A Good Writing Day Is Hard To Beat

I was having trouble getting started on my writing this morning, even though this book unblocked me and I had a scene already started. Something was holding me back.

So I browsed some posts from myself, that were recommended by the Related Posts Thingy at the bottom  of this blog. This one, from 2012, was the one that finally sent me scurrying to my computer.

3741 words later, I’m exhausted and happy, and have blown past my 10K-words-of-fiction-a-month goal for the first time since January. And it’s only the 24th of the month!

When will I learn that I’m happy when I’m writing? Everything is better when I’m writing. When?!!!

I Didn’t Know How Busy I Was

Sometimes I get annoyed with myself for not getting more writing done. Then I look at my day. Here’s today:
– 6:30-wake up, pack bag for day.
– 6:45-make breakfast for G
– 7:00-shower
– 7:20-drive G to school, with his percussion kit
– 7:50-Settle in at coworking space. Critique 2 stories for writing buddies. Slurp a protein shake. Compose & publish writing prompt blog post; minimal promotion for post; critique 35 more pages for writing buddy.
– 11:40-Race out of coworking space. Drive 11 miles to writing group meeting. Eat chicken salad during meeting.
– 2:45-leave to pick up G and his percussion kit from school.
– 3:10-pick up groceries, unpack groceries, marinate chicken, empty dishwasher, wipe down surfaces.
– 5:00-sit down with coffee to read story A has been working on for weeks, while on hold with a business-related call (25 mins later, still on hold).

I still have to cook dinner, clean up, monitor homework time and, I hope, spend some quality time with the spouse.

Good thing I “don’t work”, isn’t it?

For The Love Of Handwriting

Sometimes I see this kind of post on Facebook:

I love handwriting. I think everyone should have a good, fluid, readable handwriting style. But. I can’t subscribe to this knee-jerk ‘we must teach loopy handwriting to seven year olds so they can read the Constitution’ mindset.

I’m Pretty Smart But…

When I went to university as a joint English/History student, I couldn’t read this:

I certainly couldn’t read this:

(in cast you’re wondering, it’s the Magna Carta, one of the most important governmental documents in my country’s past, and still hugely important in the history of most modern democracies).

People Who Can’t Read Cursive

My husband, who can get by in French, can read scientific documents in German, has a PhD and did postdoctoral research at Harvard, has invented a couple of drugs, and makes the world a better place every day, didn’t understand why he could no longer read our son’s writing when the boy hit second grade.

The school had taught him cursive…which my drug-designing, guitar-playing, Latin-reading, grammar-correcting, polymath husband had never been taught.

It hasn’t exactly held him back.

And if he needed to know what the Constitution said, he would learn cursive. Or ask a trusted source.

Which brings me to Point A and Point B of this blog post.

Point A – The Love of Learning

Should we really be spending valuable time in elementary school, forcing children to learn an archaic type of handwriting that they may or may not ever need?

What better way to squash the love of learning in children who may not have the manual dexterity (from the Latin for “right-handed”, dating from a time when left-handedness was considered a sign of being in congress with the Devil) to master it? I know both my boys have HORRIBLE handwriting, in spite of their teachers’ efforts to make them write like 18th Century schoolgirls, because they lacked the interest or fine motor skills to master the form at such a young age.

I understand that it’s a good thing to be able to be able to read your country’s founding documents in the original.

But it’s not essential.

I learned to read Middle English in order to appreciate Chaucer…but I was 19 at the time, and had elected to study English Literature full-time at university.

I learned to read early moveable type fonts (think: Gutenberg. All those elongated “S”s!) so I could read explorer’s journals of their voyages to the New World…but, by that time I was 20 and thrilled to be given the opportunity to do so (white cotton gloves, no backpack, and frowning, supervisory Rare Book Librarians, and all!)

