Life goals 2017: February update

Hello blog fans!

So it turns out that working really hard on your life goals leaves very little time to blog about them. At least that means I’m being productive! Here’s a quick update:

1) Apply for PhD

Done! PhD application is in. Putting the proposal together has taken so much work it might have been more stressful than my dissertation was! OK, maybe not, but the challenge with a PhD proposal is working out what you are going to do in advance. For my MSc I picked a topic, got a supervisor, then we started working. For the PhD I’ve picked a topic, research questions, experimental method, data analysis method, written an extensive literature review explaining why my research is important and unique, and described exactly how I’m going to do all the wonderful things I am promising. This is all stuff you need to do for an MSc dissertation too, however you generally get to work while you are on the course. This is just for an application!

But it’s done, the proposal is looking really strong and the academic staff supporting it are really pleased with what we’ve produced, so if I can at least get an interview I’ll be one up on last year ;).

2) Being healthy

Markie and I started the NHS weight loss plan, and we are doing really well sticking to it. We are also doing the Couch to 5K plan, running around the park by my work during lunch breaks. The NHS plan is calorie controlled. You work out what your ideal calorie intake should be (between 1400 to 1800 for me), and to lose weight you just stick near the bottom of the range. We’ve been doing this for about 6 weeks now and I have actually lost enough weight that my BMI is healthy, so I’ve just upped my calorie allowance to the middle of my range and am sticking with C25K. I’ve also ordered a replacement wii fit balance board to do some more stuff at home. So things are going pretty well with this life goal as well 🙂

3)Publish a book

OK, between spending lunchtimes running and evenings on my PhD proposal there’s not been any time left over to work on a book, but it’s fine. We were expecting this! We planned for it. I should really start working on it now, however I also have work to do to prepare for the PhD interview (even though I might not get one, because I don’t know how much notice I’m going to get!) so I’m still not sure how much time I’m going to have. I expect to get an email next week telling me when I’ll get an update on my application, so the next step will be to work out how long I have, what work I need to do, and how much time I have left over to edit the book. Hopefully it will be some! Of course if I don’t get an interview I will suddenly find myself with ample time for book editing in the spring… 

So that’s my update! TTFN!

2017 Goals

Despite the curse of 2016 (and the woeful lack of new Doctor Who episodes!) it was a pretty good year for me. We had our third son, Asher, and I finished my MSc in Psychological Research Methods. While that it only 2 things they are 2 pretty big things that are jolly hard to do at the same time, and we survived. I’m proud of what I’ve done in 2016. Even though I failed NaNoWriMo :P.
So now it’s 2017, and I’m starting the new year going back to my pleasant enough admin job after maternity leave and a little bit of extra time now I’ve finished university. I wanted to set some goals, but I’ve honestly found it tricky. When I tried to list them there’s a lot of things I want to do, but really only a tiny bit of extra time when I factor in spending more time with the kids and not leaving Markie to do everything in the house (Markie is awesome). So I’ve limited myself to three primary targets that I will try to report on. Other things may sneak in (like building my Lego castle), but these are the three biggies that must be done, or else.

1) PhD Applications

My job is comfortable but it’s not really want I want to do forever. So my first job for the year is to submit PhD applications. I’m done with part-time study. It worked well for my BSc, but now we have a sizeable family to care for I need study to be my day-job, and for that I need funding. Funding applications close Feb/March time so the next few weeks will be very focused on completing this goal. If I don’t get a place, fair enough, but I must apply!

2) Health/Fitness

New Year diets are so cliche, but for the first time I’m making a commitment to be healthier so I can enjoy as much time with my family as possible. I’m not very overweight, just a couple of lbs really by BMI, but according to NHS metrics I need to lose some volume around the waist to be healthy. A quick check online revealed certain diet programmes/groups are a bit pricey. Also I don’t like going out and meeting new people at the best of times, nevermind having to get weighed in front of them and paying for the priveledge. So I’ve decided to try the free NHS weight loss guide. It’s a 12 week plan. I’m not sure exactly what is in it as I’m not reading ahead. That spoils the fun 😉

Week 1 is adjust your diet. Lots of fibre, protein, veggies, smaller portions, healthy snacks (not chocolate muffins unfortunately), and stick to 1400 calories per day. I’ve done this for one week and so far it’s not as bad as I though. It helps that Markie is good at cooking low calorie dinners! And I usually have enough calories left in my allowance for a little bit of chocolate :). I’m using an app called My Fitness Pal to track calories. It scans barcodes. It’s like living in the future!

