Friday, 3 June 2016

50 writing prompts

I've been tweeting writing prompts for a while now. The plan (ahem) was that I would use them too, and get into the habit of doing a little bit of writing every day.

Yeah. Um....let's not talk about that.

What I have successfully managed to do is start a brand new 'tweet a daily writing prompt' habit. For ten weeks, in fact, which - since I'm giving myself the weekends off - brings the total so far to a nice round 50. Here's the full list so far:

1. A mistake you're glad you made (or one you wish you hadn't.)

2. You've been given £1000 to spend. GO!

3. Your worst culinary disaster

4. The weirdest piece of trivia you know, and why you remember it

5. A song which takes you back to a particular time or place

6. The stupidest argument you've ever had

7. Alternative career plans

8. The worst/best New Year's Eve you've ever spent

9. Write for 15 minutes without using the letter 's'

10. Your dream holiday itinerary - money is no object

11. A family tradition and how it started.

12. A time you were running late

13. Twenty of the most scathing insults you can come up with.

14. The advice you would give your 15 year old self.

15. The one that got away

16. A period of time you'd like to travel back to, and why

17. The best/worst customer service you've experienced

18. Being ill

19. Plan the perfect road trip. Destination, co-drivers, soundtrack, travel snacks....

20. Someone is in your home town for 48hrs - what should they do?

21. The best present you've ever been given

22. An interesting conversation you've overheard

23. Your childhood hero/heroine

24. Describe the best meal you ever ate

25. What was the worst moment of your school career?

26. Twenty uses for a marshmallow, which don't involve eating it.

27. An awkward conversation you've had.

28. Argue passionately for the opposite side of a cause you feel strongly about.

29. A place you fell in love with

30. Your home is on fire.You have your laptop, purse/wallet, phone, keys. What else do you grab and why?

31. DIY disasters

32. Write a chase scene - who or what is being chased, and why?

33. Someone has suddenly become homeless. How, and what do they do?

34. Set a music player to shuffle. Write about each song which plays, for as long as the song lasts.

35. Give a well known story a different ending

36. Something which hasn't been invented yet, but you wish it had.

37. Read an advice column, and write about what happens when someone takes (or ignores) the advice given

38. Trace the journey of a pound coin over the course of the day.

39. Happy Friday 13th! Write about bad luck turning into good, or vice versa

40. A fence. What was it designed to keep in or keep out, and what happens if it doesn't work?

41. The longest you've ever procrastinated about something

42. Guilty pleasures

43. Cancelled plans. Who cancels them, why, what are the consequences? (The more dire the better!)

43. A power struggle. Who has it, who wants it, how do they try and get it?

44. Time for a bit of romance! Come up with 5 new meet-cutes ( )

45. Something which annoys you even though you know it shouldn't

46. Write about a day which is governed by Murphy's Law - anything which can go wrong, does

47. Dream up and describe an extremely nice theme restaurant or bar

48. Add an eighth dwarf to the existing seven. How do the others react to his (or her) arrival?

49. List your 10 favourite words

50. What would be your specialist topic on Mastermind, and why do you know about it?

It's probably worth mentioning this all started after I did a comedy writing course, run by the fantastic Grainne Maguire who, as well as providing all sorts of practical advice and tools (not to mention biscuits) in our classes, sent a daily writing task by email each day. For those four weeks I did manage to stick to a daily writing habit, and really enjoyed it.

You can use the prompts any way you like, of course, but if you would like some advice, here is mine:

1. Write for 15 minutes. Or, if you're a fan of the Pomodoro Technique, you could write for one whole Pomodoro. If you have no idea what that last sentence means (which was me, a week or so ago) it's really worth having a look at the link.

2. However long you've decided to write for, keep writing for the entire time. Even if you think you've finished, or you get bored, or you think of something else you ought to be doing. And even if - especially if - your brain feels so empty that the idea of trying to squeeze anything else out of it makes you want to vomit. (Trust me. This will happen.) The best ideas will be the ones which come right after that point where you feel like giving up. But only if you don't.

3. Use the prompt as a starting point, but if your thoughts or ideas wander off sideways and you end up writing about something else....that's fine. Just keep writing.

4. Don't pick and choose your prompts - if you can't write every day, then commit to writing on a particular day or days - no matter what the prompt is. Most of my favourite pieces of writing ended up being the ones on the topics I least wanted to write about.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

From the department of random trivia

Long overdue for a bit of whimsy around these parts, I think.

