At Rio

Four years ago, on this blog, I wrote a post entitled Heading for Rio. At that time, having been inspired by the Olympic Games in London, I set myself the challenge of writing a novel and finding a publisher for it by the time the next Olympics rolled round in 2016. I also mentioned my habit of wasting time on Twitter and Facebook instead of spending time writing. As I write, the Rio Olympics are coming to a close and I’ve been revisiting the goals I set myself in 2012.

In 2012, I wrote this:

What I want to achieve by 2016 is not only to have written the book, but also (no doubt after many rejections) to have found a publisher and got it published… my aim is to finish the book in 2014, two years from now.

Significantly reducing the amount of time I spent on social media certainly freed up time for other things, including writing, and since 2012 I’ve written two and a half novels, as well as a number of short stories. Back then I also wrote this:

I know that I can do something difficult if I put my mind to it and want it enough, but in order for me to have any hope of achieving it I have to have those two elements: determination and desire.

I very much wanted to prove to myself that I could write a novel. Keeping going was a struggle at times, but I had the determination and desire to carry me through to the finish. What I hadn’t given so much thought to was how I would feel when I had finished writing it.

Since completion, the first novel has undergone numerous revisions and edits, processes I found neither easy nor enjoyable. In some cases, I had to re-read the same passages many times in my quest to sharpen them up and make the story flow. It was laziness that made the task so difficult, but putting in the effort did give me some satisfaction.

By the time I had spent a year or more editing and re-writing the first novel, after taking a break to write the second, I began submitting the book to agents, and then to publishers. Most of them replied to say they weren’t interested, and one or two of them didn’t reply at all. It’s now nearly three months since I last submitted the book to anyone, and I haven’t had a reply from that submission.

Although I found the first rejections difficult, I was determined enough to keep on trying. After a while I branched out from submitting exclusively to agents and started sending the book directly to publishers instead. I hoped this change in approach might yield better results, but it has proved no more successful.

This leaves me wondering what to do next. I’ve looked into self-publishing but it’s not the route I want to take at the moment. If I were an outsider giving myself advice I might tell myself to keep going and never allow the dream to die. There’s nothing wrong with that opinion and, indeed, I can fully see the sense of it. To have dedicated so much time and effort to the project already makes it seem only sensible to refuse to give up until I find a publisher.

In order to do that, however, I need to have some motivation, a real desire to find a publisher, whatever it takes. At the moment, the motivation isn’t there. Who knows if it might return, perhaps it will after I’ve taken a break to do other things, but until I get it back I don’t think I’m going to make any progress on that front. Far from feeling sorry about this, I feel surprisingly content.

Watching the Rio Olympics, I possibly have even more admiration for the athletes now than I had in 2012. Even if they don’t get a medal this time around, many of them – having already dedicated years to training – will keep on trying and hope for better things at the next Olympics in 2020. Maintaining such long-term goals, with an unrelenting desire to succeed, are character traits I stand in awe of. To want something so much that you’re prepared to wait however long it takes to achieve it is quite mind-boggling.

All of the top athletes I’ve heard interviewed in Rio have given their own reasons for wanting to succeed, citing different motivating factors that have driven them on. Mo Farah, the British runner who last night got the gold medal in the 5,000 metres, after achieving the same in the 10,000 metres, winning both in London before repeating the feat in Rio, has often said that his children are what motivates him. He has four children and now has an Olympic gold medal for each of them. For Usain Bolt it was the chance to do something no other athlete has ever done before, getting gold in three track events at three separate Olympics. That desire to be possibly the greatest sprinter the world has ever seen has driven him on and got him through the tough times because it was something he wanted so much.

My own desire to become a published author is a far more modest ambition, and yet from my point of view it will take something of the same sort of drive and determination to achieve it. Without that determination I’ll find it impossible, so do I still want it enough? The past four years have taught me many things about myself, some of which were completely unexpected.

One of the influencing factors in the way I view things now has been what happened to my eldest brother, Fergus, in September 2014. He was a highly intelligent and enthusiastic person, and although he suffered from various mental health problems for many years he worked hard to fight depression. He made a considerable effort to join a variety of groups, and gave a lot of his time freely to help other people. He was 51 when he went missing in Switzerland, and nothing has been heard from him now for nearly two years. I have come to the conclusion that he suffered a fatal accident in the Swiss mountains and, sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised if we never find out what happened to him.

