Rebirth in Spring

Spring fever was short-lived here this year. The first few days of February were beautiful; bright, sunny, warm – the daffodils just beginning to push their short green stumps out of the cold ground. But now, drawing towards the end of March, it is cold and wet and wintry. We even had a few days of snow – blown almost horizontal by the sharp wind, the small hard snowflakes stinging our faces.

I feel as though I’m waiting for the weather to change, stuck in hibernation mode, my own blooming forth curtailed.

My life is, in practical terms, completely transformed from this time last month. In February, after almost two months of anxiety and pressure, I was offered a nine-month internship with the organisation I most wanted to work with. This essentially means that I don’t have to think or worry about money or my career for the next six to nine months. It also means that I now, as of the beginning of March, have somewhere to be six hours a day five days a week, and mountain loads of work and responsibility.

I am glad to be doing something concrete every day. If there’s one thing that the past six months have taught me, it’s that I probably could never be entirely self-employed; I would at the very least need somewhere to be going out every day, and preferably someone to be working alongside with. As the months dragged on, I became less and less productive, whiling way the hours of each day. Having somewhere to be every day, and specific work laid out for me to do, seemed necessary for me; at least for a certain amount of time every week.

But the transition stage is being a lot tougher than I expected. I feel… somehow less clear, more muddied, than I would have expected. As though I’m walking around in a kind of haze. I go to work, I come home and relax (being productive after work is sill not on the cards in terms of energy levels), and despite having quite a lot of time to myself, when I go to bed at night I feel like I don’t really know who I am anymore. As though I haven’t spent any time with myself in a long time – as though I have been absent from myself.

I wanted this new start to be huge, to change my mood and my habits and my personality all in one fell swoop. These catalysts rarely work out the way you expect them to, though. I am still expecting to reach that point, that feeling that I was hoping for. But it might take a few months.

I did, however, sign myself up for a ballet class. This was, perhaps, my primary triumphant move in my reinvention of myself. I flew in the face of my own procrastination and hesitation, and went ahead and paid for an 8-week term. So two weeks ago, I had never taken a dance class in my life. Now, I feel as though I’m starting to learn a new language, alongside my new life. A language of French words that translate to instructions of movement; a language of the limbs, of the legs, of strengthening and lengthening. I feel fantastic afterwards. Maybe not changed and renewed and courageous like I had hoped, but healthy. Calm.

But so far, these new and strange daily tasks at my computer in work, these weekly new and strange physical instructions, are combining to make me feel like a puppet. I feel pulled, drawn, exhausted, mindless. But any week now, I expect my energy to figure itself out. I will be able to cut the strings and dance.

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Hiatus

This will come as no surprise to anyone – I have been shamefully neglecting this blog for the past two months, really. But I realised today that I should make it official.

Most of all, I want to thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart for helping to make this blog meaningful to me while I was actively posting. I started blogging a year ago in the hopes of encouraging myself to write and be more creative – the upshot is I have a rough first draft of a novel, and feel for the first time in my life as though I might be starting to figure out what it is I want to do, creatively.

Particularly, thank you to my regular readers and commenters – there were times when I was genuinely upset or feeling dispondant, and your words of encouragement helped to pick me up again, and often inspired me beyond what you might have expected. Even those who read my posts but didn’t comment – you still meant a lot to me, because every new click on a page made me feel like I was finally reaching out to people with my writing.

Unfortunately, it seems that I avoid wordpress entirely when I’m not posting here. This is not, I assure you, because my reading of your posts and following of your blogs was in any way selfish – I was very much inspired and touched by so much of what I encountered here on wordpress. But the two things just seem to go hand in hand in my head, so I won’t be around wordpress much either, I don’t think.

I will probably come back to this blog, and it might be pretty soon, but then again it might not, so I wanted to say thank you now and give you the heads up. I hope you will stay subscribed to me anyway, so that you’ll know about it if and when I do come back!

I can’t fully explain why I haven’t felt the need to post here anymore, but I think it’s because Sirens & Muses has achieved what I set out for it to do – it has helped me become a proper writer. And in that, it has been invaluable. Right now I am on the cusp of a lot of change in my life, but once I settle into a schedule I may feel the urge to post here again.

In the meantime, I wish you all the best. And again, thank you for making this experience meaningful for me.

-Áine

Changes

It’s hard to believe we’re only just over a week into December. Already, the madness of November and NaNo feels like eons ago. And despite the lack of emotion and satisfaction I talked about in my previous post, I do feel like a very different person, or at least like I’m in a very different place. I look back at October and it feels like years ago.

