Permission Granted

Figuine of old woman with basketAt 59 years of age, I thought I knew myself pretty well.  I knew what I liked to do, what I liked to eat, where I liked to go and what I liked to wear.  I knew my own taste in music, movies and books – didn’t I?  Well, no.  I still have things to learn about myself.  The thing I’ve learned most recently is that I need to be given permission to do – or not do – certain things.

I’m not talking about my working life.  If I’m in a library or teaching a class and I see something that needs addressing, I just go ahead and do it.  I don’t ask anyone if I’m allowed to and, most of the time, I don’t even ask if there is a correct procedure for getting it done.  If it needs doing, I dive in.  It seems I’m not as dynamic in my personal life.

I first became aware of my need to be told that something is OK for me to do about five years ago.  I was working my way through a book – and I use that term deliberately – and really wasn’t enjoying it.  In fact, I thought it was dreadful.  But I’d started it which, in my head, meant I had made a commitment to it and so I ploughed on.  Ten pages.  Twenty.  When I finally reached thirtieth page I realised that it had taken me two days to get that far.  I looked at the final page number.  Three hundred and how many?  At this rate it as going to take me weeks to finish and I had so many other books I wanted to read.  That was my ‘Road to Damascus’ moment.  Life is too short to waste on books I’m not enjoying.  (Please note, I don’t say ‘bad’ books.  Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean there aren’t hundreds of other people who do.)

In the first fifty-four years of my life I had only given up on a handful of books and usually felt guilty about it.  No more.  I gave myself permission to stop reading a book if, after thirty pages, I wasn’t involved with the story or the character.  I was allowed to say ‘no thank you, not for me’ and move on.  I even created a shelf on my Goodreads account called ‘surrendered’.  There still aren’t many books on that list, but there is something liberating about knowing there could be more.

That was a huge step for me and, for a long time, that was as far as it went.  Every now and then I have felt a little prickle of an idea in the back of my head, but not slowed down for long enough to take it out and look at it.  In the last few weeks, I have.  It is this idea of giving myself permission.  Instead of saying that something might be a good idea, or maybe I should try, I have started to actively give myself permission to do – or not do – things.  I’m sure lots of people have already discovered the power of permission, but it feels very new and quite astonishing to me.

It started because I knew I had to take better control of my life.  I couldn’t carry on sitting around and waiting for it to happen.  I didn’t feel able to engage with my creative writing and not writing was making me feel guilty, so I decided to start keeping a journal.  I’ve tried having a diary in the past and never made it last for longer than a week.  This time I set myself a few goals, including writing in my ‘One Line A Day’ five year diary in the evenings and sitting down to write in a free-form journal in the morning if I had the time.  I also resolved to remove the word ‘fail’ from my vocabulary (at least where it applies to me) and not to beat myself up if there were days when I didn’t achieve all my goals.

The idea of ‘permission’ appeared in my journal less than a week after I started writing in it on a regular basis.  I said I was giving myself permission not to self edit the words I put on paper.  I was already managing to do it in my journals, why not apply the same to my fiction work?  Two days later I was giving myself permission to not give up on something just because it seemed difficult.  On the same page I also gave myself permission to quit something if it was not moving me forward in a positive way.

A few days later I was giving myself permission not to go to a full day conference that I was booked on.  I’d been told I wouldn’t be getting much more work in that field so why waste an unpaid day on something I didn’t particularly want to do?  I gave myself permission to refuse to take on any more work in August because I had already agreed to do fifty percent more than my contract.  These may be decisions that come easily to other people but I have always found it tortuous.

Finding the inner voice that gives me permission to do things – or not do them as the case may be – has been liberating.  I look forward to more discussions with that voice and making more positive decisions about my life.  With permission, of course.

March 2018 Competition Results – Becky Bagnell Adjudication

I was absolutely thrilled to be placed third in the most recent Hampshire Writers’ Society competition – and even more thrilled that my good friend, Nancy, received a highly commended.

If you would like to see more examples of my short / flash fiction, click on the ‘Writing’ tab above and choose a title.