Week 2 is to up your activity levels. I’ve been to the gym a couple of times and am starting the NHS Couch to 5K programme next week (too cold this week!). I’ve had fun shopping for fitness clothes. Using them might be less fun, but we’ll see…

Which brings us to the final goal:

3) Publish a book

Not traditional publishing, alas, but indie publishing is on the rise and my drafts keep stacking up so one way to get out of the endless editing cycle is to publish. And if I’ve learnt anything from my MSc it’s that deadlines are highly motivating, so I’m going to publish by 31st December 2017. Or else. 

Or else what?

Um, not sure really. Meh. Anyhow, that doesn’t give me loads of time. 30 chapters to edit, not really starting until after PhD applications are in, need it ready for beta readers in Summer, so I’m looking at about 3 months to blitz through my next sweep to have a hope of getting it ready in time. Yay, deadlines!

So that’s the plan for 2017. The fact I was supposed to be researching infant language acquisition when I was writing this blog post doesn’t bode well. But at least I was eating a salad at the same time…

TTFN

NaNoWriMo Prep 2016 #1

What year is it now? 2016? So the first year I took part in NaNoWriMo was 2005, which will make this year NaNo #12 for me! That’s a lot of words written, and a lot of lessons learned. You’d think after ten years I’d be an expert at it, however despite all my experience, last year was an abject failure for me. We can partly put that down to me being busy with my MSc and a scary time in my pregnancy with Asher, so maybe I wasn’t giving it my all. 

Perhaps NaNoWriMo has lost some of it’s thrill for me in recent years. I already know I can write 50,000 words in 30 days. I have a large collection of unfinished/unedited manuscripts that never seem any closer to being read by anyone other than me, and each year I add another to the collection. Motivation has been at an all time low. “What’s the point?” I ask myself. NaNoWriMo is no longer the challenge. I can do 50K with ease, if I can be bothered. So does that mean I’m done with NaNo?

Heck no!

I still get excited every year just before November, eagerly joining in the forums and chatting with fellow wrimos about plans and dreams and the real life that threatens to get in the way of them. I still look forward to NaNoWriMo. I just can’t sustain that motivation through the month anymore. 

So what’s a girl to do? 

Actually I already know. I need to be honest and redefine what ‘success’ means for me. With 11 NaNos under my belt I have enough of a track record to draw some solid conclusions about which of my attempts were the most satisfying. Success is not another 50K. I’ve got plenty of them. Nor is it 75k. 100k or any other arbitrary word count target. Stumbling across whatever finish line there is with a meandering tangle of a manuscript doesn’t make me feel good any more. All that does is leave me a load more work rewriting that I don’t have time to do!

 Success is a first draft I can work with without having to restructure it from the ground up once December comes. Success requires careful thought and planning in advance. Success cannot be ‘pantsed’. I can pants my way to 50k but I can’t feel happy about it at the end. Basically, the stories I’m happiest with are the ones I outlined. The ones languishing is the purgatory of unfinished books are the ones I pantsed. I can’t even look at them. I need happy, well organised books.

So this year I return to my old planning ways. I’m going to try following K.M.Weiland’s guidance in “Outlining your novel”. I’ve done the snowflake method before with some success (NaNoWriMo 2007 – Cold Spell), but I want to try some different techniques. I started following her workbook last year but ended up changing ideas and winging it at the last minute (big mistake!). This year I have the workbook and the ebook that goes with it so we’ll try this again. 

Prep for NaNo 2016 officially starts here. I have the beginning of an idea – basically the magical equivalent of a former secret service agent gets stuck protecting a kid from dark forces, but has no idea why anyone wants to hurt them. That’s all I’ve got, so it will be fun to see how the idea grows as I work through the outlining process. If it doesn’t work, I’ve still got most of an outline from last year that I didn’t use to fall back on. 

Getting excited about NaNo again this year now. Yay :). Roll on November! But not too fast, I’ve got planning to do first…

Facebook break

Warning, I am deactivating my Facebook account!

Fear not, there has been no drama. I have not had a Facebook fallout causing me to have a diva strop and never darken the door of social media again. Nor have I become so depressed at various political debates that I’m losing the will to live (though to be fair I’m not far off!). I have simply become incapable of opening up my computer without checking Facebook and I just don’t have the time to sink hours into the endless sticky web of clickbait. So Facebook has to go until I get the rest of my work/life/play balance into order. I’ll still be reachable on twitter @LeighKeating, and by email if you can solve this cryptic riddle:

My first part is Leigh, and then a full-stop

My second is Keating, and then you must drop

The shift key and press the numerical two*

At the top of the keyboard. You know what to do.

