. It feels new and exciting and I love it.

    I am going… to get around to packing up the kitchen…really soon…honest…

    I am wondering… if I can squeeze a nap in somewhere today.

    I am reading… Notes On A Nervous Planet, The Summer That Melted Everything, A Wrinkle In Time, Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince…this list goes on and on.

    I am praying for… for calm.

    I am hoping… for a smooth kitchen installation over the next couple of weeks.

    I am looking forward to… a trip to Gladstone’s library with my mum in a few weeks time.

    I am learning… that sometimes we have to accept uncomfortable truths and unpleasant feelings in order to deal with them and move on.

    Around the house… it’s all very chaotic! The kitchen is in disarray, the dining room is piled high with boxes containing the new kitchen, the lounge currently has old furniture we’re getting rid of waiting to be collected later today, the main bathroom is tile-less and covered in plaster dust ready for its own makeover…I’m trying to focus on how fabulous it will all be when the work is done.

    I am pondering… the direction I want to take.

    A favourite quote for today… (I’m cheating and using a whole poem…)

    One of my favourite things… is curling up under a blanket with a good book or a good film and forgetting the world for a bit.

    A few plans for the rest of the week:

    Finish packing up the kitchen.

    Take some photos for bookstagram.

    Watch some TV.

    Read some books.

    Nap.

    A peek into my day…

    For The Joy Of It

    For a long time I have been saying that I want to write. And for a long time, I haven’t. There are all sorts of reasons for that but mainly I never had the time. Which actually means I never made the time. I never made the time because sitting down to write felt like such an indulgence; there were always other things that I ‘should’ be doing. I never made the time because I was convinced I wasn’t actually any good at writing and so what was the point. I never made the time because I was scared: here was a thing I wanted, badly, to do well at. A thing I would love to make at least part of a career out of. But what if I tried and failed? By never actually doing it I could hold onto the daydream, writing odd snippets here and there, but never risking the possibility of discovering it was never meant to be.

    You’d have thought I’d have learnt by now: dreams are worth the risk, and sometimes we should try just for the joy of it.

    So I have started writing. Not quite daily at this point but more than ever before. I found the key was to let go a little of my fears and doubts; actually, not to do it in the hope that it would come to anything. Not to do it for anything or anyone. Just to write for me. Because I love it. I love the feeling of creating something that wasn’t in the world before. And when I approached it like that I found that the seeds of things that had been rattling round in my head started to grow. I wrote so many poems I stopped counting. And, even more joyfully, I started to write the story that has been in my mind for more years than I care to count.

    I had an outline, written and rewritten over several years, and I had an opening to the story, which I wrote about a year ago, but nothing more. Because I stopped. I even liked what I had written, although it needed some editing, but in spite of my outline I just didn’t feel I knew what the story was, so I abandoned it. It was actually my students, and a couple of lovely friends, who encouraged me to pick it back up.

    I run a creative writing class at the secondary school where I work (I know, a writer who doesn’t write teaching other people how to write…the irony is not lost on me) and for some time now my students have been asking to read something I had written. So one day I decided to be brave (and yes, it did take a lot of courage to do this – teens are nothing if not direct and, sometimes, brutal with their feedback) and share that opening chapter with them. I did it as part of a session on how to constructively critique other people’s work.

    Firstly, I read some of their pieces and, as I always do, gave them feedback, this time trying to demonstrate my thought process: What did I really like and why? Tell them. What did I think had potential and how could it be developed? Tell them and make suggestions. What didn’t feel right in their narrative, why and what might make it feel better? Tell them but also enquire about their choices (as this might change the reading of it), explain why it didn’t feel quite right for me and work in partnership to see how it could be developed. It’s a lovely, collaborative process and the young writers I work with are so full of enthusiasm for writing, and so want to improve, that they are genuinely open to it and take on board feedback with interest and commitment to developing themselves, and their skills as writers. It’s inspirational to watch.

