my500words day 31 : I wrote 500 words a day for 31 days and so could you

I wrote 500 words a day for 31 days and so could you

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Starting the My 500 words a day for 31 days Challenge was fortuitous. I discovered the website towards the end of July and August has 31 days so it all happened in the space of a month which is very neat and tidy.

I started writing when I created my blog over a year ago.

Now that I’m retired I have more time on my hands and I found that if you’re not careful, time tends to slip away unnoticed.

I often got asked, “What did you do yesterday?”

When I thought about it, I couldn’t say precisely what I had done. I felt busy, and there was always something to do, but I was doing rather than accomplishing.

Over the past year, I got into the routine of entering photo challenges and doing Flash Fiction writing stories of between 100 to 200 words in length and posting them to my blog.

At first, even writing 100 words was daunting, but over the space of several weeks, it seemed to get harder and harder to limit mine to 100 words. Then as I gained experience, and my word count increased, it became an excellent way to cut out the fluff and strip off the unessential to stay within the word limit. Some of my little stories are much better for having chopped and pruned them.

I got into the habit, of short-form writing, and of crafting each sentence word by word. I leant heavily on my dictionary of synonyms. It’s so easy to do on a computer or tablet, isn’t it.

I had scoured the web for longer challenges, and there are quite a few, but somehow 750 words or so sounded daunting, and I wasn’t ready to commit myself.

Free writing scared me, and my addiction to editing and searching for synonyms as I wrote, got me into a comfortable routine.

Luckily, I love a challenge, and for some reason writing 500 words a day for a month felt feasible.

I checked out the my500words website, and it felt vibrant. Lots of writers were making daily entries after hundreds of days, not just 31. There were also a lot of nervous newcomers that were receiving a lot of support from the my500words community.

I took a snap decision, and on the 31st of July, I committed myself publicly on my blog and took up the challenge.

Here I am on the 31st and final day of the challenge and looking at my word count; I’m only 66 words away from completing the challenge after passing this full stop.

This challenge, however, is not really about word counts and pages; there are multiple benefits.

I have a new routine, which is great because I thrive on routines. I get up an hour or so earlier, grab a coffee, open up my computer and just write for an hour or so. I sneak in before getting sidetracked by email, social media and all the usual diversions, and just write. I try to let the words flow through my fingers on the keyboard and onto the blank screen in front of me.

To have ideas of what to write, I’ve adopted Jeff Goins three bucket technique. I do carry a small notebook in my bag, but more often than not I will jot ideas on the notes app on my mobile phone during the day. I refer to these later if I’m short on ideas for my daily write. It’s a great exercise, and like a photographer, I observe and make notes on my observations and thoughts as they occur, like the snapshots taken with a camera.

I’ve found that sometimes just one idea can stretch to more than one story or article.

For the first few days I was stuck on the challenge of the day, but from the community, I learnt that it wasn’t the challenge but the writing that was important. Nevertheless, although some days I ended up writing about something else, the prompts were always useful, in one way or another.

I took the time to examine each challenge, and apart from establishing routines and enlarging horizons, they also have subtle intentions that have helped me to hone my skills as a writer.

I’ve cut the fluff, used different voices, written from the heart instead of the head, started from the end to get to the beginning and most of all I’ve finally understood what Free writing is all about.

I now write, not always, but most of the time, without looking at the screen but concentrate on my fingers dancing on the keyboard. I leave all the editing for later.

It’s amazing how several hundred words are often rich in possibilities, but you need that raw material on which to work on in the first place. It often surprises me to discover what I’ve written, and I often ask myself, “Where did that come from?”

At times the characters in my stories seem to have spoken by themselves and from time to time, adopting a new voice, has given me personal insights, and a better understanding of how and why other people react as they do.

There are many other benefits to the my500words challenge that I’m sure I’ll discover as I pursue my writing.

Over these 31 days, I’ve written over 24,000 words which, put together, are much greater than a short story, and nearer to being a Novella.

So I think if you read this, and it sparks your interest or answers any of your questions, you should do the challenge too.

Make the decision, take the plunge, just do it. Like me, you won’t regret it.

I’ll no longer hope to become a writer one day or call myself an aspiring writer again.

I am a Writer, and this is what I do.

My next goal is to become an author.

(978 words)

Friday Fictioneers : Stars

Stars

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Young Steve was a dreamer, and stars occupied his dreams. He spent his pocket money on Telescopes and Star atlases and watched Astronomy programs on the families black and white television.

Steve came back to earth, found his true love and fathered two amazing children while the earth continued to spin around the sun and the moon played games with the tides.

Old Steve, withered, and broken, drew comfort from the twinkling lights of the Xmas tree.