1. Today's birthday's include both Bram Stoker, who wrote Dracula and Margaret Mitchell, who wrote Gone With the Wind. So now I'm imagining some sort of weird  Rhett Butler / vampire crossover,  with Katherine Hepburn playing Scarlett O'Hara, because it's her birthday today too. Also, Edmond Halley (of the comet), Hermann Rorshach (of the inkblot test), Dr Christian Barnard, who performed the first ever heart transplant, singer Patti 'How Much is that Doggie in the Window' Page, and one of the guys who founded MySpace. (You have to wonder what those guys are up to these days.)  Put them all together, and that's quite a dinner party.

2. Alfred Hitchcock. He's known for making cameos in all of his films of course - you probably knew that already. What you might not know is that one of his films is called Lifeboat, and is set entirely IN a lifeboat - which, of course made a cameo appearance as a casual passer by more than a little tricky.  Apparently he nearly cast himself in the role of  Dead Body Randomly Floating In The Water, but eventually came up with a more ingenious solution - he'd lost a ton of weight before making the film, so appears on screen as both the before and after image in a newspaper advert for a fictional weight-loss company.  There's a nice compilation clip of all of his cameos here:

(Hitchcock's appearances were so well known, and so anticipated, in his later films he had to get them in as near to the beginning as possible, so audiences wouldn't be distracted from the plot while trying to find him.)

3. I'm off to hear one of the Simpsons writers give a talk tonight, so I reckon I'll have a good number 3, or possibly several of them, tomorrow.  Watch this space.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Being Brave (part 3)

Oh, OK. There it is.

A faint whispering, of missed opportunities and things that might have been, has started. The ghosts of regret are beginning to arrive.  It's funny how a tiny piece of new information can summon them up; one minute you are absolutely fine and then suddenly there they are, starting to poke you, daring you to listen to them, and luring you into a wallowing pit of gloom.

(I say absolutely fine, but that's not quite true. It has been a tough, tough week; so hard I can't even begin to explain.  I have learned a lot though. Mainly that learning important life lessons is EXHAUSTING. )

I'm trying to fight the regret ghosts off for now, almost on principle, but I'm not sure how long that will last.  I've learned, over the years, that sometimes the only way to deal with pain, sadness, hurt - any of those horrible emotions - is to let them take hold of you for a while.  The trick is to let yourself feel them, wait for them to wash over you and trust that eventually they will pass, and be replaced with something else. (God knows what though. For me at the moment it really could be anything.)

It hurts, it REALLY hurts, but if you can let it hurt for a little while, your brain inevitably finds itself feeling so sick of being in pain that it somehow chases the emotion away. That's my theory, anyway.

It is literally how I've spent my weekend, and most of the past week really -  letting emotions arrive when they want to (and boy do they pick their moments),  watching them hurtle towards me, waiting for them to crash and implode then just riding them out.  Waiting, not knowing which one is going to come next, or how long it will last.

I had no idea when I wrote that first post, and made that resolution to go and do something, that there would end up being three parts to the story (The Bravery Trilogy. It has a nice ring to it, no?) but here we are.  It's a classic three act structure, and this third act has seen the very thing I was protecting myself from in the first place still sort of happening but in a way which was out of control and messy, and forced by circumstance. And so, with nothing else to lose I ended up doing  the thing I'd first decided to do, and then not to do, after all; knowing exactly what would happen, knowing exactly how much the outcome would hurt, and without the benefit of hope.

And it was f--king HORRIBLE.

Those moments of sadness still happen, and they are about a million times sadder than before, but they still lift sometimes.  And when they do lift, it's because they've been replaced with an angry energy, a fierce determination to get through this, and to be better for it, and to Just. Keep. Going.

I laughed today, for the first time. That's a good sign, I think. And I have begun eating again, which I wasn't really doing much of  earlier in the week. Some hard, hard lessons have come from this particular situation. Which is the silver lining I suppose. Plus, those in-between times have been surprisingly productive; frighteningly so in fact.

But the regret is circling.