My third is a ‘mail’ that begins with a ‘g’,

Then a dot, and a suffix short for company.

 

Beat that spam bots 😛

*Edited to add: This particular clue only works on a mac keyboard.

You’ll need to press the apostrophe,

if you’re not an Apple addict like me!

NaNoWriMo 2015: Days 1-2

NaNo-2015-Participant-BannerIt’s NaNoWriMo 2015! Yay! We are on the second day and so far writing is going well. I’m on target. I did originally say I was planning a book for Nano involving parallel universes. And plan I did. I have a whole plan worked out. Unfortunately I lost the fun, and slightly lost the point, so that story is out and a new story is in. I’m writing a sequel, baby, yeah!

This year I’m finally doing a book 2. I’ve got lots of book 1s all alone, so it’s time for me to start getting some series done. I’m back with Flora, Bryn and Issa for the sequel to Cold Spell: Wild Fire.

Check it out on my participant profile

The Pros of working on a sequel

  • I know the characters already so there’s none of that early awkwardness of finding the voice with this book. We’re picking up where we left off!
  • I’ve not planned this book, I just have a vague path in my mind, but I love these guys and can’t wait to see what happens to them next. I’m feeling confident that lack of planning isn’t going to make me stall this time.
  • It’s been 8 years since I wrote the original so giving them a new story kind of feels like writing my own fanfic! 🙂

The Cons

  • I can’t completely remember every detail of the original. What was the name of that character? Which town was that? Did this event happen like this or did I change it in editing? And NaNo is not the time to go back and check so I’ll have some work sorting my facts and continuity out later.
  • Time jump exposition. This book picks up six months after the previous one, so I seem to have a lot of words about what happened during the down time. But hey, it’s all words, right?

But I’m happy, excited. 2 days in and we’re going well. Bring on the rest of the month. I’m ready for you, November!

3500 words and counting

Multiple writing projects

My final MSc assignment is in so I’ve got no university work until October. Though I couldn’t resist signing up for a bunch of free courses on Coursera* and I’ve got a pile of psychology text books out of the library just because they look interesting, I still want to make progress with my writing before I start my dissertation next year. But which project to choose?!

After 10 years of nanowrimo, plus the diary challenge, I’ve got a lot of novels and ideas in various states of completion. I probably should pick one project and give it all my attention, but where’s the fun in that? Instead I’m going to have four projects, each at a different stage of development, to enjoy the benefits of productive procrastination. Productive procrastination is great. I discovered it during my open university course. When I had an essay due but I didn’t feel like working on it I’d start reading for the next unit instead. I still had a last minute panic to meet deadlines but at least I was ahead on the next bit. Procrastinating with something you need to do can sometimes be a good thing!

So, with that in mind, four projects. One editing, one restructuring, one writing and one planning. Daily set writing periods. If I’m stuck on one book or stage, no problem. Procrastination on a different one is fine. Encouraged even 😀.

Project 1 (editing): Cold Spell

I just reread this after a very long break. Having forgotten most of it I was pleasantly surprised to discover it was a fun read! It’s in need of a good edit, but after being faced with two WIPs that need major rewrites having something that’s closer to the final version is a welcome relief! It’s might be worth noting that I used the snowflake method to plan this one, so it may have resulted in a stronger structure from the outset.

Project 2 (restructuring): Technomancer

Needs something more drastic than an ‘edit’. I’m currently working on a new outline that will hopefully fix the plot problems!

Project 3 (writing): Elderwood University

In a departure from my usual style I attempted to ‘pants’ a novel for camp nanowrimo. Pantsing is a delightful term from the community that refers to writing without a plan or outline. I wrote about 20,000 words for camp, in which an interesting world started to develop so I’m going to carry on and see where it goes.

Project 4 (outlining): Otherside (working title)

I have officially created my Scrivener file for what will be my 2015 NaNoWriMo effort. It’s something completely new. All I will say about it now is the idea came to me in a dream (yeah, sorry!) and I wrote a short piece for the diary challenge based on it. And it just might involve parallel universes….

I think that’s enough to be getting on with! Might even finish something one day :).

*who could resist computational neuroscience? Not me!

Your Diary Challenge

Let’s say it’s New Year (because it is) and you’re an aspiring writer looking for a daily writing challenge. You want to get into the habit of writing every day and hopefully get some inspiration along the way. Have I got the challenge for you! Really, do I? I don’t know. But I do have a challenge that I have done so I present it here for YOU to do now.

You will need:

  • One page-a-day diary (mine was A5 but you can use any size you like)
  • Something to write with.

