Monday, 13 November 2017

The Gift of Time

It’s been a while…

I can’t believe my last post on here was in April 2013.

I think about how my life was at the time and I know why I couldn’t keep it up. I was in training at the time, I was in on-the-job training. It was tough- both the day to day job, the assessments and the examination preparations. There was constant guilt whenever I took time out to do something not relate to it. But that guilt was also laced with fear, because if I took that time and did not give as much as I could to my studies and ended up with poor outcomes in my assessments and exams, then I could only blame myself.

So, I made the decision to focus on that. I did. I am now qualified and working for myself.

Now, however, I know it’s not just that. I know I could have kept the blog up. How could I have done that? By making it a priority and giving it its own space in my head and in my schedule.

You see, I have only recently discovered the genius of the weekly timetable. I know, it’s late, right? But as they say, It’s better late than never!

When I was gifted the idea of a coming up with a weekly timetable, I only thought that it would help me remember from one day to the next what I had to do. And I must admit that it does this beautifully.

What I did not consider at all, was the space it would free up in my head and the amount of appreciation I would develop for how much time there actually is in the day.

Prior to the timetable, as someone that works in the evenings, I would get up leisurely in the mornings- without an alarm. Then immediately, my mind would start ruminations on what I need to be getting on with. I would decide which to tackle based on either how long I have procrastinated on it; or how likely I was to forget it if I didn’t do it then and there; or how immediate its resolution was (i.e. I had an appointment to attend or a deadline which took the decision out of my hands).

As I did the chosen, task, I would remember another and another. My mind would be endlessly distracted, simple tasks would take hours to complete because I knew I didn’t have to do it just then. There was not structure. Procrastination was easy.

I would often go to work later in the day feeling like I had wasted my time, frittered it away on nothing. I had no way of knowing what I’d accomplished. Even when I’d been running around all day, if I finally sit down for a bit of relaxation I couldn’t enjoy it because there was always the feeling that I hadn’t done what I was supposed to do. I remained plagued with guilt because I felt I hadn’t earned that time, I hadn’t accomplished anything. Basically, in my mind, there was still lots to do so why was I lounging about?

Then came the timetable. And suddenly, my mind is clear and uninterrupted.

I give myself an hour at the end of the weekend to think about what I need to get done during the week, and I write it down giving myself blocks of time in which to do each thing.

The first week, I got so much accomplished that I became unwell at the end of the week. Apart from the fact that I am fragile in that way, what I realised was that I did not schedule time for active R&R. I was run down. My lesson for that week was the importance of rest.

But I felt so accomplished. I could not believe how much I got done. I also learnt that I am very amenable to it. When I am doing thing, and thoughts of “Oh, didn’t you say you needed to do x, y, z…?” I immediately thought, “Yes, but that’s in the timetable for tomorrow afternoon, so no need to think about it now.” And just like that, the thought was gone and I continued the task I currently had at hand. In my previous life, my response would have been, “Oh yes, let me leave this and go and do that before I forget!” Hence, a trail of perpetually unfinished tasks and a harried mind.

Also, by breaking my day into blocks of time, I found that I could focus quite easily on the time I was currently in and if my mind drifted, it would be to the upcoming task block. I hardly thought about the spectre of going to work later, until the time to prepare for work, came around. That improved my time at work, because I came to it fresh instead of having frowned about it all day, instead of ruminating about things that may go wrong or things I’d done wrong (unless an active reflection period had been scheduled into the timetable!). The feeling that I had used my day well also gave me a satisfied attitude and helped my demeanour through my shifts.

I wonder what I could have accomplished if I adopted this practice ten years ago. Not even that, say five years ago. But there’s no good dwelling of “What ifs”.

I am a timetable convert now. And from now on, even if I drift and forget for a week or two to do a timetable, I know I will be soon brought back to it because the benefits are tremendous for me.
What about you? What habits have you implemented in your life that have transformed it? Do you also keep a schedule or timetable? Do you think it’s helped or hindered you? A friend of mine is against it because she feels it kills or constricts creativity. Have you found that? I can’t speak to that as yet. I will let you know as time goes on.

You see, I timetabled this post in to my day and I have got it done, without knowing before opening the word document, what I was going to write about. Would I have been so focused and productive if I hadn’t? Based on previous experience, I would say no.

Have a brilliant week! 

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

My first (COMPLETED) short story!

I was off sick from work yesterday. Despite the fact that I was physically unwell, my mind would not stop niggling at me to use my 'free' time to get some writing done.

Finally capitulating, I contemplated what sort of writing exercise to partake in. The pile of critique I had gotten from my writing group still nestled comfortably between the pages of my copy of 'Beginnings, Middles and Ends' by Nancy Kress and I had not recovered enough or put enough emotional distance between the critiques and my ability to implement the needed changes. So I did not reach to open them. Instead, I thought about what they had said and tried to figure out something I could do that would feel like I'm doing something active to move my story forward.

I hit a bit of a block doing that because I was still in the 'novel mode' and it seemed too vast to try to change just one thing as know even a small change will have a significant impact on  the whole of the story. That kept me frozen for a while until I decided to think laterally: Why don't I do something else separate from the WIP? But again, this thought led me back to the novel arena and I felt too weak to start up another 'potential' novel.