    Next came the part where I had to be brave. Enthusiastic though they were to receive their own constructive criticism, they are often reluctant to give it to each other, usually deferring to me to do that part, purely because their class mates are also their friends and they were afraid of hurting one another’s feelings. Hence why I offered my work up as a guinea pig. I did tell a little white lie and assured them I was very used to receiving feedback of all kinds, positive and negative (not the case because I rarely share my writing other than what I post on here) and told them they should be very honest. I promised them my feelings would not be hurt if they didn’t like it (mostly true) and that their honest opinion was more important to me as a writer than any false praise they might want to give me. That was the truth. With a deep (internal) breath I gave them my opening chapter and pretended not to wait on tenter hooks as they read it.

    The first person to finish looked at me and said possibly the best thing I could have been told: “It sounds like you, Miss.”

    Now something sounding like me is not necessarily praiseworthy but what that meant to me was that she felt it was authentic. And that IS praiseworthy. Some of my fear fell away. Even if they didn’t like it, whatever I had written was true enough to myself that this student recognised me in it. I hadn’t even known that was important to me until that moment. As others finished reading they said they agreed, one commented that it “read like the colour red” – she couldn’t quite explain what she meant but it felt like a compliment! In fact the compliments came rolling in along with requests for the next chapter, please, and I had to steer them back to our critiquing framework. Flattering though the positive feedback was, I wanted their honest and thought out opinions. I wanted their ideas for improvement. And I got them. Tentatively, at first, but eventually with growing confidence they pointed out turns of phrase that resonated with them and ones that didn’t; they suggested alterations to vocabulary choices; they discussed certain sentence structures and whether they flowed as well as they could; they generally proved themselves to be the perfect first readers of my long locked away opening pages. (Well, not quite the first: my mum read them too.)

    I made the alterations they suggested and since then not only have I shown those pages to two other people (both adults this time and one of whom, it turns out, is writing a book of his own – we did a pages swap!) but I also picked the story back up with gusto. I now have nearly ten thousand words of the story that has been tucked away for so long. On top of that, I also got up the courage to submit four of my poems to a publishing house, for consideration for an anthology. I have no idea if anything will come of that but it doesn’t matter, because I did it. I wrote the poems for me and I took the chance to share them. That is enough.

    I am under no illusions that I will be the next J.K.Rowling. I have no idea whether any of my work will ever be published. But it turns out that it’s not the publishing that makes you a writer. It’s the writing. Just for the joy of it.

    Any writers out there: what’s your work in progress? What stops you writing and how do you get over it?

    Reach Out

    It’s so close you can taste it. You can see the possibility solidifying into a reality, just a little way ahead, but it’s fragile: fuzzy and fluctuating like a mirage in the desert heat. But it’s there. You could make it real. You have to reach out and grasp hold of that dream. You have to pull it from that sacred space of imagination and daydreaming into the clear light of day. It may not materialise with one tug. It may take dozens. Hundreds. It may take all your strength and discipline not to let go. Not to give up and let it drift back into that distant and untouchable plain. It may not look exactly how you imagined if you manage to wrench it forth into the world. But you may also find that you can shape it and grow into it. If you want to make it real you’ll have to hold to it with everything you can. Breathe life into it.

    Whatever you do, don’t be afraid if it. It’s your dream. Reach out and make it real.

    Finding Happiness

    Today is International Happiness Day. I have been thinking a lot about happiness recently; I think I am generally a happy sort of person. I have a wonderful life and there are many things in my everyday that make me very happy indeed. I also sometimes feel profoundly unhappy, for no discernible reason, and subsequently make myself feel even more unhappy by berating myself for feeling unhappy in the first place. I am surrounded by happy people, but I am struck by the fluctuations in their happiness too: one of my very dearest friends has recently suffered a blow which is causing her deep unhappiness, whilst another has just experienced what will probably be one of the happiest moments of her life. Happiness is a strange and intangible thing which can both live inside the darkest of times and can dominate whilst unhappiness resides within it.