My diminshed presence on WordPress is probably mostly due to habit – but I also feel that, in a way, I have less of a need for it now. Maybe I have accepted my achievement of the 50,000 words on a deeper level than I thought. For the past year, I have validated myself as a writer though blogging. And although I’m definitely not going to stop blogging any time soon, I feel less of a need for it.

It’s a season for change – maybe a year for change. My life is in total upheaval. And at the centre of it, I have moments of amazing calm, amazing certainty that I am in the right place right now. I don’t believe in fate or destiny, but feelings of belonging and contentedness and connectedness are things I’ve been searching for for a long time. Maybe I’m actually getting close.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading and development in terms of my (albeit atheistic) spirituality – though for some reason I don’t feel that this is the place to talk about that. So there are internal changes happening with the external ones. I am striving to become the person I have always expected to be some time in the future. But with my 24th birthday, something clicked with me that I will never become her if I don’t start moving in the right direction now.

I was going to write a post about Christmas, and I will in the next few days. But for now, this rambling fragment will have to do. To regular readers – I’m sorry I have been neglecting your blogs! I do miss reading everyone’s posts, and I’ll get back to it at some point. But right now, I’m not in a mood for forcing it.

NaNoWriMo is over… now what?

On the 28th of November, I completed NaNoWriMo with 50,629 words. This was, by quite a margin, the most I’d ever written on any one story or project.

In the days coming up to the end, I thought I wasn’t going to feel much when I reached that milestone. Because the truth is, as I’m sure most of you other NaNoWriMoers understand, the end of NaNo is by no means the end. It is an achievement in itself, but what I have now is not even a first draft, it’s a partial draft at best.

I surprised myself by becoming emotional when I crossed the finishing line, though. I rang my boyfriend, and nearly had a bit of a cry. But this feeling really only lasted a few hours.

The thing about NaNo is – yes, it got me writing. Yes, it proved to me that I can write 50,000 words on a story I had done minimal planning on and wasn’t even that passionate about. It might have even been the cause of a few decent paragraphs, though I think most of the 50,000 words are really not particularly well strung together.

But what it didn’t do: it didn’t make me feel like a writer.

The problem is, I have this idea in my head of the person I want to be when I’m older. Or, well, the person I would quite like to be now, but it doesn’t seem quite realistic yet. It’s not as simple as a list of things I can lay down here – more than anything, it’s a feeling. Contentedness is one word I could use to try to describe it. Wholeness. Satisfaction. And I think I have equated being a writer with feeling that way.

It’s kind of like when, years ago, I was smoking about 5 cigarettes a day (and a lot, lot more when I was drinking) but I didn’t ever feel like a smoker. I would never have described myself as a smoker. But by anyone’s definition, I was a smoker.

Perhaps it’s the lack of commitment, the fact that I’m not doing it full-time, or the fact that I’m not squeezing it around a different full-time career. Perhaps it’s because the rest of my life, to be honest, is a little empty right now. I don’t necessarily mean that it a very maudlin way – it’s just the honest truth. I rattle around a little in my own life these days.

Or maybe a month does not a writer make. Maybe if I continue with this, now, and continue to get better at it, I will start to feel more genuine. If I start to enjoy it more, maybe.

That’s another thing that may be contributing to this feeling. I enjoyed it, to an extent, but not as much as I would have hoped. I didn’t spring out of bed every morning, eager to get back to my story. It didn’t make me feel happy and fulfilled.

So what now? I’m certainly not giving up just because November didn’t turn me into a different person. I’m taking a few weeks’ break from writing, and then I’ll either keep going with the NaNo novel or go back to the one I was writing before. And hopefully, in a few weeks, I will realise that it actually did change me.

I will finish the novel at some point, anyway, and maybe then the satisfaction will flood in. Or does it ever? Maybe that’s the problem with art – it never feels finished.

Anyway, turning point or not, it’s been an experience. And it’s done me a lot of good to actually follow through with something, as I’m notorious for never finishing projects. Here’s to the next few months and the rest of my writing career.

I hope all of you fellow NaNoers are similarly satisfied with your achievement – and maybe a bit more satisfied with how it’s made you feel!

NaNoWriMo Makes You Busy

I’m aware that I’ve been neglecting this blog a bit – no posts in the past week! – and I’m sorry about that. But at the moment, NaNoWriMo is taking up all my creative juices.

I hit 32,000 words today, and the end is creeping up. It will be a really meaningful achievement for me to finish this – but I’ll be taking a break from writing for December, I think! I’m not exactly sure why it’s so taxing, as I’m not doing a whole lot else with my time, and I usually get my 2,000 words written within 2-3 hours. But I’m just so tired all the time. Maybe it hasn’t helped that I’ve been sick!