More importantly, I learned to rely on translations of things that are considered the founding documents of their disciplines. I read Beowulf (arguably the first great English language epic) in translation (fabulous translation by the poet Seamus Heaney) because I can’t make heads nor tails of the Old English. I trust the scholars to have done that for me. Scholars funded by public and private funding sources. Scholars who are (ideally) free to concentrate on the work, not the politics or economics of doing their job.

I was developmentally ready, and I was excited, to learn these things. I wasn’t 7 years old. I wasn’t trying to learn to decode and to compose at the same time as I was trying to read these new forms of writing. I was mature. I could handle it.

Point B – Trust, But Verify

If we are to have any hope of living in a society, we must learn to have trusted sources, to trust each other. We must learn to allow people to be experts, and trust that their motives are no less impure than our own.

I don’t read the Bible in the original languages; I trust 2,000 years of church scholars to come to some kind of understanding of the text that represents The Truth (even in 14 years of Catholic school, the only time I really learned any Latin was in the music room!). I trust Seamus Heaney to represent the spirit and the letter of the poetry of Beowulf. I read side-by-side versions of Chaucer and used scholarship and judgment to figure out if the ‘translation’ was trustworthy.

No, we shouldn’t rely on one or two people to tell us what’s in our historical documents.

Yes, we should fund robust and independent scholarship, so that we alway have experts who can give us diverse (and probably argumentative) arguments about what they mean.

We do not ALL need to by polymaths, Renaissance Men, or Jacks of All Trades.

It’s OK to be an expert and trust other experts. (For example, I don’t want my hypothetical heart surgery to be performed by my General Practitioner/Family Doctor, and I’m fairly certain she’d be much happier to recommend whichever “nice Jewish boy” — her usual, impish referral — she respects the most.)

I Love Handwriting

I’m not against teaching handwriting. Far from it. I think it’s important.

  • Handwriting lights up parts of the brain that typing doesn’t, boosting both creativity and memory.
  • Handwriting allows you to slow down and consider what you’re saying, compose sentences before you write them down.
  • Being able to write with a pen, means putting your hands all over the paper, which you can then send to someone miles away. They can hold it, knowing that you held it. They can touch it and feel a thrilling connection to the physical reality of you.
  • When I look back at my handwritten notes and journals, I can see what mood I was in simply from the size and shape of my handwriting.
  • It’s important to be able to write fluently, fluidly and in a way that can be read by yourself and the general population, because computers and keyboards are not always practical or optimal. (For the record, I recommend learning to write in a nice, clean italic, joined-up style. If you have already learned to write, you can still teach yourself this style as a useful alternative to printing or cursive.)

And I think it probably is fine to teach cursive handwriting in schools.

But I think it’s probably much more useful to teach them a less-convoluted, more practical form of joined-up writing that lets them take notes quickly and efficiently, and then teach them cursive in the middle school History class and the art room; Latin in the music studio (andante! Edit: Thanks to Craig for gently reminding me that I also learned Italian there too!); and most importantly, let them learn enthusiasm for scholarship and expertise in every room in the school.

To The Woman Who Felt The Need To Correct My Ten Year Old At A Concert

I know it’s a wonderful thing to listen to classical music live.

That’s why I brought my nearly–11 and just-turned–13 year old sons to the school auditorium for the 2pm Sunday performance.

And I know it’s annoying when people distract you.

This is why I’m sure you’ll have noticed (since you were obviously watching us) that I was silently correcting my 10 year old when he got fidgetty: stilling his hands with mine, making sure he wasn’t kicking the seat in front, quietly prompting him between pieces as to how many more movements were still to come.

What Went Down

Towards the 1 hour 10 minute mark, I admit he was moving around a lot. I’m sorry it distracted you. It distracted me too, especially as I felt a responsibility to correct him over and over again, so that he wasn’t disruptive.

Having got to the last piece in the concert, you felt you needed to lean forward and tell him that there was only one piece left, with the unspoken “so for goodness’ sake sit still” hanging in the air.

Thanks.

Thanks for making me really uncomfortable.

Thanks for making me miss most of the last piece as I tried to figure out how much we had annoyed you, or whether you were trying to be supportive. And wondering why you waited until the short, last piece to make your displeasure known.