And then I had an Eureka moment: Why not write a short story?

Now, to everyone reading this, this  might be a no-brainer, 'Duh, that's a much easier undertaking, isn't it?' However, for me, it is not. Here is my confession: I do not read short stories.

Argh! Blasphemy!

Yes, it's true. It's not that I have not read some short stories in the past, of course I have. The problem for me was that these stories I read made me realise just how much I love longer prose. I tend to have too many questions when I come to the end of a short; questions I need the authour themselves to answer for me. I do not like to think about what could have happened because, it is not my story. If it is not mine, then I do not want to have to speculate on the backstory or afterstory. S when I have questions hanging around in my mind when I come to the end of somebody's piece of work, for me, that is highly unsatisfactory. Couple that with the fact that most of the ones I read had been literary pieces that I think, pride themselves on leaving you as confused as possible, you can understand my overall hesitation with the whole thing.

Nevertheless, since I have started to make writing a bigger and more significant part of my life, I am forcing myself to open up to things that I have previously been more rigid about. In order to make this easier on myself, I decided to read short stories in the genres (fantasy (epic and not), YA, romance) that I am interested in writing in, to get an idea of how it is done.

To my delight, what I found out was that unlike my reaction to reading literary short stories, I was inspired by the questions left unanswered in fantasy short pieces. I was driven to try and come up with the different ways the stories could go after they dropped off the end of the page. And I loved it!

Inspired by the few stories that I read yesterday, I decided to write one and several hours later, I had my very first completed short story. I couldn't be more proud of it. I know it is amateur and could possibly be found wanting is numerous different ways, but the fact remains that I completed a piece of work. Something I have never done before in a non-exam situation. My heart is smiling and my brain is fizzing away with more ideas. As a direct result of the buzz of this success, I went back to my WIP. What I decided to do was add in a prologue to provide a bit of back story that would minimise the need for info dumping  in the main story. I wrote and completed that prologue and it came up to just under a thousand words in total.

All in all, during my sick day yesterday, I wrote over two thousand five hundred words. Never before, have I had such a productive day and I got the feeling, however briefly, of what it would be like to be a professional writer.

I am thrilled.

I have not put the story up here because I don't think anyone is interested at the moment nd that was not the really point of this post. I might put it up in the future if I want to or if I get requests to do so.

Until then,


Tuesday, 9 April 2013

One of these days the other shoe will drop.

I had a thought while I was driving to work a couple of days ago. It suddenly occurred to me how comfortable I had gotten with driving. You see, only a few years ago, I was one of those city people who did not see the point of driving. Living in London guaranteed that having a car was mostly more trouble than it was worth. You can get anywhere by train, tube, bus; or if you are feeling particularly flush/loaded/extravagant/manic, by taxi. So it wasn't until I was posted to a much smaller and far less well-connected town, that I realised the error of my oversight. I was routinely stranded; soaked by rain; frozen by unexpected winter chills and rended ill by the ever-changing weather.

I was soon getting driving lessons and impatiently pushing myself to get the hang of it. Unfortunately, I was not one of those that took to the new skill naturally. It was a struggle. Even after I passed my practical test, it took over a year me for me to get to the point where I do not wake up hours earlier in the morning, if I have to drive a new route that day or if I have to traverse the motorway-however briefly.

Now, however, I live thirty minutes for my place of work and happily skip to my car each morning, looking forward to the drive on the motorway, calm as can be. If anyone had told me I would feel like this when I was struggling with it over a year ago, I would have vowed never to trust their lying tongue ever again.

anyway, while driving to work today, listening to Mur Lafferty's IShouldBeWriting (#ISBW) podcast on my phone, I was reminded of a previous episode I had listened to. In that podcast, she described what it means when the phrase that forms part of the topic of this post is mentioned: Waiting for the other shoe to drop. A listener had informed her that it had to do with the situation where, sharing a room with a someone, you are woken up during the night by them stumbling in and crashing into the bunk bed directly above where yours. As you listen, one of their shoes falls to the floor. Then, you lie there, waiting, knowing that until the other one joins it, you will not be able to settle back into sleep.

What has this got to do with writing? This: we all have our favourite author(s). Usually, these men and women have several publications under their belts. We, as aspiring writers, wonder how they do it. How do they get from the initial idea, to words on the page? And more importantly, how do they do it over and over again.

I think that for them, the other shoe has dropped. They started somewhere, just like we have. They worked putting in the 10,000 hours needed to learn their craft and along the way, they got the hang of it. They suddenly understood what it took to transform the raw idea to the finished product and how to use that formula to take each idea, each project from conception to completion.

I long for that moment - the moment when it all clicks together. It will probably not be a sudden flash of revelation. More likely, I will notice somewhere along the way, through the never-ending hours of writing, researching, blogging and despairing, that I am finally comfortable in the process. The time when I do not worry about it all going wrong; about never finishing it; or that everyone will hate it. I do not expect it to be smooth sailing as each project will have it's difficulties; just like I do not get complacent behind the wheel (well, I try not to!), because of the numerous unknown quantities behind the wheels of all the other cars on the road with me.

