Friday, 30 September 2011

NaNoWriMo prep - killer hamsters and 31 days to go

Only a month to go till National Novel Writing Month kicks off. I'm simultaneously looking forward and dreading it at the same time.

Based on the last couple of weeks practice sessions I reckon I will need to be in bed by 9pm every week night and up at 5am. That should allow me two hours of writing each morning.

I'm averaging 20 words a minute which I know is enough to meet my weekday target of 2,300 words:

Date Words Time Words per minute
Tue 27th 754 35 22
Wed 28th 743 40 19
Thu 29th 725 30 24
Fri 30th 557 30 19

I do like my statistics!

I haven't done any prep on plotting or characters this week and will need to spend time in October doing that. I have a growing fear that I will reach a point where I've run out of ideas with thirty thousand words left to go and think - now what? I realise one of the benefit of NaNo is it forces us to face that reality. To train oneself to keep writing even when there seems like nothing is there. But still, I would rather have a general plot to aim for which hopefully will result in a coherent novel. On the NaNo forums I've seen some discussions around when the zombie space pirates are likely to appear... I'd rather not end up having to introduce killer hamsters just to meet the 50K target!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

NaNoWriMo prep - oranges and lemons and 32 days to go

I've been squeezing oranges and lemons to boost my vitamin C intake. I bought enough multivitamins and iron pills on Tuesday to do me until Christmas and have begun taking them. Been in bed by 10:30pm all week and up at 6:30.

I no longer feel like I'm coming down with a cold and while I'm still struggling with getting up each morning, every day I write is a day I get better at writing every day!

I've only managed half and hour of writing each day but have written upwards of 700 words in that time which bodes well for writing 2,300 in under two hours.

The story I've been working on this week is almost completed. It is not saleable but how many first drafts are? I'm just glad to be writing regularly.

Just over a month to go till NaNoWriMo. Have you signed up yet? What are you doing to prepare?

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Key See-era ablar Espanyol

Okay, the spelling is atrocious but phonetically I think it's about right - 'I would like to speak Spanish.'

Do you want to learn another language? Do you believe you can?

I believe you can!

I've now completed five weeks of Spanish language learning using Collins Spanish with Paul Noble. My goal number 27 is 'To learn Spanish and speak it.'


One of the first things Paul says both on the DVD that comes with the course and the first CD is that he struggled to learn a language at school; that he left school believing he was incapable of learning a language and yet he found the problem was not him - it was the way he was being taught.

I was taught French at school and still remember a few words and phrases but as a teenager could not see the point of learning the words for orange or hot chocolate or many of the sentences we were asked to learn. I was not likely to travel to France at the time so it seemed like an exercise in futility. I was embarrassed when I made mistakes in class and this was even worse when others seemed to be coping well with the learning and were praised.

I was also lazy and distracted. Two goal killers right there!

How did you find language learning at school? Have you tried learning a language since then? How have you gotten on?

I currently speak two languages - my native English and also Tajik which I learnt while working in Tajikistan. I believed - like I imagine most people do - that learning a language while living in a country must be possible. I took language lessons while there but struggled to apply what I was learning. I was determined though and kept trying. I would speak to everyone and anyone. I forced myself to remember numbers and practiced adding and subtracting so I could shop in the local bazaars. I learnt key phrases; questions and answers. The local police had a habit of stopping drivers and I took the opportunity to say what I knew and try and hold a conversation.

I must have spoken broken/incorrect/unintelligible Tajik to a thousand people while I was there!

It is quite reassuring to hear Paul state that making mistakes and forgetting is encouraged while learning a language!

After two years we had a chance to get our progress in language tested according to LAMP standards. (Language Acquisition Made Practical) I still did not have a huge vocabulary and was quite nervous about taking the test - even though I was confidently conversing with dozens of people in ordinary situations every day. Colleagues of mine were much more advanced in their language skills and I was worried about how I would compare.

I was told by the examiner that I was demonstrating an intermediate grasp of the language. For me this was an amazing achievement. It didn't matter any more that my colleagues were doing better - I had achieved something. I achieved learning a language by being willing to try; being willing to make mistakes; by trying everything I could to speak the language. Both my methods and my discipline could have been better but I kept on trying.