It also doesn’t help that I’m still getting used to sharing a bed with someone. It’s not every night, for sure, but it’s probably at least three nights a week – and I’m finding it hard to adjust! At the moment I’m doing fine up until about 7am (we tend to get up at about 9am, we’re night owls) but then after that I find that my boyfriend keeps twitching and turning and keeps me awake for most of the rest of the morning. I’m hoping that I’ll get used to it and learn to sleep through a little bit of moving around!

Anyway, that’s my life at the moment, pretty much. There’s a lot of other stuff I want to be doing right now, but my energy levels are just too low. But hopefully come December I can catch up on everything else.

I hope everyone else doing NaNo is happy with their progress so far too!

NaNoWriMo: 20,000 words!

Today I reached another NaNoWriMo milestone – 20,000 words! I was a bit behind after being sick and having a bit of a tumultuous weekend, but I got 2,650 words down today without too much effort.

I had realised a few days ago during a conversation with my boyfriend that one of the things that was slowing the writing down was that I didn’t know some of my characters well enough. Despite the plot outlining I had done, I had made the mistake of assuming they would emerge as I went. And sure, they probably could if I wasn’t tied down to a specific deadline. But as it is, I was hoping to get my writing done in the mornings on most days, and it was spilling over into the afternoon.

So I spent just fifteen minutes this morning working out a few details, and the two scenes I worked on practically wrote themselves. So I definitely think I need to get into the habit of doing a bit more planning before I start writing – it seems to suit me much, much better.

I had thought I might post an excerpt soon, but I haven’t had time to think about it yet. I feel like I’ve been away from WordPress for a long time, even though it’s really only been a few days. I’ve had a difficult couple of days, but I hope everything has been resolved now in my personal life. I’m certainly feeling a lot better than I have in a few weeks.

NaNoWriMo Update & Blog Direction

Well, today was day 5 of NaNo – my fourth day of writing because I’ll be taking a day off a week – and so far so good. I’ve decided to go for a target of 2,000 words a day and will take one day off a weekend if I feel like it, which gives me a leeway of 2,000 words. I’m a bit ahead of my target though, at just over 8,500 words, so it looks more and more probably that I will actually manage this thing.

So far it hasn’t really sunk in, I don’t think. I’m finding it a little hard to engage with my story – I think I’m going to have to print it out and read over it (to avoid reading it on the screen as this may lead to editing which I don’t want!). I didn’t really want to be reading back over it but it may be necessary to keep the momentum of the story going.

I also have never written this much of one story before – apart from a “Harry Potter sequel” I started when I was about 12, but that’s another story entirely (and I will probably write about that soon). So I’m aware that I might find it difficult at first – there may be speed bumps. But I’m optimistic.

In other news, I’m finding that I’m not sticking with my resolution to write flash fiction every Saturday, so I’m going to drop it for the moment. It’s particularly tough now that I’m doing NaNo. I will mostly be writing personal updates, I think, and I hope to keep the photographs going, but for November the fiction will have to take a rest. I’m contemplating posting NaNo excerpts though – I’ll see how I feel about it.

But anyway – it’s all generally positive, my bug is wearing off and I’m gradually feeling more energetic, so it’s (hopefully) all up from here!

Outside My Window: Homeless Love

A few short weeks ago the sun would only be setting at this time, but now it is deep night. Today it turned bitterly cold, as though the old gods are reminding us that it is nearly winter. There is no wind, and the pavement echoes with the sharp attacks of my boot heels.

I am walking aimlessly. I left the house with the intention of walking around the block to stretch my legs and clear my head, but now I seem to have set out for the city centre. There is a tearing feeling in my heart like thin fabric being ripped. If I keep walking, if I keep running over this knot in my mind, maybe I will reach a point of calm.

As I reach the heart of the city, I see that the Christmas lights have been erected along the main street of the south side. The sight of them makes something break within me a little more. I am irritated, it is not even Halloween yet, it is much too early for this – and still, I am thinking: “I don’t want another miserable Christmas.”

By the time I reach the university, the tears pushing at my chest and throat have ebbed away, and I have reached determination. I pass a woman whose face I recognise – the mother of a girl I used to call a friend – but I look away, afraid of being recognised. My anonymity is what is holding me together. It is allowing me to believe that I am a different person, in a different life, who will not break apart if this is unfixable. Who will not allow herself to be unhappy in this way.