He knew that it was time for him to fly, at last, towards the distant galaxies of his childhood dreams.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly Flash Fiction challenge set by the amazing and inspirational Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. It’s also one of the reasons I started to write and its community of great writers and artists motivate me every week.

This week’s prompt was provided by © Vijaya Sundaram. What a great prompt it has proved to be.

I’d like to raise my glass to all of you.

my500words : day 30 : The Tracy Arm Surprise

The Tracy Arm Surprise

Going to Alaska felt as if we were we going on an adventure. A bit like the Wild West of the North, I suppose.

We boarded the Norwegian Jewel in Seattle and set sail to the North leaving that fabulous city behind. The Space Needle was visible on the skyline long after we’d left the port.

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Life on board was excellent, like on most cruise ships whatever the company, but Norwegian ships just seems to have that extra fun factor.

The cabin was well equipped; the bed was comfortable, and the cabin had a balcony, although we didn’t expect to use it a lot the farther north we cruised.

After a day at sea and some fabulous fresh salmon on the first evening, we arrived in Ketchikan, and it was indeed like being on the frontier. We were embarking on an adventure.

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The adventure continued because we had arranged a flight on a float plane, our very first experience, in a small amphibian aeroplane.

There were just the pilot and the two of us, which made the flight even more agreeable. Before we’d had a chance to experience any stress, the plane was taxiing along the water picking up speed for take-off.

The water was calm, and before we knew it we were in the air and speeding towards our destination.

It was grey, cloudy and misty but this added, rather than subtracted, to the experience. Somehow it would have felt a bit strange if the sky had been blue with bright sunshine.

We flew for about an hour watching the forests and lakes below, taking pictures and chatting with the pilot. Then, too soon, we were on our descent back to the port of Ketchikan and landed softly like a big bird.

The sensations in a float plane are different than in a helicopter, and the vintage feel of the cockpit added yet another dimension to our escapade.

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The next port was Juneau and another full day ahead of us.

We made a short hike through the temperate rainforest, eleven kilometres from Juneau, with a naturalist photographer as our guide. She gave us information on the fauna and flora and tips on aperture and shutter speeds.

Although it wasn’t raining, we were glad to have our waterproof ponchos as we advanced through the forest towards our first destination.

We were on our way to the Mendenhall Glacier, but we had no idea of what we were going to see. Sometimes you try to lower your expectations to avoid disappointments, and seeing a glacier was one of these occasions.

As we cornered the bend to the viewing area, the sight before us made us catch our breaths and we looked at each other speechless taking in the beautiful icy panorama before us.

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The glacier was full of shades of blue and several pieces had detached and were floating on the water. The ice field extended towards the horizon majestically. I hadn’t dared to imagine such a spectacular sight.

We took as many photos as we could and walked back to the coach that had taken an alternative route to pick us up and it transported us back to the port where a small boat was waiting for us.

Now it was time to do some Whale watching. Once again, to avoid disappointment our expectations about actually seeing whales were low. Due to the unpredictability of wildlife we were warned that sightings were a possibility, but couldn’t be guaranteed.

Modern boats, however, are well equipped to detect shoals of marine life, and after only twenty minutes or so several Orca emerged from the water.

I was so excited that several of my photos missed their targets, but my wife took photos effortlessly and captured each opportunity like a professional.

After seeing the Orcas, we continued farther from the shore making large circles, and the captain kept in touch with other vessels by radio.

Fairly soon we saw the telltale signs of a whale, as a spout of water erupted from the sea, followed by the arch of the whale and then the enormous tail as it dived back under. It wouldn’t reappear for several minutes, if at all, so it was a waiting game of scrutinising the horizon for further sightings.

We saw and took photos of many whales, and once again were not disappointed by the generous Alaskan nature.

Unfortunately, it was time to head back to the cruise ship. I could have stayed for hours more.

The captain had remained discreet, probably from experience, about our next destination and it was only late in the evening, that he made an announcement. We would be cruising into the Tracy Arm Fjord, seventy-two kilometres south of Juneau, the next morning. Bad weather had prevented ships from entering the fjord over the previous few days, but he was confident that he could navigate the ship into the fjord safely.

After a hurried breakfast, I was early on deck, as far forward as I could, wrapped up as warmly as possible because it was bitterly cold and windy.

My camera was tucked inside my jacket to keep warm and free from distractions; I was able to drink in the panorama that unfolded before me.

Before long the deck was crowded, and passengers were jostling for position to get the best views.

The Norwegian Jewel almost touched the sides of the fjord as it advanced, edging it’s way in slow motion to our destination at the head of the fjord.

We were twisting this way and that with no clear view of where we were going.

