Lent: what can I do, not what can I do without

I woke up to blue skies and sunshine on Saturday, the first day of Spring. I have a vase full of freshly cut daffodils from my garden brightening up my kitchen; there are signs of buds and leaves emerging from the bare, woody plants in my garden.


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New life, a promise of warmth, a chance to relax and enjoy the view from the back of my house as the seemingly endless grey skies of recent months finally lift.

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After my few days away over half term I came back wanting to write, yet found that I was too busy with chores and children, mess and disorganisation. When I eventually sat myself down to put words into my computer they poured out of me like a flood. I found time for little else until the need to create abated. Flitting from one extreme to the other in this way creates rush and stress, I need to find balance.

With Lent approaching I have been considering how I can improve. I do not plan to give anything up, to fast, but instead I will try to focus on the meditative side of Christ’s retreat. I am thinking about what I can do in order to become a better wife, mother, friend, person; what can I do rather than what can I do without.

With the advent of Spring comes an increase in family activity and additional demands on my time. If I am to become the person that I wish to be then I need to look after myself better, to be mindful of my own well being. This is not about navel gazing but rather of searching out ways to improve my health and thereby my ability to give.

My hens are starting to lay more eggs after their long, winter rest. This evening, Shrove Tuesday, we will use their bounty and feast on pancakes.

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My husband will take up duty at the stove, heating and tossing the batter, while I try to persuade my children to choose the savoury fillings before moving on to the lemon and sugar, sticky syrup or chocolate banana that they favour. Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, I will begin yet another quest for self improvement.

As with many new beginnings, my desire is strong. Unfortunately, in recent months, my resolve in these matters has proven to be disappointingly weak. All that I can do is to keep trying; moving forward is the only option, time travel only goes one way.

This Lent I will be trying to establish a daily routine that enables me to restore balance to my life. I have not been making best use of my time and the knock on effect has been heightened stress as I have been unable to maintain standards in certain areas that matter to me. I have also been neglecting my health which has drained my energy levels. I will be looking at this little graphic and reminding myself that each of these areas requires attention, not just the one that appears the most desirable at a given time.

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There are so many things that I wish to do, but if I am to tread gently through this life then I must ensure that I remain mindful of both myself and others. We reflect and absorb what goes on around us, affecting all by how we live.

I feel that I am in a better place now than I was a year ago. I am learning to avoid damaging situations, even when others do not understand why I must act as I do. I am learning to stand up for my right to be me.

This Lent I will try to use the inner strength that I am building on to quietly offer more to those I care about. Small steps, mindfully taken.

‘Tread gently and remember that we are both inhabitants and stewards of nature in our neighbourhoods.’ 

Blowing my own trumpet

Last year I completed the NaNoWriMo challenge, an exercise that not only gave me a (very) rough draft of a novel that I was rather pleased with but also gave me more confidence in my ability to write fiction. Despite having spent much of my life making up stories in my head, even going so far as to write a few down, I had never been willing to talk much about my creations, nor to let anyone else read those that I committed to paper or hard drive.

The main lessons that I learnt from taking part in NaNoWriMo were that I find writing fiction great fun, a welcome escape and a stress release. When I came to the end of my draft novel I wanted to set it aside for a time before I returned for the first rewrite, but I knew for sure that I didn’t want to stop writing. It was at around this time that I came across Tipsy Lit and their Prompted challenges.

Not only does this reader’s and writer’s community publish a wide variety of fiction and non fiction pieces, run an online book club and host discussions on everything from books to booze; it also invites entries for a weekly competition. It was these Prompted challenges that drew me to get involved.

Each Monday a prompt is released and writers are invited to create a work of flash fiction (a story of around 500 words) which they link to a Prompted post on the following Friday. All entries are then included in a poll set up on the following day and readers have 24 hours to vote for their favourite entry. The story that attracts the largest number of votes will be published on the front page of the site on Sunday.

Up until this point the only writing that I had published were the posts on my own blog. I wrote a post inspired by a Tipsy Lit weekly prompt before realising that they were looking for works of fiction (note to self, read the instructions before you start). Undeterred I decided that I would write a short story as well, and what fun I had doing so. I knew that I had discovered a style of writing that I wished to explore further.

Why do people follow blogs? I can see no reason other than they like the writing style and content of what is published. Having gained a following for this blog I did not, therefore, wish to radically change it by starting to include the short works of  fiction that I now wished to offer for others to read. I decided to set up a second blog for my stories, thereby creating Dreams and Demons.

I have yet to win a Prompted challenge, not least because on each week I have entered I have been up against an author named Duncan Swallow from nobodysreadingme (if ever a blog name did not reflect the content then this is it). Week after week he just keeps attracting more votes than anyone else. Read some of his stories to find out why (he also publishes on ReadWave and Wattpad, as do I, but to keep up with his work it is best to follow him on Twitter where his handle is @duncanswallow1).

As well as Duncan though, I have also been up against quite a number of other impressive entries and normally manage to gain a few votes which is pleasing. More importantly, I am offered useful feedback and am enjoying the creative process and practice.

As a result of entering my work I was invited by the welcoming and friendly lady who envisaged and created Tipsy Lit, Ericka Clay, to submit a story that I had not published elsewhere for consideration. I was quite delighted when it was accepted for publication and thus, today, one of my short stories has been published on the Tipsy Lit front page.

Do go across to read Repercussions and let me know what you think. While you are there, check out the rest of the site, there is a lot of good content.

I know that I have a long way to go in my writing adventure so to have someone else believe that I am worth publishing is delightful. I still feel something of an imposter describing myself as a writer. The encouragement that I have received from this inclusive and friendly community gives me hope that, if I keep practising, perhaps one day I will get there.

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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