Fergus achieved a great deal in his lifetime, and I’m sure he could have gone on to achieve a lot more. Having been made acutely aware of how fragile life is, I might have expected Fergus’s experience to make me more determined than ever to achieve my own goals while I still can. In fact, it’s almost had the opposite effect. I realise how lucky I am to be able to enjoy each day and get something good out of it, even if I do nothing of earth-shattering importance. I would still like to become a published author one day, but my attitude to life, and a possible future, has changed. To appreciate what I have today, seems to me far more important than striving for a position I might or might not attain in the future.

That isn’t to say I’m giving up on goals and dreams, far from it. I’m still hugely inspired by Olympic athletes, and indeed anyone who sets themselves difficult goals and achieves them through grit and determination. I still dream about the future and imagine the things I would like to do if the opportunities arise, and it’s these dreams that keep life exciting and inspiring. Inevitably, I sometimes think about what will happen to me if I don’t achieve my writerly ambitions, but I try not to dwell on such thoughts. There will always be things I wish I had done, or still want to do if I get the chance, but being thankful for what I have today makes the present a blessing, whatever the future holds.

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Heading for Rio

For as long as I can remember I’ve needed engaging challenges to make me do stuff.

Having previously promised on this blog not to drone on about my laziness, I will simply say that I often find it hard to motivate myself to do things, even when I actually want to do them, and I sometimes wonder why this is.

I read an article recently by Robert of the Embrace Possibility blog that offered a suggestion. In his words: “The reason we struggle with being disciplined is because we lose sight of what we really want and take action for a lesser want instead.”

That’s certainly true for me. I want to get on with writing, but I mess about on Twitter and check Facebook updates instead. Once I’ve had my fill of social media I remind myself that I want to write, so I go and clean the bathroom.

My usual attitude is not so much this:

Usain Bolt getting on with the job – image courtest of digitaltrackandfield.com

As this:

Messing about on Twitter – image courtesy of sandierpastures.com

However, I have also noticed that if I set myself specific challenges that grab me enough and need to be completed in a set timescale I can actually achieve them.

Right now, at the end of the London Olympics, there are athletes the world over already setting their sights on Rio de Janeiro in 2016. They’re arranging their training regimes and planning a number of targets over the next four years, with the big aim of taking part in the next Olympic Games. To me, who finds it challenging to plan the next 4 days, that is quite a staggering thought, and their inspiring attitudes have made me decide to make my own personal plan for the next 4 years of my life.

I’ve been asking myself recently what I can do that would bring me a sense of real satisfaction. I know that I can do something difficult if I put my mind to it and want it enough, but in order for me to have any hope of achieving it I have to have those two elements: determination and desire. Part of me wants to challenge myself to do something I feel is almost too big a struggle for me, and another part of me wants to find something easier, but I think I can satisfy both types of challenge by making the one big difficult thing my main aim and several smaller, easier, goals my stepping stones to getting there.

One thing that has plagued me for years is the desire to write a novel. I’m overflowing with admiration for someone like Terry Pratchett, who can not only create an entire alternative universe complete with realistic characters, but can churn out a book or more every year for years on end with astonishing dedication and skill (and it’s all the more remarkable since he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2007).

Given my years of frustrating procrastination, writing a novel is going to be my big goal for 2016, and I need to devise a series of steps that will take me from where I am now (nothing written at all) to the end result. What I want to achieve by 2016 is not only to have written the book, but also (no doubt after many rejections) to have found a publisher and got it published. I believe it takes about 18 months to get a novel published in the UK after it’s been accepted, and publishers can take 3 months or more to reply to submissions, so my aim is to finish the book in 2014, two years from now.

On the face of it, two years seems like a long time to write a novel, but I honestly think I might struggle to do it in that time. However, I am determined to give it my best shot.

Above my desk, along with my motivational card:

image courtest of ncdadogeball.com

oops, wrong one, I do of course mean this one:

image of poster by Karen Tribett, courtesy of allposters.co.uk

I have stuck up a selection of photos chopped out of newspapers of Olympic athletes from this year’s Games.  The people’s favourite, Usain Bolt, is naturally up there, along with the marvellous Mo Farah, and many others. Not all of those at this year’s Games will be heading for Rio, but many of them will, along with others I haven’t even heard of yet.

