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.

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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!

My Halloween Birthday

This year I had several birthday celebrations, both on the actual day (Halloween) and last Friday. On the actual day, I had been invited to a Halloween party/house-warming, which was difficult to get to but worth it to have the excuse to wear a costume and to see some old friends. Unfortunately the point and shoot I brought with me turned out to be all out of battery, but I did take some photos the day before of my mask while I was making it.

I added some black feathers to the side/top as well, and was generally pretty happy with my handiwork. The mask was originally plain white, so everything else added is my own handiwork.

My actual birthday began in my boyfriend’s house. It was a bit strange, as it was the first time I’d ever woken up away from my parents’ house on my birthday, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. We walked into town and had an amazing breakfast of pancakes with a berry compote and crème fraiche, and hot chocolate.

I met my parents a few hours later for lunch – but not just any lunch; we went to Michelin starred restaurant for dinner, and had one of the nicest three-course meals I’ve ever had. After that we went back to my parents’ house and I opened my gifts, then I topped off a day of amazing food with pumpkin pie, barm brack, chocolate birthday cake, and champagne.

[Photographs of me were taken by my father.]

The evening finished with the party, which turned out to be a lot of fun. So all in all I had a pretty great day. Then Friday evening I had a bunch of friends over to my flat for drinks.

Unfortunately, I’ve now come down with some sort of bug, but I think the two days were worth it.

I’d also like to mention that this post marks my 100th (public) post on Sirens & Muses – some of these were posted previously on other blogs, but the majority of them were posted here on WordPress. I also hit a few other milestones recently – 200 followers, and 1000 likes. And I’ll be reaching 5,000 views sometime this month! It’s been an amazing journey so far, and has helped me immeasurably with my creative development. So I’d like to say thank you to all my followers, commenters and likers – and here’s to another 100 posts!

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!

Halloween Preparation

I keep expecting to fall into a routine these days, but so far it just hasn’t really happened – with the result that my supposed-to-be-Saturday weekly flash fiction will be a few days late again this week. But I figured that although I don’t have the time or energy to write the piece I have in mind, I would write a quick life update.

Halloween – or Samhain, or Oíche Shamhna, or whatever way you know it best – is my birthday, and this year I will be turning 24. It seems to me like a strange age to turn for some reason. It’s a bit in-between – still not quite mid-way through the twenties, but suddenly an awful lot more grown-up sounding than 23. It’s the age that my parents got married, and although it’s not an age that people get married at in my culture any more, there still is some coming-of-age feel to it that I wouldn’t have expected.

I also feel like I have changed so much over the past two years that it really does herald a new time in my life. I feel as though my mind works in a different way now than it did. I have come into my own academically and creatively, and I feel ready to really start embracing my talents and figuring out which ones I will be focussing on for the forseeable future, and which ones I will be gently letting go.

On a lighter note, I’m quite excited about Halloween coming up because it’s my favourite holiday of the year – and not just because it’s my birthday. I don’t have very exciting plans for this year, and I haven’t put much thought into my costume yet, which is unusual. But I know I’m going to really enjoy it all the same.

Anyway, I think I’ll hit an upswing during the week, and once November comes I’ll have so much writing to do that I’ll be forced into some sort of routine! I’ve also started applying for volunteer positions. So hopefully November will be a productive and more structured month for me than October.

 

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.

Outside My Window: Cat Fight

It’s mid-morning of an autumn day and the sun is leaking out a last burst of rays before the rain rolls in. My small home office, so dark in the afternoon and evening, is filled with sunlight. This is my favourite time of the day; when the house has emptied and the day is still ripe with possibility.

As I raise my second cup of hot black coffee to my lips, there is a sudden explosion of sound outside the window, and my arm jerks, hot brown tears of coffee spilling over the sides of the mug. The noise is indeterminate at first – a crashing or violent hissing, maybe – and then a piercing banshee wail erupts from right below the windowsill.

A cat fight. The hideous howling is familiar, and I am on my feet and at the front door without having made a conscious decision to intervene. By the time I get there, a small but agile tabby cat is slinking away, slipping through the wrought-iron gate into the street. Kitts trots over to me from the undergrowth of bushes by the window, proud and purring, a precise and vivid line of blood dashed across her white nose.

And I realise; Kitts has no conception of her own mortality. At fifteen years of age, she is comparatively slower than she used to be – she spends the vast majority of her days sleeping, and when I stroke her back I can feel her bony shoulders through the still-sleek orange fur. But in her mind, she is immortal, invincible. A young, fit cat dares to invade her territory and she retaliates. For Kitts, there are no greater consequences beyond the now.

I hold my hand out for her eager rubbing cheeks; her stiff whiskers bristle against the back of my hand. And for a moment I wish I could share her sense of timelessness.

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. It’s a bit late this week due to illness!