Once inside the university gates, a feeling of coming home envelops me. The small flat I left only half an hour ago seems distant and alien – it has not seen me through the ups and downs, the terrible lows and the ecstatic highs that these old buildings have witnessed in me. Inside these walls, the greatest love of my life was born and nurtured. And now when it all seems to dangle over the precipice, its memory will be held safe by these monuments of time.

I cross the front square, feet hitting the ground uneven on the cobblestones, and sit down on the cold cement steps of the university chapel.

The world becomes still. I take my heart in my hands and imagine a life on my own until I can imagine it calmly. Until I am serene with the weight of it. I become tall again, my limbs stretching out into the gaps of my independence.

I watch students come and go for a time. A young man in a university society hoodie jogs past, face shadowed by the orange lights; two girls hang out of a dorm room, shouting down at someone below. Above the haze of the city lights and smog, right above my head at the highest point of the sky, pinprick stars gleam coldly. I imagine the worst – my heart rests a moment – and then the world moves on.

The warmth is leeching out of the thin film of sweat that had accumulated at the back of my neck beneath my scarf, between my breasts, under my arms. I feel as though I am sinking into the cold stone steps – or the stone is seeping out into me, turning me icy and paralysed under the Medusa-stare of the chapel. I rise, and zip up my jacket. I consider buying a coffee, and decide against it. It is time to go home.

On my way back up to the main street, I pass a woman crouched in a sitting position against a pillar outside a newsagents. She has the characteristic shabby, mismatched demeanour of all the homeless people in this city – clothes of indeterminate colour, torn and dirtied; hair dry and dishevelled.

But she is not begging; she is paying no attention whatsoever to the passersby. A large plastic carrier bag sits before her on the street, and out of the top of it, a tiny kitten’s head protrudes. It is young, barely old enough to be weaned away from its mother; a scruffy white little thing with a tortoiseshell pattern down its back. The woman dangles a black sock before the kitten, dancing it before its eyes before tugging it away again. The kitten’s tiny claws wave uncertainly, catching on the sock like needles, its green-gold eyes wide and excited.

The homeless woman is as enthralled as the kitten. Her features are tender and smiling, like the face of a doting parent. The moment catches on my heart. I wonder how often this kitten will go hungry in the long nights it faces on the streets, and tears press against the backs of my eyes again. I swallow, look away, and walk on.

 

Outside My Window is a weekly series every Saturday on Sirens & Muses where I write a short story or vignette based on something I see outside my window, outside my door, or on the streets around my area. It’s a little late this week again!

NaNoWriMo: Here Goes Nothing

Despite clamouring about it on Facebook, Twitter, and in comments on other people’s posts, I haven’t actually written a post about NaNoWriMo yet. I’m pretty sure I mentioned it in passing, but I’m surprised at myself for not writing about it properly, as it has been a major decision for me.

I had already decided I was going to write a novel this year. But I had given myself the highly unambitious deadline of 12 months for a first draft, and a measly 2,000 words a week. I was non-committal – writing a novel was just one of many things I wanted to achieve in 2013. Other  goals including doing academic reading and writing, starting to paint again, doing more photography, finding a job, getting my Etsy shop up and running again. Basically, I was spreading myself pretty thin.

But then I had this realisation – I was just spreading myself this thin because I was afraid of committing to any one thing.

I have been afraid of failure.

I have always been afraid of writing. Despite primarily identifying as a writer (and a musician, but that’s a whole other story) for the majority of my life so far, I have done very little writing. And for a long, long time the quantity of my writing was decreasing with every year. In university, I was “too busy”. And eventually I got out of the habit entirely.

Sirens & Muses has been revolutionary for me – it has got my writing juices flowing again for the first time in half a decade. But still, I was holding off.

You see, the thing is: I did my Masters in Library and Information Studies because I decided I did not want to be a writer.

What a thing to decide, at the age of 21. When I hadn’t even given it a go. I still held onto a vague idea that I could write in my free time, but I spent a few years trying to let go of the idea. I wanted security, supposedly. A mortgage, a husband, a dog, 2.4 kids.

But really, I just didn’t want to fail.

I was absolutely terrified that if I tried to really write – tried to really be a writer – I would fail. And then I would really and truly have to give up my life’s dream, not just because I “decided I wanted to take another path” but because I couldn’t do it.

Something clicked in my head.

One day I just thought: I’m going to write a novel. And I’m going to do it now.

