Writing challenge

I have signed up to take part in National Novel Writing Month (NoNoWriMo). This is a writing challenge that requires participants to produce a unique, short novel (50,000 words) between the 1st and 30th of November. The point of the exercise is to write a complete, lengthy story. The result is not expected to be publishable.

I have no plans to attempt to write a book for publication. Although I have plenty of ideas in my head, I do not consider that I have the skill or the discipline to put together a polished manuscript. I am under no illusions about the difficulties that writers have getting their work accepted by a publisher. I am well aware that there are a very large number of people out there who think that they have a book inside them. Many talented writers do and will still not achieve their dream.

What I wish to achieve is an improvement. I play the piano (badly) and would like to refine my limited skills. No matter how much I practice though, I am never going to make the grade as a concert pianist. This does not mean that I should give up playing; I enjoy making music, even if I am only doing so for myself. I see my desire to improve as a worthwhile aspiration, even if it will lead nowhere tangible.

Likewise with my writing. I would like to be a better writer and the only way this is likely to happen is if I practice. I can read widely, compare and contrast the styles of various authors and commentators, but if I do not sit down and create my own, unique text then I will never hone what limited skills I may possess.

Writing is my hobby and gives me pleasure. WordPress is my club, where I can share with others who pursue the same interest as well as enabling me to put my thoughts and ideas out to a wider audience via social media. Feedback from readers gives me an insight into how my writing comes across to others; the pieces that I am most satisfied with are often not the ones that are best received.

I also create works of fiction but these are on going and incomplete. By taking part in NaNoWriMo I will be encouraged to finish a story, even if it is not as polished as I would wish. I have a habit of returning to works again and again, changing a word or a phrase here, tidying up the plot there, rather than getting down a complete first draft before entering the editing phase. I want to see if I am capable of taking a tale through to a decent conclusion.

A lot of people look on NaNoWriMo as an exercise in creating bad writing. By demanding a set word count in a given time frame, with no quality checks along the way, the resulting ‘novel’ is unlikely to be the next best seller. For me, however, this is not the point; I will use it to see what I am capable of producing. I do not expect anyone else to read the results of this exercise, just as I do not expect anyone else to listen to me play the piano (I really am an untidy musician).

There seems to be a certain amount of snobbery amongst some writers. Those who are capable of earning a living from the regular, quality output that they produce may look on the plethora of amateurs who populate the blogosphere with a degree of contempt, but I find this attitude disappointing. If writing gives pleasure then I would encourage this pursuit as much as I would encourage those who partake in any other creative hobby. I admire the established writers who are willing to help and encourage the amateurs, even if their output leaves much to be desired.

November is already a busy month for me and by taking on the NaNoWrMo challenge I am setting myself up to be more time pressured than I am used to. It will be interesting to see how I cope. I will not be putting the story that I write out on this blog; I have no wish to share what is likely to be an unimpressive piece of writing.

You will, however, be able to track my progress via the little widget I have installed on my sidebar; the aim is to reach a word count of 50,000 by the end of November. It is easy to start a new project fired with enthusiasm. I wonder will I have the resolve to continue when life demands my time and my ideas wane. It wouldn’t be a challenge if I expected it to be easy; roll on November that we may begin.

NaNoWriMo

Challenges and change

Today I have been mostly sorting and packing and tidying; worrying about important things that I might forget, about the amount of stuff that I seem to be taking for just a few days away.

Despite the fact that I am hugely excited about my forthcoming trip, I feel stressed by the preparation. I am nervous and concerned at the same time as being eager to set off. I am used to having to pack for family holidays, yet do not have the confidence of a seasoned traveller.

It made sense for me to take time out this afternoon for a swim; a sure fire method of calming me down. Having gently propelled myself through the water for just a short half hour, the demands of preparation seem much less arduous; I have come home and allowed myself a little time to relax.

The last few times I have been swimming I have run into friends and acquaintances. I use my swims to unwind in my chosen solitary state, yet it feels good to catch up, however briefly, with people I see infrequently. In so many ways social interaction worries me, but these brief conversations have lifted my mood.

How can it be that I should look forward to an exciting trip yet suffer stress because of it; that I should avoid social occasions yet enjoy meeting up with friends? I am comfortable leading the life that I do and have grown accustomed to avoiding situations that cause me discomfort, yet when I allow my comfort zone to be challenged I remind myself that I am capable of so much more. I wonder if I need to recalibrate the balance of my life.

In many ways this trip away is doing just that. It is a challenge to the conformity in which I normally exist. I know that I would not have dared to travel without my husband to an unknown country and city if it were not for the prize of a chance to spend time with an old friend whose company I enjoy. I am defying my normal conventions in order to attain a goal that would otherwise be unavailable.

Yet even with this clear sighted desire I am nervous and worried. I do not understand why my reflex is to crawl away and hide when any challenge to my invisible existence is presented. When did I become so insular? How did this happen?

I want to open my mind to new ideas; to question the assumptions that those around me accept; to challenge the preconceptions that others have of me. To do this I need to experience change. Living in conservative, southern, rural England I do not come into contact with many liberal influences. I do not often get the chance to debate issues with those who are willing to voice thoughts that run counter to an accepted conformity.