Hampshire Writers' Society

Literary Agent specialising in children’s books and founder of Lindsay Literary Agency, Becky Bagnell kindly spared some time in her busy diary to adjudicate the March 2018 competition.

Becky Bagnell adjudicating March 2018 Becky Bagnell announces her adjudication

Write 300 words, for readers aged 9-12, about an incredible secret that if discovered could change the planet or the people on it.

Becky’s adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Scott Goldie with Beware Mr. Tibbles

Second Place: Linda Welch with M.A.P

Third Place: Kim A Howard with How it Began

Highly Commended: Nancy Saunders with The Friendly Ear Detective Agency

Highly Commended: Anthony Ridgeway with The Host

Competition Winners March 2018 L to R: Linda Welch, Nancy Saunders, Anthony Ridgeway, Scott Goldie and Kim Howard

First Place:Beware Mr. Tibbles by Scott Goldie

“Beware Mr Tibbles has been selected for first prize because from the very first sentence the author creates an intriguing set of circumstances that would excite the…

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Giving Thanks for the Good Days

Digital image of snowdropsIt’s easy to let the doubts, the dark days and anxieties live in the front of your head.  Some days they seem so much stronger than the positive things in our lives.  The last three days have been really good and I’ve decided to celebrate them; to actively appreciate them in the hope that, by doing so, I will remember this feeling when the grim comes knocking again.

On Friday I worked two different jobs.  In the morning I led a workshop at a large local library.  The session was entitled Kickstart Your Creative Writing and I had a lovely group of seven learners.  It’s not intended to be a ‘how to’ course, more an opportunity to try different types of writing prompts and talk about creative writing as a process.  To share ideas, get a little inspiration and have fun with writing – something that so many people have had beaten out of them through their work or school lives.  The feedback at the end of the session as very positive and I felt that the learners enjoyed themselves as much as I did.  For me, though, there was an added bonus.  I realised that I actually know a lot about writing.

Now, maybe that shouldn’t have come as a surprise.  In the four or five years since I started to take my writing seriously I have undertaken a masters course in writing for children, attended dozens of talks by authors, illustrators, publishers, editors and agents, been part of several writing and critique groups and been involved with several writers festivals.  However, I still think of myself as someone who is a beginner on their writing journey – an enthusiastic amateur rather than a professional.  That changed on Friday morning.  Here were people who were at an earlier stage in their writing – most of them didn’t even know what sort of writing the were hoping to do – and they were asking me questions.  They trusted that not only would I give them answers and suggestions, but that they would be good and accurate.  And, for the most part, I found I could do that.  When I didn’t know for sure I was still able to signpost them to organisations, books, magazines and web sites where they could get the help the wanted.

Friday afternoon was the same – but very different.  This time I was working as a library assistant at a smaller library that plays an active role in the life of the local community.  They have run a Chatterbooks club for some time and, when children grew too old for that group, set up something similar for teenage readers.  I spent a very happy hour with some lively children; we talked about books for children and teenagers; I listened to them talk about the idiocy of some of the grownups in their lives; I lead them on some writing adventures using story dice.  In this group I was acknowledged (and tested) as the grownup in charge, but also welcomed as an equal when it came to creating stories and sharing book recommendations.  The time flew by and I can’t wait to work with them again next month.

Saturday was glorious for totally different reasons.  For a start, I woke early.  At the weekend this would normally mean a groggy trip to the loo before either going back to sleep or snuggling down under the duvet with my storybook of the moment.  Yesterday, however, I was wide awake and full of fizz.  The dogs were startled to find themselves in the park before 7:00 am, watching a scarlet sun rise above the trees and smelling the multitude of scents rising into the air as the frosty ground steamed in the early morning light.  We walked for over an hour then came home for our breakfasts.  The dogs and cats ate in the kitchen, but I brought my coffee and marmalade sandwich straight upstairs to the computer and got on with editing my current WIP.  By the time my OH was up I had polished and printed nine chapters and was ready for elevenses.  Having accomplished so much so early I felt justified in idling away the rest of the day, snuggling on the sofa with my family.  A sense of achievement and of contentment should never be underestimated.