I’ll bet you didn’t notice the way my boy was squeezing my hand in time with the music. Or the way he shared your chuckle of glee when the motif from the first piece came around again at the end, in a piece by a completely different composer.

I’ll bet you didn’t consider that I’m trying to bring my boys up to be well-mannered, cultured, and excited by the passions of others (wasn’t the violinist amazing, by the way?).

What The Future Holds

I know it’s annoying to be distracted during a concert.

I also know that I was one of the youngest people there, not counting my boys. And I’m 43.

If we want live orchestral music to survive as a form, we need to make concerts (afternoon concerts, at that!) a hospitable place for people with children and for first-time concert-goers. The soloist did. Remember? He told us to go out to the bathroom whenever we needed to; he wouldn’t mind. He said he’d cue us when to clap and, when we got it wrong, he laughed and said “We’ll take it!”. He was the perfect host.

Without people like me — paying full price and bringing along the next generation of fans — orchestras will not survive.

So. I will continue to take my kids to this regional orchestra’s Sunday afternoon concerts in the middle school auditorium. And yes, the 13 year old will read his book for a while. Yes, the 11 year old will fidget towards the end of a long concert without breaks. And then, one day, they’ll be ready for the big city orchestra’s Saturday night concerts, where they will pay big money to hear amazing music, I hope, for the rest of their lives.

If, that is, there are enough people willing to brave the tutters and the sighers to keep orchestras alive that long.

How I Made Some New Habits Stick, in January

Habits Update Jan 2016

Last month I was writing about habits over at StoryADay.org and trying out various ways to change my habits — not just for a day or two, but for the whole month.

I had varying degrees of success and I learned a thing or two. I thought I’d share them here.

picture of Asian Zoodle Salad Jar from FoxesLoveLemons.com

photo: FoxesLoveLemons.com

Habits I Was Trying To Develop In January

  • Taking a new medication every morning (Routine? Ugh!)
  • Writing fiction regularly, to a goal of 10K words a month.
  • Reading a spiritual meditation every day.
  • Tracking my food intake.

Things That Went Well

Anchoring

I wrote about this at the start of the month. I had taken part in a study once that used this technique to make habits stick, so I knew it ought to be powerful, but I don’t think I really believed I could make it work so well.

But I did.

Now, every morning when I wake up, I roll over and take the medicine that’s sitting next to my bed. (My incentive to remember this is actually pretty perfect: it has to be take on an empty stomach, so if I don’t stick to this, my first coffee is delayed by every minute I waste. Aargh!)

My 30-day challenge for January was to read a spiritual meditation every morning. I anchored that habit to “the moment my son gets in the shower”.

Logging

Logging My Words

I have had a love-hate relationship with logging in the past. When I set daily goals for my writing, all it did was make me feel terrible. Partly because I was setting ‘best of all possible worlds’ numbers. And partly because I’m not built to write consistently every day.

Realizing this, I settled on 10,000 words of fiction a month, early last year, and made that my goal.

Logging the words (especially on a day when the writing is going slowly) really helps me to feel like I’m making progress.

Unexpected Bonus

My fitness trainer, sick of hearing me whine about how I can’t lose weight, made me promise to log my food intake. He promised he wouldn’t judge me: that we were just going to use what I wrote down as data. (He made me sign something because I was making such terrible faces at him).

And when I thought about it, I knew, from logging my words, that I could use the data to help me feel better. So I did. And I went from losing no weight (or gaining) to losing a pound a week two weeks in a row! (Trust me, for me, this is huge).

The simple act of recording and quantifying a thing is a powerful way to take misconception and emotion out of the equation.

  • Setting a reasonable goal (323 words a day or 1300-ish calories) and trying to meet it MOST days, is manageable.
  • Tracking it, over a month or more, lets you see that you are neither as awesome nor as awful as you suspect you are, on any given day. And that’s OK. Because “consistent” is what will win the race.