My thinking behind giving myself this 4 year plan is that as I trudge along, often questioning myself and wondering if I can really achieve my ambitions, I’ll be doing it in excellent company. When I struggle to get out of bed in the morning and feel as if my brain is running backwards all day, the same could well be happening to some of these athletes. There is going to be, I hope, some sort of fellow feeling that I can draw encouragement from.

I don’t know if anyone else might think this a worthwhile pursuit, but perhaps there’s a goal you’d like to achieve, and if so maybe you could use the next Olympic Games as your deadline, too. This year’s Olympics has inspired me more than any other, but perhaps the next one will be the best so far, if I can celebrate the realisation of my own dreams along with those of 2016’s Olympians.

Incidentally, if you feel that having a little mascot to carry around with you might help you to stay inspired after the Olympics, you might like to knit your own Usain Bolt. The Radio Times has published details of how to do it here (utterly perplexing to a non-knitter like myself, but no doubt perfectly clear to knitting gurus):

image courtesy of olympixx.wordpress.com

Inspired by the Olympics

It’s a while since I’ve written a post about tearooms, and that’s partly because I’ve hardly been at home recently to do it, but also because I was becoming a little tired of churning out the same sort of thing. I was beginning to think I was not only boring myself to death, but probably also my dear readers.

However, is this genuine boredom on my part, or laziness, or just my usual lack of dedication to something long-term?

Watching the Olympics, I’ve been struck by the dedication of the athletes involved. They spend years of their lives training for this one occasion. Although they attend other competitions as well, for most of them the Olympics is their main goal, the one thing they keep their eye on that inspires them to keep going when they’re getting bored, feeling lazy or just sick of dedicating their entire lives to exercise.

While writing a blog is by no means as arduous as training to become an Olympic athlete, many bloggers use it as a way of disciplining themselves to write regularly, practising a skill they would like to become better at. I don’t know what the percentage is, but a lot of bloggers, myself included, have a desire to become published authors, and even if we are writing other things at the same time, blogging can provide a useful bit of training that contributes to that goal.

I watched a documentary a while ago about Usain Bolt, currently the fastest man in the world (and tonight we’ll find out if he still is). He is obviously very talented at what he does, but he didn’t get where he is today without putting in considerable effort. What appeals to me about him, however, is that he’s not one of these athletes who genuinely enjoys all the training for its own sake, he struggles to discipline himself to do it when he’s not in the mood, and his coach has said that despite his success he’s not a natural when it comes to training.

Usain Bolt hanging off a London Bus – courtesy of The Guardian

In a recent newspaper interview, Bolt had this to say: “The key thing to remember is that hard work does pay off. If you put the work in, it will definitely pay off in the long run”. I’m sure this is something he has to repeatedly tell himself, to remind himself why he’s putting in all this work when he would rather be relaxing with his chums in the Caribbean sunshine and being the laid-back Jamaican that he naturally is.

A good friend of mine recently sent me a card, which arrived on the very day I needed it. I had been sitting at my desk thinking that I needed some sort of motivational text to inspire me, when this card popped through the letterbox. It’s now sitting next to my laptop and reads: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars…”

I’m sure I had seen the quote before and it hadn’t made a particular impact, but when I saw it that day it hit home and provided the encouragement I needed to keep going. It also relieved me of the pressure I had been putting myself under, the ridiculous notion that in order to be a successful author I needed to become the next J K Rowling. It’s good to be inspired by other people who’ve trodden the path before you, but important to remember that we are all individuals, with different talents and different routes to success, and – most importantly – different definitions of success.

I initially thought that success for me would mean publishing my own book, which I did a few weeks ago. It was a good achievement, but now it feels to me like a stepping stone to other things. I’m glad I did it, and prior to publication I did work quite hard to get it done, but almost as soon as I had it in my hands I wanted to forget about it and move onto the next thing. This is very typical of me, the constant desire to do something else and the inability to stick at one thing for long. I find this aspect of my character immensely irritating, but having had 40 years of getting to know myself, I realise that this is just the way I am.

We all have to make the best of what we’ve got and, as much as I admire Usain Bolt and all the other Olympic athletes competing in this year’s Games, I am never going to be among them in sporting terms. But I have already learned a lot from observing their dedication and will power, and can apply something of that spirit to my own situation.

I’ll be watching the result of tonight’s men’s 100m with great interest, as will many millions of other people. Whether or not Usain Bolt successfully defends his title, he has already inspired countless people, and I hope that makes him feel he’s still a winner, whatever the outcome.