The Song from Somewhere Else, Paperback BookSo now you are nearly up to date with my positive few days.  This morning has been just as good.  It started with three out of the four furry family cosying on the bed while I read a few pages of The Song From Somewhere Else by A F Harrold and stunningly illustrated by Levi Pinfold (I’ve not finished it yet, but so far can heartily recommend it).  Then another long, frosty walk with the dogs and straight to the computer on our return.  I have been falling behind my self-imposed writing/task schedule recently.  Today I have done enough to bring me almost up to date.  Just one task to do before I can get back to my WIP.

I have had a happy grin on my face for the past few days and can recommend a cheerful and positive outlook for promoting productivity and a sense of inner peace.  Grasp the good days and hug them close.  The light CAN drive the darkness away.

 

Never Do Today What You Can Put Off Until Tomorrow

Clock FaceThis week I have been wondering why I avoid doing some things and leave others to the very last-minute.  It’s not a new phenomenon.  My homework was usually handed in on time, but had often been completed early in the morning of the day it was due.  When we go on holiday I can still be found wandering the house in my underwear, putting bits and pieces into the cases, five minutes before we are due to leave home.

At the moment, some of the things on my To Do / Should Have Been Done By Now list include:

  1. Housework: I’m not a fan.  I don’t usually clean until I reach the point where I would be embarrassed if a friend unexpectedly knocked on the door for a coffee.  I’m now at the ‘do I really want to walk around here barefoot?’ stage.  I know – disgusting!  There are two obvious answers as to why things have reached this state of affairs.  (a) Why would I dust a book when I could be reading it and (b) I’m bone idle.
  2. Putting the Christmas decorations into the loft.  Don’t get me wrong – Christmas was taken down in our house at the appropriate time, but it is all still sat in the front bedroom awaiting attention.  Do I not wish to go into the loft?  Am I trying to make the festive period last a bit longer?  I’ve no idea, but all those boxes and bags have got to go.  Also – see answers to point 1 above.
  3. This blog post.  According to my self-imposed schedule, it should have been on-line by Sunday at the latest.  I had several ideas in my head, but none of them had inspired me to leap to my keyboard.  Also – see answers to point 1 above.
  4. My current WIP.  I am so close to the end.  With a bit of concerted effort I could probably have it finished before the weekend.  I know where it’s going, I know what I want to happen, I even know the last line.  But, instead of writing, I’m editing what has gone before – polishing, cutting, tweaking, juggling.  I know that writing is rewriting but, seriously, shouldn’t I get to the end first?  And the answers to point 1 above may have something to do with it.

I was recently talking with a friend about my reluctance to get to the end of my story.  I said maybe I was afraid to send it out into the world because, all the while it stays with me, no one has rejected it.  A bit like the Lotto ticket you keep in your handbag for weeks because, until you check the numbers there is still the possibility that it’s a winner.  She is a psychologist and had a slightly different take on it.  She believes that often the thing we are most scared of is success: of getting the thing that we want more than anything else.  Because, what do we have to dream about if we get our heart’s desire?  Will we still be the same person if we reach our goal?  What will people expect of us once we are successful?

None of us like rejection, but I do think she may have a point.  There is a huge difference between being an unpublished, unagented writer and being a published author with a book to promote.  Is fear of taking that next step stopping me from writing?  That sounds really big-headed.  After all, statistically I’m far more likely to be rejected than accepted by an agent or publisher.

Perhaps the truth is a combination of fear of failure and fear of success.  And, then too,  there are just too many books for this bone-idle wannabe author to read before she puts pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and writes ‘The End’.

 

 

Trying Something New

Fountain PenSo, this week I did what it says in the title – I tried something new.  I have never been part of a general creative writing group.  I enjoy writing for children and when, in the course of my MA, I had that work critiqued by writers of stories for grown-ups, I was uncomfortable.  I felt they didn’t have a grasp of the differences required in writing for a younger audience.  However, there is a long-established writing group that meets at my local library, so I thought I would pay their next meeting a visit.  I’m so glad I did.