I can and do read widely and question orthodoxies, but my thinking and reasoning are muffled and woolly. When challenged I capitulate too easily because I have not acquired the detailed knowledge to back up my instinct for tolerance and diversity. My approach is simplistic. I am not convinced by complex and convoluted arguments that run counter to my intuitive beliefs, but cannot back up my thoughts with a cogent rejoinder. I have grown too used to submission.

I want to allow my mind to soar on the thermals of new ways of thinking; to shake off the shackles of commonly accepted behaviour that leads to a perpetuation of the wrongs that blight our society. If I cannot change the world I can at least change myself and that will be a start. It will allow me to live more contentedly with myself.

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‘It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little – do what you can.’

‘Never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about.’ 

First Night Nerves

Last night was my first shift on the Front of House volunteer rota at the wonderful theatre I will be helping out at over the coming months. To say that I was a little nervous would be an understatement. As with any new job, my first day was filled with introductions, instructions and explanations that can be hard to remember fully. What is needed is experience of carrying out the tasks to allow repetition to lodge the information firmly in memory to be recalled without thinking. This can only be achieved over time.

The tasks that I was required to complete were not arduous but they were new, and I have never attempted to do anything like this before. It is a long time since I have chosen to put myself this far out of my comfort zone.

I calm my nerves and build my resolve to succeed by preparing as best I can beforehand. Thus I spent some time yesterday afternoon sorting through the little things that I could anticipate may be issues. I dislike driving, particularly when I am not familiar with the area or when traffic is busy. I live in a rural village whereas the theatre is seventeen miles away in the nearest city. When I go there I will often catch a train to avoid the need to drive, but this is not always possible late at night when scheduled train services are few and far between.

When I have driven in the past I have always parked my car in the same place simply because I know where the car park is. The parking charges are high here however, so I spent yesterday researching alternatives and, having found a couple of viable options, carefully planned and memorised the route so that I could navigate on my own in busy traffic. I know that most people take this sort of thing in their stride; I do not.

Having prepared the family dinner and left my daughter to serve it up, I departed feeling very on edge. It was a beautiful, sunny evening and the drive was, thankfully, trouble free. I found my way through the maze of streets and one way systems without difficulty. Although traffic was heavy I was not bothered by aggressive tailgaters, impatient to get me out of their way. The car park appeared where expected and spaces were available. The first challenge of the evening had been accomplished.

I had a little time before the pre show staff meeting to check out the best route from theatre to car park. I expected it to be dark when I emerged from the show so wished to walk on lit and busy paths. In the event I was released at dusk; the joys of these long, summer days. There were still plenty of people around so I was comfortable on my journey which was a welcome, short, pleasant and relaxing stroll after the challenges of the evening.

So, what did my evening entail? Arriving at the theatre I found everything shut off, as I should have anticipated, to prevent members of the public entering before show time. I should have just walked in, but made the mistake of asking the staff at the booking desk if I may do so. They had never heard of the volunteer scheme and told me to wait outside, taking me to be a member of the audience. They were busy and disinterested in the explanation I attempted to give.

I dithered before deciding that I couldn’t be late on my first night. Gathering my courage as best I could I walked through and round the barrier into a room full of Front of House staff just as the meeting began. Although I received a few curious looks I was not challenged and, at a suitable moment in the briefing, was introduced. It was a relief to be expected by the manager giving the briefing who then took me in hand to ensure that I knew what to do and where to be throughout the evening.

From there my job began. Of the dozen or so people I was introduced to I remember barely a couple of names; I have never been good at remembering names. At first I felt foolish standing in the foyer greeting strangers, checking their tickets and ensuring that they knew how to find their way to their seats. It helped though that all the people I encountered throughout the evening were friendly and polite, if a little curious. This volunteer experiment is as new for the theatre as it was for me.

The show itself, Bernard Shaw’s Candida, was very enjoyable. Part of my job is to ensure that the audience abide by the rules, particularly as regards photography, and to check that nobody becomes unwell or requires assistance during the performance. Watching the audience watching the show meant that I was unable to immerse myself fully in the play as I normally would. However, I was able to appreciate the skill of the players even if I missed some of the nuances of the dialogue.

I was particularly impressed with Christopher Godwin, who was playing Mr Burgess. He was on stage having had 48 hours to learn the part (including opening night) following the unexpected, sudden departure of the original member of the cast due to family illness. He fully deserved the extra applause he was given at curtain call.

I felt rather foolish walking the designated route around the theatre during the interval to allow myself to be seen by the audience as other staff members carried out their tasks in the bars and selling tubs of ice cream. As I was called upon several times for information this must have been of some use to the patrons. I am so unused to putting myself in a position where I need to be seen; normally I prefer invisibility.

Overall then, I enjoyed the experience and feel that I fulfilled the purpose for which I was taken on. I gained a better understanding of how the smooth cogs of a working theatre are oiled to enable patrons to relax and enjoy their experience. I also got to meet some lovely people and to watch the show; all the reasons why I took on this role were ticked.

Having handed back my staff badge and distinguishing shoulder bag, I collected my things and returned to my car. The main road that I use to travel into the city was by this time closed due to roadworks, so I had to find my way home by an alternative route. This stressed me a little (I am such a wuss) but was accomplished without incident. I arrived home to a silent house with all my family retired peacefully to bed.

Due to forthcoming family holidays, my next night ‘on duty’ is a month away. Next time should be easier as there will be fewer unknowns. I am looking forward to it already.

The Georgian terrace of Royal Crescent (Bath, ...