Make It Friction Free

Everything that worked to make my habits stick, was based on my lifelong pursuit of laziness efficiency.

If I have to prepare a lot of stuff before I start on The Thing, I’ll never get to The Thing. So I try my best to have a smooth entry into every task.

My medicine

…lives by my bed and my lovely husband brings me a glass of water every day when he gets his first coffee. If I had to get up and go downstairs, find my meds wherever I dumped them yesterday, find my slippers because the kitchen floor is cold, get water, then take the pill, I would not get it right every day.

Spiritual Meditation

My book of spiritual meditations is sitting next to the bed with a hairpin marking the page of the next meditation (because I always have hairpins lying around). As soon as I hear the shower turn on, I grab the book. It takes very little time to read, but having it on my bedside table, and anchored to a specific action is what makes this habit work.

If I had to search for the book every day, my son would be out of the shower and demanding breakfast before I’d even picked it up. If I tried to find a time every day to squeeze it in, I’d end up scrambling to read the meditation as I fell asleep every night, which wouldn’t be nearly as effective.

Fiction Writing

I keep all the notes for my novel in the same notebook I use as my journal and my list-maker and my ‘taking notes while on the phone’ book. This saves me from having to find the right book either when I want to make notes, or when I want to find them again.

I number all the pages and, from time to time, go through and add to the “table of contents” that I create in the back few pages of the book. This helps me scan through the ToC and find out where my latest brilliant idea is, for the next part of the novel. I also have a list of scenes that I know I want to write soon, right in Scrivener. They’re brainstormed and ready to go, which helps me figure out what to write each time I sit down.

Food

Food, ah food. How I love it. But one of the reasons I eat badly is also the reason I hate logging food: I don’t plan ahead.

If I’m scrambling for lunch when I’m already hungry, then whatever is to hand is what goes in my mouth. Lots of it. Then I have to figure out how much I ate and how to log that (I use MyFitnessPal, which is good because it has a massive database of food, but bad because you have to find the foods, then figure out how to quantify your portion, then do it again for every component of a recipe…)

In January I took my doctor’s advice (a lovely woman who struggles with all the same issues I do!), and started making up salad jars. It’s an easy portion-control method and means I always have something to grab. It almost doesn’t matter what I put in there, because of the built-in portion control aspect.

I pick one recipe a week, shop for the small quantities you need to fill four 16 oz mason jars, then spend a little while on Sunday or Monday, making up lunches for the week ahead. (I like this Spicy Peanut Zoodle Recipe and her Chicken and Spinach salad jars with grapes and a mustard-thyme dressing. I know I’m a year or two behind on the Mason Jar Salad trend, but I’m here now. Let’s party!) Even making up your own dressing and chopping veg doesn’t seem so bad when you do it once and feed yourself four times. And I LOVE all the freshness and crunch. I especially love being able to open the fridge and eat instantly (mmm, fooooooood).

The other thing (and why I went off on this rant in the first place) is that if I eat the same thing every day (or rotate a few receipes over a few weeks) I can log the ‘meal’ in MyFitnessPal once and I never have to enter in all those individual ingredients again. I just select “Asian Zoodle Jar” from the “My Recipes” tab, and it’s done.

See? Friction Free.

It doesn’t work for every meal or every situation, but batch-cooking makes it easier to prepare healthy meals and log them. (I know, rocket science, right? Reinventing the wheel, sure. Discovering things for yourself: sometimes essential!)

What I’m Still Working On

Weekends

Our routine goes way out of whack at the weekends. I need to develop different anchors for the some of the habits at weekends.

Also, I get embarrassed about logging my food. I don’t know why, but I do. Any suggestions for getting over that?

This Month’s 30-day Challenge

This month I’m trying to relax for 15 minutes a day, with something unrelated to housework or reading/writing (I’m mostly doing meditation, exercise, knitting, and musical things so far).

I don’t have a good way to trigger this. I’m thinking maybe ‘after lunch’, but that’s kind of nebulous. I do need to take a little sanity break midday, but I haven’t found a good way to anchor it yet. Do you have any ideas for me?