What I ask is that I  one day, have a method of tackling the obstacles presented by my story; a method based on the confidence of previous success; knowing that having done it before, I could do it again.

After 'the other shoe drops', the thankful roommate can return to sleep confident that there are no more nasty surprises lurking. That's the confidence of the experienced writer.

The time between one shoe dropping and the other following, should not be spent idly waiting. In the case of the aspiring writer, it is the act of writing itself, that is the gravity that pulls the shoe to the ground.

Happy scribbling!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Idea wall

Hello all,

Hope you had a lovely Easter break. I did. After giving up chocolate for Lent, I congratulated myself for getting throught the forty-day stint by eating every single chocolate-related item I could lay my hands on <sigh>  But I've calmed down now.

As always, I continue down my path of self harm by writing. I am editing the first draft of my novel which I have had to admit to myself, is far from the complete story. I stopped where I thought the first book should end. I therefore have to ask: Can I call it a first draft if the story itself (the trilogy such as I thought it was going to be) is not complete?

I am reading and listening to every writing advice blog/podcast that I can get my impatient mitts on. Mur Lafferty's advice to 'let yourself write a crappy book', often keeps me from chucking the whole work (laptop included), out of my first floor window. It is okay that I don't think it's very good. I need to remember that and focus on the fact that I can edit, add, remove and embellish in my own time. There's no rush; no agent standing on my neck while waving deadlines in front of my rapidly diminishing vision.

The main problem with the work at the moment is that I can't 'see' it. It seems to me that because I
haven't held it in my hands it doesn't really exist. The whole world - characters, setting and plot seems very two dimensional. Also, because I have hit a block in my reading wherein, I can't focus on another book without thinking 'I should be writing' (thanks, Mur -_-); I am unable to go back to the books I have loved, the ones that drew me into their worlds and make me live the experience, and study what made them so enthralling.

I want to finish the book first; complete the story, no matter how mangled, then learn how the greats managed to leave their own everlasting marks on me.

I need to finish it. In order to help me feel my story in  three dimensions, I am going to print out all the current pages and stick them on my wall. Maybe when I finally touch the pages in paper, it will become more real for me than it is now, stuck behind a screen. Maybe. I have to try. And I have to keep writing because if I do, one day I might become a very successful write. But if I stop, that will never be a possibility.

Happy writing and blissful to all.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Can I write a book in which NO ONE dies??

It's been a bummer of a Tuesday. It didn't really have a chance to be otherwise, considering that the fist message I got on arriving at this office this morning was that a patient of mine died yesterday. I say 'a patient of mine' but he wasn't really. He was  usually seen by a colleague who was off yesterday. He was on the palliative care register and this meant that he was terminally ill and would be receiving only TLC to make him as comfortable as possible until the end came. This was his choice. I had heard about him previously when he had been discussed in the palliative care meeting which we hold once every month in the Practice.

So I went to see him yesterday by the request of his carers. According to them, he was more drowsy and I got the impression that he was deteriorating. However, when I got to his home, he was lucid. He was alone, as the carers had left; bed bound as expected but was quite alert and trying to tell me something. Our communication, was unfortunately hindered by the fact that he was stone deaf and he mumbled. I could not understand a word he said, and obviously he couldn't hear a word I said. After several minutes of good-natured but confused back and forth between us, I decided to go back to the practice and arrange for the district nurses to help him out with several things and wait until the carers called again so I can figure out what exactly they wanted me to do with this man who was dying and didn't want anything done with him.

As I took my leave of him, he turned his face fully up to me and said, 'I have not seen you before'. Clear as the sky on a crisp winter morning. I was so taken aback, but responded, telling he was indeed correct and I introduced myself. When I repeated that I would be on my way, he put his right  hand out from underneath his blanket, between the bed rails, and I shook it. Then I left him - alone; with nothing but unkempt garden to stare out from his bed, through his patio doors/

And this morning I learnt he had died four hours later. I was so shocked that I cried. I cried in the morning speaking to my supervisor and I cried in the afternoon speaking to his usual doctor. But, I am not sure why. I am four years post-graduation. I have certified deaths; had someone die whom I was in the process of examining at the time. I have had patients in hospital alive at morning ward round and dead by the afternoon and I have not cried. Sometimes, I would think, 'Oh dear'; or 'Oh that's sad'; or 'Please let me not be here when he dies' (that prayer was answered-and I didn't cry when I found out). However, this particular death of a ninety-nine year old man really shook me.

I know it is something I have to get used to dealing with. As I train to become a GP in a country with an aging poplulation, this scenario will not be a strange one. I suppose the only way I can learn to deal with it is to confront it. Take those palliative care cases and see them through instead of shying away.

It is something I have to do. Today, though, I have had a portion of chips as comfort food (couldn't have chocolate as I have given it up for lent and still have four days to go), therefore earning myself 10 extra minutes on the stepper when I get home. But I am looking forward to my evening of writing. At least then, no one has to die. Not yet anyway. Not if I have anything to do with it.

Enjoy the rest of your day and stay alive.