    I wanted to take a moment to reflect on some of the many small things that can be little happinesses in themselves and that can contribute to a bigger happiness. I believe these little everyday happinesses are fundamental to our ability to cope when we are faced with unhappy events and moments. I believe that everyday happinesses are different for everyone but that they DO exist for everyone. I encourage you to create a ‘happy list’ of your own, to help you find comfort when it seems there is none. For now, I’ll leave you with a snippet of mine:

    – Watching a puppy chase it’s tail or run to its hearts content.

    – Laughing until you cry and your sides hurt – especially if the thing that made you laugh wasn’t actually that funny…

    – Reading something that speaks directly to your soul.

    – Receiving one of those really great hugs that feels like it’s squeezed all of your brokenness back together and finding that afterwards you feel just a bit stronger than before.

    – Seeing spring flowers begin to emerge.

    – Hearing a certain song that you just can’t stop yourself from singing and dancing along to.

    – Dancing.

    – Singing songs from musicals at the top of your voice.

    – The smell of that particular moisturiser that reminds you of mum and makes you feel like a child again.

    – The taste of risotto that reminds you of dad and makes you feel like a child again.

    – Toast with lots of lurpak, cut up into small squares, because that’s how gran used to make it.

    – Knowing there are people who love you no matter what.

    What are some of your everyday happinesses?

    It’s #TimeToTalk Recommended Reads – Anxiety Journal

    This is just a quick little recommendation, as I’ve only just come across it myself but thought it still seemed worth a share.

    The Anxiety Journal is actually something my lovely husband found and suggested to me, and I’m so glad he did. It is another beautifully presented book, very simply formatted, with lots of white space, which makes it a lovely, calming book to flick through.

    It provides a combination of insightful quotes, thoughtful reflections and exercises, and simple illustrations. I have found it the perfect book to end the day with. Just before bed I can sit and open it to any page and use what’s printed there to help me take stock, reflect on the day, and deal with any anxiety or panic that may have built up. Combined with a scented candle, a warm drink, and some quiet music, it makes for a lovely bedtime routine.

    ***

    If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

    The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

    Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

    Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

    Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

    Self Harm UK – https://www.selfharm.co.uk

    Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

    Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

    American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

    Please do not struggle alone.

    It’s #TimeToTalk Switching Off

    Sometimes, all is noise:

    Busy

    Bustling

    Chaos.

    The mad rush from here to

    There.

    The happy buzz,

    The anxious struggle,

    The beeping, bleeping, never ending

    Asks and answers,

    Frets and favours,

    Coffee percolating,

    Email answering,

    Frantic searching,

    Forgot what I was doing,

    Hamster-wheeling,

    Plate spinning

    Noise.

    And sometimes

    There is

    Silence.

    • JH

    It seems a little ironic to talk about switching off when I’m typing a blog post on my phone (thanks to a broken laptop) which will be read online and shared through social media, but being switched on and plugged in all the time is not good for us. It can in fact be really damaging to our mental health. We are caught in a constant onslaught of exposure to anything and everything. Bad news, images of perfection, and unrealistic expectations are everywhere. It’s enough to make anyone feel inadequate and exhausted.

    Being plugged in all the time also prevents us from really engaging with the people around us. Looking around a crowded train carriage on the way into town or even around a restaurant on a Friday night, you see people everywhere staring at screens. Don’t get me wrong, I love my screens and technology as much as the next person, and I’m guilty of checking my phone more than I need to, but sometimes it really is nice to step out of the digital world we’re so caught up in and take a moment to enjoy the reality around us.

    So set yourself a challenge to unplug for a while, even just an hour, and start a conversation with someone. A real conversation. It’s time to talk.

    ***

    If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

    The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

    Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

    Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

    Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

    Self Harm UK – https://www.selfharm.co.uk

    Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

    Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

    American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

    Please do not struggle alone.