I now strongly believe that just as all of us can learn our native language as children - we can learn another language as adults. If you want to learn another language - you can do it!

Let me know how you get on!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

NaNoWriMo - 34 days to go

My thinking about NaNoWriMo goes like this...

It is going to be tough. Worse maybe than the worst months of Uni.

To stick with daily writing at the level needed (I'm aiming for 2,300 words a day every week day) I will need to be fit and healthy. I will have to keep that creative buzz going all month. I doubt I will have that creative buzz all month and so will have to force it - will have to dig deep.

To dig that deep for so long will require discipline and strength and good health.

I really cannot afford to get ill in November!

As I write this in September - I feel like I have a cold starting. My head is buzzing and not in a good way; I feel weak and generally run down.

Solutions? What do you do to stay healthy and fit and keep working at peak performance?
  • I am thinking about what I eat - I need to be more consistent eating fruit and vegetables
  • I need to start exercising again - maybe try jogging for ten minutes each morning. Nothing crazy, just make a start
  • Start taking vitamin tablets
  • Cut down on TV
  • Increase my reading - actually read some of the research material I've begun collecting
I don't yet have a system for writing a novel. I tend to write in scenes. A scene forms in my head and I live it - am there - taking part as one of the characters and that is what I write - what I see and experience. Then I fill in the gaps.

I'm thinking I need to start thinking up some scenes. Not write them out but begin sketching out some scenarios. Things my hero will face: challenges; obstacles. How can I crush him and cause him pain? How can I enable him to overcome these obstacles and rise up despite them and come out the other end? Or do I allow him to survive? Do I take away all hope and then destroy him, risking everything, including my readers loyalty - just so they know - anything can happen?

Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo? How are you preparing? How are you finding it?

Monday, 26 September 2011

NaNo Prep - 35 days to go!

Day five in the big NaNo house... I got up.

That was about it for day five of my NaNo prep. If you missed the earlier post, I signed up for National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo - if like me you like your acronyms.

I've been very conscious since signing up that this is a very big deal. Writing 50,000 words in a month when I've got a family and a full time job is going to be tough. The job and family will take priority.

But, I really want to achieve the target - complete a 50,000 word novel.

My Goal 1: To write an enjoyable, bestselling novel!

That is it - my top goal, first thing on my mind whenever I start thinking about what I want to do with my life. I can't force anything I write to become a bestseller but I can keep writing and improving and someday...

So, what do you do when you know you've got a big challenge heading your way?

Writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. I reckon that is an ideal analogy. I've been thinking I need to discipline myself, get myself in shape. I didn't know if I could physically write 2300 words a day (what I've calculated I will need to write each week day of November to hit my goal) when I signed up and so I started testing myself.

I started fairly small. I timed myself freewriting for a minute. I found I could write 43 words in a minute. I tried two minutes. I managed 83. My average was heading down. If I could write 40 words a minute though - that would be an hour a day! I could fit that in, couldn't I?

I suspected I may need two hours a day because I would flag and I want the novel to have a plot which will require some thinking as I write. A week past Friday I had a brain wave. One of those ideas that strike and I knew I had to write a story. I started writing with pen and notebook, in bed, at 11:15pm. I decided to push myself and see how long I could write for. I was tired but kept going. Seven doubled sided A4 pages later it was 01:20am and I collapsed feeling quite pleased with myself. I reckoned I had written at least 2,000 words. It took me a couple more hours over this last week to type up my story and I discovered I had hit my target - 2,360 words!

The story wasn't finished and so I decided to use it to further test myself, getting up an hour earlier and initially typing up the handwritten pages for a time before adding to the story. I managed to do this Monday through Wednesday and added another 1,000 words. Not spectacular but a start at disciplining myself. Then I had another brainstorm on Wednesday evening.

I had a completely different idea and speed wrote again for two hours. This time - while typing - I managed 2,800 words! I allowed myself to sleep in on Thursday:)

Day five - I managed to get up early but got distracted. I have 35 days to go and then the real fun begins except, I'm having fun right now! Signing up for NaNo has given me a real buzz and ideas are sparking again.

Do you want to write a novel? Have you signed up for NaNo?