I keep telling myself to ignore it, because after all, what's the point?  That's thing thing in life; there are no bad decisions. Not really. There is no knowing, anyway, if a decision was a right or a wrong one, because you can't possibly know that. There's nothing to measure against. You don't know would have happened it you had taken that other path, if you'd just waited a little bit longer or perhaps if you hadn't waited for quite so long.  It's so easy, and tempting, to wonder about that. But that's not the point.

At the end of the day there are decisions.  Just decisions. You make them, and sometimes you make them by default, because you don't do anything else, and then there are consequences.

So I'm trying not to listen to the ghosts.  I don't know how long that will last, and I expect that at some point I'll just have to give into them, for a little while at least, and let those feelings of regret take hold. Not forever, just long enough to give them a chance to pass.

Because eventually, of course, they will.

(I don't know why I am writing about all of this, really.  It helps to write about it though, and maybe reading about it will help someone, somewhere, too.)

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Being brave part 2

So. That tiny-but-huge act of bravery I was gearing myself up for? In the end, I didn't do it.


The particular act in question has now, for reasons I won't go into, been rendered more than little bit  redundant. Windows have sailed, ships have been bolted, horses are now closed.  Or something like that.

I keep waiting for the regret to kick in but - somewhat surprisingly -  it hasn't happened. There are plenty of other emotions swilling around in my head and my heart;  hurt, disappointment, anxiety, wounded pride.....all the really fun ones. Then there's the occasional bout of fear that things will always feel like this; that I'm doomed to be miserable forever (they won't, of course, I know they won't, but right now it's a little hard to remember that) and a general sense of confusion, interspersed with the occasional flash of anger - often irrational,sometimes not - directed at everything and nothing in particular all at once.

Mainly though,  I'm just sad. It's a constant, low-level sadness that just sort of hovers around like a mosquito, buzzing just loudly enough that I know it's there. Sometimes it settles over me and makes it impossible to think about anything else, other times it lifts for a while and I find myself surprised to be joking with strangers, smiling at shopkeepers, getting on with my day as if life were perfectly normal.  And then the buzzing starts again, and we're back to square one.

And yet, no regret.

I think perhaps it's because it was never about not being brave enough. There are risks and there are calculated risks and sometimes when you do the calculations, you get an answer you really, REALLY didn't want. You can check, and check again and triple-check but the answer is still the same, and  at some point you have to admit that it's right.  And if you're really honest with yourself, deep deep down, you knew that all along.

And so, if you're smart, you don't act.  For your own sanity, your own safety, your own peace of mind. Because there's a very fine line between being brave and being stupid; actions which are risky and ones which are downright foolhardy.  And sometimes, giving yourself permission not to act is the bravest thing you  can do of all.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Being Brave

I've been having a few ups and downs in the world of freelancing lately. Ups have included a lovely mid-week trip to Edinburgh; downs mainly involve  narrowly missing out on some work I would have loved to do, and worked really hard to try and win.  Still, life goes on. The scars will heal. The bills will be paid (I hope.)

One thing I've realised is that freelancing is a lot like dating. In the last few months I've swapped contact details with someone who sparked my interest then played the will-they-won't-they-call waiting game; I've had coffee with various people purely so we can size each other up and I've had a REALLY awkward break-up conversation. Someone I know has said to me 'I'm not going to hook up with this person, but I think they're perfect for you. Can I pass on your details?' and I've even, I'm a little ashamed to say, resorted to dodging emails in order to extricate myself from an expired (in my mind, at least) relationship. None of these things had anything to do with my personal life. 

Courting people for work, courting people for romance....there's a lot of overlap. You're constantly presenting your best self to others, then waiting for their judgement. You have to be honest with other people and - the even harder bit - with yourself, about what it is you're looking for, and what you're not prepared to do. You have to be brave enough to say no to things which aren't quite right, and trust that there's something else out there. And when you do find what you're looking for and you fall in love – whether with the perfect work opportunity, or the right person, you have to go and chase after it, without any idea of what the outcome might be. You have to take risks. Constantly.

In both love and work, there are safer options. You can simply do nothing at all (and end up unemployed and alone) or you can take the 'normal' route. Find a regular full-time job, settle down with Mr He's-OK-I-guess-and-it's-better-than-being-on-my-own. These are not terrible options. Plenty of people take those options and there is still, even now I think, a lot of pressure to follow that path. It's easy to see why it's so tempting.