And that’s all you need to do the diary challenge! The challenge is simple. You need to fill every page of that diary with stories, ideas, scenes, characters, anything at all, by the end of the year to ‘win’. You should aim to do a page-a-day, on the day, as part of the exercise is to develop good writing habits. That doesn’t mean you ‘lose’ if you miss a day though. You can, and should, catch up. I used prompts when I did this in 2011, and I’m made them available on a Google doc for anyone: The Diary Challenge.

For some background on what the different types of challenges are you might want to check out the original post from when I set myself the challenge.

I’m a regular NaNoWriMo participant so I designed my prompts to work with NaNo and the Camp sessions. This means there is a bit of planning on the run up to the events and some ‘free’ months for novel writing so it’s perfect for loyal Wrimos. But the challenge is not to do my prompts. The challenge is just to fill the diary, your way, with whatever writing you want to do. I had a lot of fun doing it and I hope someone else will to.

A few tips:

  • Don’t worry too much about what you’re writing. The first page of my diary has the most beautiful handwriting, and I agonised for ages about what I was going to write for the first prompt. By the end I could start writing with just the germ of an idea and go for it. Some of those stories are my favourite ones. That first story sucked!
  • 5-10 minutes is enough to write something. Maybe not a whole page, but don’t waste your minutes on Facebook because you’ve convinced yourself it’s not worth starting writing. It’s always worth it. This challenge is perfect for busy people as the one page limit makes it ideal for lunch breaks and commutes.
  • Always carry your diary with you! This is one reason why it should be a real diary and not just on the computer. If your diary is your constant companion you will find more time to write in it.

So that’s it really! If you don’t have a page-a-day diary go out and buy one tomorrow (or now?). Seriously, they’ll be 25% off or something, just go get one. If you’re seeing this half way through January, go get one anyway and catch up. You’ve got a whole year ;). And if you do decide to give it a go please let me know how you get on.

One final note: I ‘failed’ the challenge. I started in 2011. I only just finished my diary 2 weeks ago. That’s 3 years late! But I still have a whole book full of ideas and I’m feeling pretty good about myself, so even if you don’t think you can succeed it’s still worth trying. You never know what you’ll come up with.

Good luck, and happy 2015!

The Overlord’s Christmas

Merry Christmas! Have a silly little festive story from the pages of the diary:


 

It just appeared in the Castle of Doom that morning without explanation. Olgar the Feared and Terrible was highly suspicious of it. He poked one of the many shiny colourful balls that hung from the branches. Nothing happened.

“Danson!” he roared. His most trusted servant responded instantly.

“Yes, master?” he asked amiably, immune to Olgar’s tone.

“What is this tree doing in the throne room?”

“Why, it’s a Christmas tree, sir. It’s Christmas day.”

“Christmas day?” said Olgar, baffled. In all the stress of world domination he’d completely lost track of such minor things as holidays. “Are you sure, Danson?”

“Quite sure, master,” Danson replied with his usual pleasant smile.

“And there’s no chance this was sent by rebel forces as part of an ill-conceived plot to overthrow me?”

“None at all, master. I selected the tree myself.”

“Hmm, very well,” said Olgar. Satisfied, he settled himself onto the throne. The tree did brighten up the cold stone room. “Just ensure all the Christmas gifts are checked throughly before opening. I would not put it past my enemies to use this as an opportunity to infiltrate the castle.”

Danson shifted awkwardly. “Well, you need not worry about that, sir.”

“Danson, you cannot possibly be certain of the origin of every-”

“Forgive me, master,” he interjected. “What I meant to say was, there are no Christmas presents.”

“Oh,” said Olgar. The taste of disappointment was unfamiliar to him, and he didn’t like it one bit. “None at all? Did you check the pit trap? The postman could have fallen in again.”

“I did, master. Twice.”

“I see. What about the minions?”

“Oh, the minions, well they did want to, master, only…you don’t pay them. And before you ask, I’m afraid you don’t pay me either, sir. Perhaps for next year with a modest gift budget we could be instructed to-”

“Next year?” said Olgar. “We’re not waiting until next year. We must right this injustice at once. It’s time for a new law, Danson. From now on Christmas is illegal. Starting right now. Send the guards out to start arresting people and confiscating all contraband. And Danson?”

“Yes, master?”

“Send any gift-wrapped contraband directly to me for inspection.”

“As you wish, master.”

Diary Challenge Update

Big news, loyal followers: the diary is finished! I repeat, the diary is finished. 366 pages (January 1st appeared twice) of hand-written, totally random stuff. And it only took four years. Yippee! If you have no idea what I’m talking about it all started way back here.