Let me know if you have or just buddie me! My user name is Frozbie (don't ask - it's not that great a story!)

Saturday, 24 September 2011

My 100 blog posts

As the two year anniversary of starting this blog has gotten closer, I noticed I was also approaching 100 blog posts. It seemed like an opportunity to look back and review why I started the blog and whether I should continue.

Blogging has been at times: fun, exciting, a drag, foolishness, extraordinary, exhilarating and depressing. At times I’ve been self indulgent. Much of the time I’ve been self-centered. The title of the blog has said it all: My 100 Goals. All about me.

Blogging about my goals started as a fun idea. I was hearing more and more about blogs and as a writer it intrigued me. It was over a year later when half way through the Open University’s Creative Writing module that we started studying life writing and I had a crisis of confidence in my blog. I stopped writing the blog for over three months.

A succession of failures – poor investment decisions – had made me realise that I don’t really want to tell the world about every mistake I make. 

However, having started the blog, I couldn’t let go of it. Truth be told, I find it quite addictive. Maybe as a writer it’s just seeing my work in print, knowing that somebody else is ‘reading wot I wrote.’

So, why am I blogging? Why should I continue?

One reason I started was to give me a vehicle to advertise my novel, when I finally got it finished… Two years on and I estimate I’ve written 30,000 words on this blog and in the same time maybe 10,000 on my novel! I’ve been prioritising my blog higher than my novel which aint great!

But, by blogging I’ve opened my writing up to criticism and learnt a few things – like how not to use apostrophes! It has also enabled me to keep writing which deep down is one of the driving forces in my life.

I would like to keep blogging but I want to broaden the focus. I hadn’t clicked that Amazon offer a service to Kindle readers who can subscribe to blogs through Kindle which are then downloaded to their Kindle readers. The blog author gets 30 percent of the subscription fee. You just have to look at the hit counter at the bottom of the page to see that by offering my blog as a subscription on Kindle I’m not going to get rich but it did strike me off on a new train of thought - 

People can make money from their blogs! (To be fair and frank, my wife had told me about this months ago but sometimes it takes a while for my brain to catch up;) 

But why would anyone pay to read MY blog? So I thought about that. I thought, what if this blog wasn’t called My 100 Goals but rather – Your 100 Goals. Would that be more appealing?

What do you think – if you had the choice of reading My 100 Goals or Your 100 Goals? 

I could branch off, create a sister blog but I’ve grown attached to this and I am wondering, what if I simply change the focus; I can add a tag line: My 100 Goals; Your 100 Goals – a blog to encourage you to achieve your dreams…

Too corny?

What if this blog was more about you? What goals do you have? Have you ever tried writing down one hundred of them? What help do you need to achieve your goals? Are you actually put off by the idea of goals, let alone one hundred of them?

Let me know. Maybe it's what this blog needs.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

A mysterious goal... achieved!

About twenty years ago some friends visited Iona and came back raving about the island and the Iona community. I seem to remember being impressed by the idea of the community but not enough to want to take the long trip to see it for myself.

I suspect part of that is having been brought up in the Shetland Islands. Once you've spent your youth in an island community, seeing another doesn't have quite the same novelty.

When I first read advice to write down 100 goals, I was taken with the proposal that one could start to see patterns and connections between the goals. Reviewing my goals I quickly saw themes emerge. I want to travel. I want financial security. I want to write.

Travel sometimes seems like an impossible dream. I would love to eventually see the Grand Canyon. To take a white water rafting trip down one of the rivers. To spend days hiking round the fascinating rock formations. But it still seems like a far away dream. One that I cannot yet imagine achieving soon.

Perhaps strangely, visiting Mull and Iona has also seemed like a far away dream. Well, actually, it wasn't a dream at all until this summer when I started to get obsessed with going there.

We've talked about visiting the Western Isles in Scotland for years, my wife and I. Talked about it but they have always seemed so far away and hideously expensive places to journey to. If we could afford to go there, we could afford to travel to somewhere warm and since we currently live in one of the wettest parts of Scotland - at least it frequently seems like that - why on earth would we choose the Western Isles over Spain or Italy (or Greece or Turkey or anywhere we could wander about in 30 degree temperatures...)