But for some of us - and I think we're growing in number – that's not the right choice. The alternatives might involve doing things which are, quite frankly, sometimes terrifying, but as hard and as scary as it can be sometimes we still know what feels right for us. Don't ask me how we know - we just know. I know I'd rather be freelancing than be tied down to a not-quite-perfect job in much the same way I'd rather be single than settle for a relationship with just anyone. I suspect it's the same something, deep in my DNA, which is responsible for both.

It takes guts though. You need the courage to go against the grain in the first place. And then (and here's the real kicker) you have to keep being courageous, performing little acts of bravery over and over again. It's easy, after a while, to forget that this is what you are doing. Being brave might have become a habit, but doing something habitually doesn't necessarily make it more pleasant, or less painful. Anyone with a regular waxing appointment will tell you that.

In the news we hear stories of great acts of bravery all of the time. People climb dangerous mountains to rescue other people and watch loved ones battle cancer and  fight for what they believe in even under the most extraordinarily difficult circumstances.  Perhaps not as newsworthy, but no less important, are the smaller acts of bravery. The tiny moments of fear which we feel but try to ignore. The times we don't just listen to our heart, but we actually act on what it is telling us. Even though our head is freaking out. The times when we say out loud what we really want, or tell someone how we really feel about them, or ask a question we're scared to know the answer to.  When we finally press the 'send' button on the kind of email where you have to take a deep breath, and hover your finger over the keyboard for ages first, and then when you do press it you feel a combination of relief and anxiety and hope and wishing the internet had never been invented all at once. 

The risks we take in love, in work, in life generally every single day, seem small. We have to tell ourselves that these moments are tiny, and were no big deal, otherwise we'd never be able to cope with the thought of doing them. But sometimes  it's important to remember how big they feel in the moment too. Being brave is hard. Really hard.

One of my friends performed one of those little acts of bravery recently, in matters of the heart. It didn't pay off – or at least, not in the way that she wanted it to - but that doesn't mean it wasn't worth the risk. Regardless of the outcome, those moments leave us with something. They leave us with stories.

The stories of these tiny-but-huge moments are the ones we tell ourselves the next time we need to do something scary. We use them to remind ourselves that we know how to be brave, that we can be brave, because we've done it before.  When they have happy endings they provide concrete evidence that sometimes risks are worth taking. And when they don't end the way we wanted them to, they can give us comfort. We know that even if something terrible happens, we've been through something similar before, and survived. They help us remember that no matter what happens as a result of the crazy, hold-onto-your-hat-and-just-jump leap of faith we're about to take, we'll be OK.  

Those stories are what make us brave enough to be brave again. And again. And again.  They provide an extra boost of courage, just when we need it the most, and give us tiny scraps of faith we can cling on to. They are what make the difference between thinking and doing, acting and not acting. Being proud that we tried or regretting the fact that we didn't. 

Small moments, powerful stories.

The best thing about bravery is that it's contagious. Talking to my heroic, kick-ass friend the other night reminded me of that. By sharing her story, she passed a tiny nugget of courage on to me, too. I haven't done anything with it yet but I absolutely intend to. And when that tiny-but-huge moment does arrive, it is going to find me waiting. Still terrified, still wondering what I'm about to let myself in for,  but perhaps with enough courage now to go and find out. 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Not to worry

You can read in full  F Scott Fitzgerald's wonderful letter of advice for his 11 year old daughter over at the equally wonderful Letters of Note website.

My favourite part is this list of 'things not to worry about':

Don't worry about popular opinion
Don't worry about dolls
Don't worry about the past
Don't worry about the future
Don't worry about growing up
Don't worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don't worry about triumph
Don't worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don't worry about mosquitoes
Don't worry about flies
Don't worry about insects in general
Don't worry about parents
Don't worry about boys
Don't worry about disappointments
Don't worry about pleasures
Don't worry about satisfactions

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

I am feeling a bit sheepish.....

It turns out I joined a dating site a while back, and then completely forgot I had joined a dating site.

The forgetting bit isn't why I'm feeling sheepish.

I have had a chequered history with dating sites, and have dipped in and out of a few of them over the years, with the last couple of years definitely veering more towards the 'out' side of the continuum.