Next month I’ll be back to talk about my Relaxation Challenge and about the Permission To Write theme I’m writing about all month long at the StoryADay blog.

Incentive

  Hubby’s playing the “work hard, let me retire and I’ll bring you fun refreshments all day” card pretty hard, while he works at home today ;)

(It’s just Ginger Ale)

Things I Miss From My Childhood

Blotting Paper

The smell of a Spirit Duplicator

Pressing ‘record’, ‘play’ and ‘pause’ at the same time

A fresh packet of Plasticine

Jumping off the swing

Hanging upside down from a railing by my knees

Swinging my feet

My English accent

My Scottish accent

Netball

The monkey puzzle tree

Conkers

Bonfires on the 5th of November

Indoor shoes

Red squirrels

Concorde

The lucky dip at the Christmas fete

The Sealed Knot society

My red spangly roller boots

Douglas Adams

Facebook Fast

I had a little crisis this week.
And in the midst of it, I realised that spending time on Facebook was a, sucking hours of my life away in a fashion that would make Count Rugen proud; b, not making me happy; c, often making me actively unhappy.

So I mothballed my account.

But then I remembered I have a page that supports StoryADay.org. In order to have that running, I had to create a new FB profile associated with that email address. So now I still kind of have a FB account but people are trying to friend it and I’m ignoring them, not because I don’t like them, but because I’m not using FB. (My mailing list software auto-posts to the page).

Oh, technology. How I love thee, and how you tie me in knots.

So if you’re looking for me on Facebook and I’m not responding, that’s why. Sorry.

SuperHero

I’ve cooked three different breakfasts (none for me); got medicine into two boys; packed a lunch; dealt with The Mystery Of The Missing Sheet Music (outcome: it’s missing); prodded a boy to do last minute homework we didn’t get to last night because of Prep and dinner and other homework; and been one half of a team that got two boys up, showered, dressed, fed and out of the door with bags, lunches, percussion kit and smiles on their faces; filled in a form and an SAE for dental records for the school; finished a half cup of cold coffee…and it’s 7:35 AM!

And we live within a mile and a half of both schools.

Now I have to get the dishes done, shower, and start my day.

There’s an 8 AM mass I might go to. I know that sounds like I’m adding things to a crowded morning, but I suspect it might actually get me back on course.

P.S. How does a sheet of music evaporate overnight?!

Reading War of The Worlds, Chapters 6 & 7

Chapter 6 – The Heat Ray In The Chobham Road

The humans are not coming off much better than the Martians in this chapter. Some things never change…

Chapter 7 – How I Reached Home

He does a fabulous job of capturing the way that the most vivid and extreme experiences are suddenly just part of our experience, a memory, and how we can’t conjure up the feelings any more. One minute the narrator has collapsed by the road the and next he’s back to himself again.

A few minutes before there had only been three real things before me —- the immensity of the night and space and nature, my own feebleness and anguish, and the near approach of death. Now it was as if something turned over, and the point of view altered abruptly. There was no sensible transition from one state of mind to the other. I was immediately the self of every day again — a decent, ordinary citizen. The silent common, the impulse of my flight, the starting flames, were as if they had been in a dream. I asked myself had these latter things indeed happened? I could not credit it … p. 266

It’s not often I come across a word I don’t either know or can’t figure out from the context. But this has me stumped:

The intense excitement of the events had no doubt left my perceptive power in a state of erethism. p.269

Oh, how fabulous. It’s a term, more properly erethism mercurialis, which is a neurological condition, also known as Mad Hatter’s Disease (because hat makers used mercury to make the brims of hats stiff. The mercury fumes — my chemist husband has told me this story in the past — are a neurotoxin and made people irritable, physically weak and could result in delirium.)
And he knows how to end a chapter!

I did not know it, but that was the last civilized dinner I was to eat for many strange and terrible days…p. 269

Tell me you’d put this book down and walk away now and I’d call you a liar!