Not that we can afford to go to Europe either but that's beside the point. So, anyway, this summer we were looking at camp sites and talking about staying with the in-laws for a week - which we all enjoy and it's a fairly cheap get away for us - and since they happen to live on the West coast we began looking at the islands again.

Mull and Iona were closest though not quite as adventurous or romantic as travelling up the Skye or even Lewis or Harris. Still, as we looked at travel times and ferry crossings, travelling to one of the islands began to seem possible. And why not? I'd set it as a goal (and here's a warning for any wanna be goal setters out there - when you write down your goals they take on a life of their own...)

Long story short - we ended up leaving the kids behind with the in-laws (and if you are reading this then thank you! You are both awesome.) <> and drove to Oban.

It was all a bit mad, last minute, almost no B&B's left; forgot my wife isn't a great fan of fish food when I booked a restaurant... You know the sort of thing.

The ferry over was longer than I expected at an hour but we had calm waters. The drive across Mull to our B&B was wet - it started raining soon after we left the ferry. Bad weather was always going to be a risk but we were hoping (and praying) for sun the following day.

It should have been a relaxing time. (I hate the word should. Do you?) A time to unwind together, get away and just be us for a couple of days. I don't like rain. Gets me down. I felt like a had a lot riding on the trip: the only two days we were going to have away from the kids all summer; the only chance to see some of the islands this year; and on top of that - this was one of my goals! I had to enjoy it. Didn't I?

I was also hoping to find out why Mull and Iona feature so much in John Morrison's paintings. If you haven't come across his work, check out his website. John talks a lot about the light in the Western Isles and I really wanted to see some of that light!

There wasn't much of it that afternoon but we headed out to a beach anyway. The rain stopped and we wandered about on the beach, looking at some truly stunning rock formations...

 Were these waves frozen in place? Fossilised?

Check out the sediment on this beauty!

Beaches calm me down. Sandy ones especially. It was too cold to take off my shoes and socks but even so, after wandering around for an hour, I was a lot happier about our adventure.

I persuaded my wife to drive down to the harbour to look at Iona and the sunset later that evening.


I have never, ever seen a sunset like that. It was like the valley between Iona's two small hills was a transparent goblet and God had poured liquid gold into it. The sky glowed. I was beginning to get a sense of why my friends had been so excited by Iona.

We got up the next day to blue skies. We caught the first ferry over and took advice to walk straight to the North of Iona. By 9am we were sitting on a white sand beach, blue sky overhead, transparent waves gently washing up on the shore. We could have been in the Caribbean. Until we stepped in the water and our feet turned numb... Out of the water then and back up to the dunes and we just enjoyed the sun.


We wandered (did quite a lot of wandering...) round the North coast to another gorgeous beach, the one above. And in case it isn't obvious, the photos posted up earlier in the week were from the two Northern beaches: West and East - top to bottom.

I left Iona having been refreshed even though we didn't go into the Abbey, though I'm sure it is worth spending time there. Whenever I read the beginning of the book of Genesis I am struck by the words ' and God created... and he saw that it was good.' I don't know if Iona or Mull or even the Grand Canyon bears any resemblance to what the world looked like back then but there is still a lot of beauty out there. Even better, we don't have to travel across the world to find it.

Goal 44: To visit Iona and Mull - tick

Except, there is a P.S. with this goal - I want to go back. I could easily spend a couple of days on Iona, enjoying those gorgeous beaches again. I also want to see where Columba (kept getting him mixed up with Colombo - is that showing my age?) came ashore; and explore the ruins of the marble quarry. Then there is Mull. There's a Munro on Mull - Ben More. I quite fancy climbing it. There are some fascinating caves to the South. More beaches to the North... I could go on. I'll stop now.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

A mysterious goal...

 Where do you think this picture was taken?

 How about this one?


Answers on a postcard to... (do they still do that?) ...well, it is easy enough to comment below ;)

First correct answer wins a red hot chilli pepper :)

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

My first rejection

Well, technically my second but since my first was over a decade ago and my latest is intended to be proof that I am now working towards getting published - I'm starting again.

Apparently my short story was not quite suitable for the magazine I submitted to. That view is the editor's prerogative and who am I to argue? After posting my sumission I had one of those frustrating aha moments when I realised a way to improve the story but to be honest, there is no guarantee I would have had that aha moment if I hadn't begun to relax having finally let go.