They are a small group with a fluid membership – at this meeting there were four established members, two visitors from another library who were thinking about setting up a similar group in their area, and a group leader.  The regular members and group leader all shared their writing on ‘The Secret of Happiness’.  Who would have thought such a simple idea would produce such a diverse group of work – or that one piece would bring me to the edge of tears?

The rest of the session was spent writing and sharing short pieces from prompts provided by the group leader.  I have added my efforts (unedited) to my ‘Writing’ pages.  I was surprised to find I didn’t head to my default children’s writing, but ended up with something for an older audience – and I enjoyed it.

The theme for next month is ‘The Sound of Silence’.  I’m having to work hard to steer myself away from Simon & Garfunkel, but who knows where the prompt will take me.  I look forward to sharing whatever comes out of my pen with the rest of the group in February.

Welcome to 2018 – Zero Draft

Holly leaves and berriesThis is where I should be wishing you all a very happy new year and listing all of my good intentions for 2018. Sorry – not happening.  Not today.  You see, despite reading lots of lovely inspirational posts on my social media and really believing this was going to be the start of a great year, it hasn’t started out like that.

I was determined that this year I would make more of an effort: be kinder; be positive; be supportive; be less judgmental; get fitter; write more often… you know the kind of thing.  And I really meant it when I thought it.  I still do. But, after a long night of trying to settle dogs made hysterical by fireworks, then being woken at irregular intervals by drunken revellers slur-singing their way home, I was a bit grouchy when I got up this morning.  My mood wasn’t improved by almost falling on my face when I stood up and found my knee was swollen and very painful.  Even then, I was determined to try harder and do my best.

Two small dogsIf the dogs and I had taken a different route on our walk, I may still have clung on to all my good intentions but, when we reached our destination, the footpath was blocked – by Park Runners.  Now, I know that keeping fit and socialising are great things.  Making active and regular use of public spaces helps stop them being built on.  But it’s a MONDAY.  That’s not Park Run day.  And that’s when all my good intentions went out of the window.  I watched the sea of lycra and exposed flesh jostling their way down the footpath and my chest was a seething knot of resentment.

Perhaps I should explain that, over the years, the dogs and I have had some rather unpleasant experiences with Park Runners.  The majority of them, I’m sure, are lovely people but there are some who are so intent on shaving a millionth of a second off their best time that they think nothing of barging, kicking, spitting and swearing at other park users.  For this reason, we usually avoid that particular park on a Saturday, as do many other dog walkers.

As we waited for a chance to get on the path and continue our walk, sweaty people I don’t know smiled at me and wished me a happy new year.  Did I smile back and return the greeting?  Did I heck as like.  I snarled and grunted and glared.  When I spotted a gap we leapt onto the path, walking against the tide of runners and I almost wanted someone to knock into us or shove us out the way so I could vent my spleen.  Not good.

I couldn’t shake the pent-up Grinch feelings, even when we were free of the runners and striding over the soggy grass into the public orchard – definitely not helped by spotting the remains of a firework display someone had set up on the Old Common and not bothered to remove when they had finished.  Even when we were nearly back to the safety of home, I was still seething.  You may know that I have a pathological dislike of litter.  Whenever we go for our walks I pick up as much as I can and drop it into the bins in the parks.  Today, just a few doors up from our house I spotted an empty Budweiser bottle, abandoned by the aforementioned revellers.  Did I pick it up and bring it home?  No.  I growled at it and said “Why should I?”

Some of my writing friends say the first version of a story they write isn’t the first draft – it’s the Zero Draft.  All the ideas they’ve been mulling over in their minds spewed out onto the page, just to get it out of their head.  That’s how I feel about today.  It’s the start of 2018 – Draft Zero.  So, please ignore me today.  Tomorrow I fully intend to smile as I wish total strangers a Happy New Year.  It can’t be that hard, can it?