National Novel Writing Month was originally going to be a means for me to get 50,000 words down of my original novel idea. But my boyfriend soon convinced me that this was a bad idea. My “actual” novel is something precious to me, and he reckoned that if I tried to write 50,000 words of it in a month I would stall, would be paralysed. He suggested that I take November as a time to experiment with my writing habits – to start with a fresh idea and not have to worry about failing at it.

At first I was dubious. I had this idea that I was bad at coming up with stories – that’s one of the reasons the short story form has never really worked for me. But when we got home that afternoon, I just took out my laptop and came up with a story idea, just like that.

It turns out I don’t think I’m so bad at it after all. I just never really tried. The thing about writing – about anything – is that you have to actually do it. Story ideas aren’t going to pop into your head that often if you don’t sit down and think about it. Your writing is never going to get better if you don’t practice. And you can’t be a goddamn writer if you won’t goddamn write.

What I hope to get out of NaNoWriMo.

I realise that building NaNoWriMo into such a big, momentous deal in my head is not particularly conducive to not freaking out about it once I start. But it’s not really about “winning” for me.

What I do hope to get out of it:

  1. Writing discipline. I’ve already gotten better at sitting down and putting metaphorical pen (fingers) to metaphorical paper (keyboard) through maintaining this blog. But it hasn’t exactly crossed over into large amounts of creative writing. Aiming for 2,300 – 2,500 words a day (mon-fri) will be the first time I’ve set myself a challenging writing goal, and it will force me to actually sit down and JUST DO IT.
  2. Writing habits. Similarly, I have yet to find out how I work as a writer. I have no idea if I’m more productive in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening; if I work best in my flat, or in the library – in a quiet environment or in the midst of hustle and bustle. I’m already starting to feel that extensive planning prior to writing might be a very good thing for me, but I won’t be able to tell until I get going.
  3. Letting go of my inner editor. This is a big one. I have come to realise that this has been the main barrier to my writing – the invisible force field slowing me down to a maximum of 500 words a day. All drafts need editing and rewriting. And ultimately I will be more productive by letting the story flow and polishing the sentences later. If I want to achieve the 50,000 words I will absolutely have to do this, and I think it will be a very valuable lesson for me.
  4. Accepting the need for rewriting. Conversely, or maybe subsequently, I have been terrible at rewriting, too. My tendency to try to force out the finished product as I go has inhibited my ability to go back over what I’ve written and pull it apart. But by allowing myself to write more freely, I automatically necessitate a major rewrite come December.
  5. A rough first draft (fingers crossed). If all goes according to plan, I will have my first draft of my (sort of) first novel. And that prospect alone is exciting enough to propel me through the month. Having previously envisaged slaving away for a full calendar year just to get the words on paper, the idea of getting such a large chunk of prose down in such a short space of time is exhilarating. Even if I don’t get the full 50,000 written, it will almost certainly be an infinitely bigger step in the right direction than I have ever taken before.

So wish me luck!

I will be keeping you updated on my journey once it begins. It all starts, funnily enough, the day after I turn 24, which is the age my parents got married. I haven’t been looking forward to 24, and I think it helped propel me to really shake up my life and get going with this properly.

For those of you who are also taking part, feel free to look me up on the NaNoWriMo website – my username is Áine Warren (aine-warren). And most of all, good luck! It’ll be an interesting month.

Outside My Window: Where Life Takes Us

When he was a child, as he grew older, he had an idea in his head of what his life might look like, what shapes it might take. It was rarely a definite picture – it was more of a general feeling or expectation. Sometimes specifics would creep in, and he would imagine being married to certain woman, or going to work every day for  a certain job. But mostly it was vague, fleeting. He might see a sunlit kitchen in the morning, a sea of faces of his audience as a lecturer or musician.

It was often drawn up in negatives. He saw the failures of the future: the desk job when he really wanted to be on stage, the poverty of his student days, life in a run-down house in a bad neighbourhood, growing old alone. Or just the smaller disappointments – a life more stressful than it was enjoyable, the realities of mortgages and raising children, a wife he loved less than he could have.

At some point in his twenties, he started to feel himself stepping into this future. He lived the college days he had envisioned; he moved into a shabby apartment that wasn’t all that bad considering his lack of money; he had a relationship with a girl more real and more vividly beautiful than he could have ever dreamt up.

And every now and then he found himself in a moment that defied his expectations entirely. He became skilled in things he had never dreamed even existed, and felt things he never would have expected. Sometimes he caught himself living out a life that he would never even dared to imagine for himself – a snapshot of the life of another, luckier man.

Outside My Window is a weekly series every Saturday on Sirens & Muses where I write a short vignette based on something I see outside my window, outside my door, or on the streets around my area.