If memory serves the thing which enticed me to try out this one, when I signed up at having-drunk-most-of-a-bottle-of-wine-o'clock late one night, was the fact that it was aimed at 'creatives'.  I know, I know...that term makes me cringe a bit as well, but let's face it. As far as dating website specialisms go,  I'm much more likely to meet the man of my dreams (or a man with whom I can at least stomach the thought of spending an evening with which, at this early-slash-horribly-awkward-slash-really-quite-petrifying stage is all I'm really hoping for) on a site marketed at creatives than somewhere like sugar daddies dot com or uniform dating.

And do not even START me on Tinder.

Anyway, I signed up to this site, and thought no more about it, until months and months later, notifications began to appear in my inbox. I was receiving messages from members of the site.  Messages which began like this:

hi you so attractive my lady
My dearest one!
hello you look pretty . i am looking for true and real love
Nice photo sweetie.
Hello pretty angel how are you doing??
I must confess that you are a sweet and lovely looking lady.
Hello my beautiful friend with radiant smile. I would not trade any of that smile

Let me clarify something:  I wasn't receiving these sorts of messages in among the normal ones.  THESE WERE THE ONLY SORTS OF MESSAGES I WAS GETTING.

I was a bit annoyed.  I didn't  reply to any of them, which felt rude, but I didn't know what else to do because in my head the replies I had composed looked like this:

hi you so attractive my lady

Hi you person who can't compose an actual sentence. 

My dearest one! I know you? 

hello you look pretty . i am looking for true and real love

Of course you are. But only with someone who looks pretty? Meanwhile, I am looking for someone who knows how to use capital letters.

Nice photo sweetie.

SWEETIE?  We haven't even met.

Hello pretty angel how are you doing??

Again - what's with the nickname?  WE HAVEN'T EVEN MET.

I must confess that you are a sweet and lovely looking lady.

Well.....if you must. I mean, don't make me force your arm or anything.

Hello my beautiful friend with radiant smile. I would not trade any of that smile

We are not friends. And I am not entirely clear which part of that smile the other people  the ones who would trade any of it in -  might be willing to trade. Three teeth? A bottom lip?

I'm being harsh, perhaps. But it began to drive me nuts.  These sorts of messages came once a week or so, and NO OTHER MESSAGES CAME and it got to the stage where every time another notification arrived I rushed to check it, hoping to find the exception to the rule.  Surely not everyone on the site can be this shallow, I thought to myself.  A site which is marketed at 'creatives' must attract a small number of people, at least, who can use punctuation.  Where are THOSE people?

Eventually I began to get quite angry.  After all, I'd spent time writing a profile to describe myself, to communicate some of my interests, my values, my attributes....and all that these men were prepared to comment about was my appearance - and my appearance in a pretty ropey headshot at that. (What I haven't even mentioned yet is that most of these messages went on to request private contact details and at least half of them asked if I had Skype.)

Tonight another notification arrived (from Mr 'Hi you so attractive my lady') and I was so mad I decided to review the profile which these idiots (and I'm sorry, but they DO seem like idiots) have all steadfastly been ignoring.

You can probably guess what's coming next.

Yup. Somehow, I had completely forgotten to fill that section in. So here I've been, cursing this stupid website, and these stupid men for the last few months, when it turns out I'm the kind of girl who just slaps up a photo (and a pretty ropey head-shot at that) and then sits back, waiting for some attention, as if her appearance is all that matters.


So I have decided to do a little experiment.  I've now written a brief, and very honest profile.  Instead of spending hours agonising over the perfect combination of words to present myself in the best possible light I just wrote down all the things I thought  I'd want someone to know about me early on.  It looks like this:

Ah...turns out I had forgotten to fill this in.  OK.  Well, I'm originally from Australia but pretty settled in London now, after living here for 13 or so years.  Work involves doing a mix of things mostly in the (primary) education sector - I work freelance and do a bit of teacher training, create education programs, write teaching and learning resources and occasionally run workshops for kids. I also write fiction and love stories of any kind...whether in print, on the big screen, or just on the telly.

Other interests involve food / cooking / eating , travelling, music and comedy....I've just realised what a generic collection of hobbies that sounds! But the fact remains, those are the things I like. 

To be honest, I'm not quite sure what I'm doing here....but do any of us??!  Would definitely be up for a chat or drinks with someone who is down to earth, can have a laugh, and shares similar interests....

It's nothing special, but it will be interesting to see if anything changes as a result.  To be honest, I'm not holding my breath, but I would quite like it if all the things I have been thinking about this site, and about men in general, turn out to be wrong.