Diary

The Diary – no, I didn’t take a new photo


It would be difficult for me to give a break down of exactly what is in the damn thing. At least 1 complete script, 50,000 words of a novel, and many many many short stories, flash fiction, ideas, characters, bits of novels, plots and poems. There are zombies, pirates, aliens, apocalypses, angels and demons, bond villains, parallel universes and a lot of weird Christmas stories. Sounds like the best book ever, right? Well it wasn’t all fun. There’s at least one page describing my fishtank, some shockingly bad poetry, and some filler days that are just my RPG characters having arguments with each other, just to mention a few of the pages I’m less proud of. But it’s done.

Now I have completed the diary challenge (a tiny bit later than intended), I want others to be able to do it too! The whole point was to write something every day and have enough prompts to get me through the year. My next job is to compile these into one handy document so anyone can do the diary challenge. In time for New Year, you say? Yes indeed! And I will put in proper prompts that anyone can do in place of the few weeks where everything was themed around my psychology revision topics. So get your page-a-day diary ready and you too could have a weird, wonderful, and occasionally cringeworthy, book like mine in just 12 months :).

But what’s next for me? Well I’ve got a lot of raw material to work through now. Who knows how many books and stories I can dig out of those pages. But I’ve also gotten pretty good and writing shorts and I don’t want to get out of the habit, so introducing…

IMG_0203-1.JPG

my new book! This time there is no special challenge or set rules. It’s just a blank notebook. Well, it’s not blank anymore because I already wrote a story in it, and I will write many more. If the diary challenge has taught me anything it’s how to get over that fear of the blank page. There was a time I wouldn’t start writing down story until it was fully formed in my head. And by then I was so committed to it I was terrified of writing it wrong, so often it still got left unwritten. In my head a blank page had the potential to be perfect, and I couldn’t sully it without being sure that it would be. Now I’m free of that crazy notion. If I have an idea I just write it and see how it turns out. If it turns out wrong it’s no big deal, I can write it again, and again, until I get something I like. There’s always another blank page. The point is to not be afraid of starting anymore. It was a lesson worth learning the very very long way.

Maybe I’ll do another diary challenge one year. Maybe even next year, it depends what Santa brings me ;). But for now I’ve got a notebook to fill, two novels to edit and an MSc to do. Whatever happens in 2015, I’m not going to be bored! And I am going to be writing.

Diary Challenge: Pirate week

It’s post-NaNoWriMo and I’m trying to keep up the spirit of the Early Birds’ club by logging into the chat room every morning 6am to 7am and spending an hour writing. OK, so far my hour has been cut down to 20/30 minutes mostly as Ben has got wise to the fact I’m up. But I have been writing, and there are usually snippets of time to be stolen in the car or before work so I’ve done quite well.

This week I have completed Pirate week of the diary challenge*. Monday-Wednesday involved creating a pirate character and writing a couple of scenes for them. I created cyborg space pirate Captain Gemma Steel, deposed princess who now leads a ruthless crew and steals from the corporation that took over her home world. Sounds a bit outlandish, I know, but the setting might be interesting and I’m hoping Markie can be persuaded to develop the universe with me and co-write some space adventures :).

Free-writing saw a band of scientists on voyage across the Arctic Sea to investigate the rising of the threat that destroyed Atlantis.

‘The Hostage’ turned out not to be as helpless as his captor thought, and our genre bender mixed pirates with Lovecraftian horror and unleashed unspeakable tentacle death on the scurrilous toe-rags. Arrrh.

Not bad for four days’ work. This morning I had run out of Pirate week so I let Timmy, the NaNoWriMo chatbot, set me a flash fiction challenge. I didn’t think I could manage his first suggestion in the space of a page:

* Timmy challenges Starkitten: Find a way to kill your MC and bring them back.

And I didn’t think his second suggestion was very exciting:

* Timmy challenges Starkitten: Have someone exclaim, “Small children should not dart out from behind corners!”

His third suggestion was ok:

* Timmy challenges Starkitten: Have an inanimate object provide the wise counsel for the MC, similar to Brian’s level head in Family Guy.

So I used all three. Now I have a very strange flash fic about a recently departed woman discussing her right to appeal against her unfair death (after swerving to avoid darting corner child, of course) with a potted geranium who specialises in afterlife law for some reason.

Maybe I shouldn’t listen to Timmy any more…

But #amwriting so I shouldn’t complain. I wonder what I’ll write tomorrow.

*No one noticed that Pirate week was supposed to be done in September**, right?

** *cough*September 2011*cough*