I have over ten completed short stories in a file upstairs. Many of which I now know will need serious re-writes. While my goal is to publish a novel, I would be delighted to have a short story published.

I will try improving the story and submitting to an alternative magazine. I am beginning to formulate a plan to submit at least two new stories each year, alongside work on my novel, and build up a collection of stories that I feel are publishable. If none are accepted then I have the option of combining into a short collection and publishing as an eBook at no cost to myself but with the benefit that I can begin marketing my writing and seeing what feedback I get from a wider readership.

If we are not willing to fail, we will never succeed.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Fun distractions

Sometimes my wife must think I am mad. Well, maybe more than sometimes. It's that look that I get occasionally when an idea takes me and she shakes her head and refuses to speak her thoughts...

I mentioned to a friend on Sunday that I've had a desire since childhood to own a copper ingot. One kilo in weight.

It's not something I imagine many people would like to have sitting on their desk. It is not even one of my 100 goals.


I read a lot of Science Fiction as a child. A lot! One story had as its premise the discovery that it was possible to release raw energy from copper. Not uranium or plutonium, just bog standard, pull it out of the walls, copper.

The hero's of this story built a spaceship powered by a device that harnessed this raw energy and was able to travel between stars in a matter of days. The only problem when they reached a new planet - they had to find copper to refuel. Fortunately copper seems to be in plentiful supply in our immediate universe...

I found the idea inspiring and ever since have wanted my own bar of copper.

There have been times when I have resisted throwing out a copper hot water tank, knowing this could provide the raw material to melt down and mould.

I'm no chemist; nor a metal smith, and while I have at times hoarded copper piping, I've never wanted to pursue this childhood dream quite enough to go the whole way. Yet, every now and then I'll share one of my eccentricities and in return receive a suggestion that takes me a little closer to achieving a dream.

My friend told me about flower pot kilns - apparently easy enough to build and able to heat metal to temperatures where they can melt and be poured. For my purposes I would need something a little bigger and a furnace/crucible may be suitable. He also suggested, and for the life of me I don't know why I never thought of this before, calling a scrap dealers and asking how much they would charge to melt down and produce a kilo bar of copper...! But that would be too easy and a lot less fun ;)

Having carried out the barest Google enabled research I've decided to hold off on attempting this just yet but I did want to find out which story inspired this eccentricity of mine. That took me a lot longer. At least an hour of trying different combinations of science fiction, copper, space-ship etc. in Google.

I wondered if the book was too old to be talked about on the Internet but no! It is not only mentioned, you can actually read it online thanks to Gutenberg! I'm not going to review The Skylark of Space by E. E. Smith as it was around thirty years ago I read it, but a quick look made my wife take notice of the proposal to use safe atomic power some two decades before we managed to split the atom. If nothing else, it may persuade her to hold off calling the men in white coats for a little while longer.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

National Novel Writing Month - I've signed up, have you?

I didn't want to sign up for NaNoWriMo last year as I thought it would distract from writing my novel. As it was, I made no progress whatsoever on Fallen Warriors during November and while I had intended taking it up again last month (August) I have only written a few words.

If you haven't heard of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo - yeah, I know, but it has kind of grown on me...) the aim is very simple - write a novel of 50,000 words during the month of November.

I calculate that I will need to write 2273 words every week day to achieve this. I'm not committing any weekends!

I have several novels in progress and several more that I've never begun so it should be easy enough to choose one.

I've signed up on impulse. My user name is Frozbie if you want to check out my progress.  A fellow Creative Writing student just reminded me it is approaching. I am unsure if it is a good idea - Fallen Warriors needs to become my top priority but there are a few family things I've committed to first. Somehow I need to follow the NaNoWriMo approach and just bash out the rest of the novel, weaving in the sections I've already written.

Worst case scenario - I actually do manage to write a short 50,000 word novel in November. If I can achieve that then I must be able to write the final 50,000 words of Fallen Warriors.

Best case - I write something - that with a few rewrites and edits - I can actually publish as an ebook. That would be worth taking up all of my free time for.

I've signed up for NaNoWriMo, have you?