Each bend in the fjord held its own surprise.

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Then, around the very last bend, we arrived at one of the greatest sights I have ever seen; The majestic Sawyer Glacier.

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IMG_3490.jpgI didn’t think I would see such a panorama one day, and I was excited and elated, just like when I was a little kid discovering a toy with my favourite sweets at the bottom of a lucky bag.*

I took photo after photo, before returning to our cabin, and I still have the image in my mind of opening those cabin doors onto the balcony, to see the Sawyer Glacier just a few metres away.

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What a surprise and what memories to treasure.

(*) There were girls and boys lucky bags containing sweets and a surprise toy in each packet. I used to buy one with my pocket money when I was a kid.

This is the third part of a series of travel tales.

  1. How I went to Brazil

2. Flight over Table Mountain

3. The Tracey Arm Surprise

4. The Lone Piper

5. My Vanuatu Swim

6. Breakdown in Peru

7. It Takes Two to Tango

8. The Bali Run

9. Almost the Northern Lights

10. I’ll Love You To the End of the World

This is day 30 of the my500words 31 day challenge. Tomorrow is the last day and I will deliver my conclusions.

FFfAW : Incognito

Incognito

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© Iain Kelly

John Doe came up with the idea.

We call him John because our names are unpronounceable on this planet. My Earth name is Jane Smith, but like John, there aren’t enough letters in your alphabet for my real name.

We needed a means of getting around safely and undetected.

Our earth suits were the first step. They give us an Earth-like appearance.

I enjoy wearing the female model. I love the variety of clothes and accessories that the suit can wear.

John just wears the same old black suit model, day in day out. He says it’s because he saw a film during our training. I think it was called ‘The Man in Black’ or something like that.

When asked he says, “It’s only a suit, who cares if it always looks the same?”

He does look weird, with those sunglasses fixed to his suit-face, day and night.

So it was John’s idea to print some aerial transport that didn’t look too out of place. We just installed our own propulsion devices and a sound box or two to make just the right sorts of noises.

They’re fun to drive.

Sorry, fly.

Here is my entry to this week’s Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers, expertly managed by the incredible Priceless Joy.

my500words : day 29 : Flight Over Table Mountain

Flight Over Table Mountain

It’s strange.

Many of my adventures seem to happen when I’m tired.

My wife and I were bound for a twenty-two-night cruise from Cape Town to Sydney on the Queen Mary 2 and had taken a flight from Heathrow to Cape-Town.

We arrived early in the morning and transferred from the airport to the hotel and caught a brief glimpse of Table Top Mountain behind a shanty town on the outskirts of Cape Town.

The coach, with forty-odd other passengers, dropped us off at the Hotel, and we all fought to claim and transport our suitcases  for the check-in.

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The fatigue from the flight led to frayed tempers, and the foyer was alive with irate passengers most of whom just wanted to find their beds for a few hours sleep.

We weren’t boarding the Queen Mary until the next day so theoretically the day was free to do whatever we wanted.

Check in was delayed as the rooms wouldn’t be ready for an hour or so and we took a seat and waited.

It was a beautiful day. The air was clear and the sun was shining. It’s rays illuminated the foyer, and a warm breeze wafted through the open doors. It was such a welcome change from the cold murkiness of the late January day we had left behind us in London.

I didn’t want to stay seated too long because I was afraid of falling asleep. It would be better to wait until we could go up to our room, shower and then slumber.

I got up and walked around the foyer, trying to shake the sleep away.

Then I spied a brochure advertising helicopter rides over Cape Town, the coast and of course Table Mountain.

I grabbed it to take a look. The photos were, of course, fantastic and when I looked out again from the foyer at the cloudless sky outside, I thought as we only in Cape Town for the day it would be such a shame not to seize the occasion.

I took the brochure to my wife, and she read with a big smile.

There was no need to say more.

There was a contact number on the back of the brochure, and I asked at the desk if they could arrange a tour later in the day.

A few minutes later, all was arranged, and we would be picked up by car from the hotel and taken to the airport for our flight, and transferred back to the hotel afterwards.

There was just enough time to check in and spruce ourselves up before the car arrived.

I think I might have closed my eyes during the drive to the airport as I can’t recall the details.

We received a warm welcome from the staff at the airport who gave us the customary safety briefing and ushered us, a few minutes later, into the helicopter. It was perfect as there would be just the two of us with our pilot.

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We braced ourselves for take-off but it was so smooth that our bodies were unaware that anything had happened.

The air was clear; the colours were vibrant and with our headphones on, the sound of the rotors was muffled. Microphones enabled us to chat between ourselves and with the pilot. He told us that he was French, and as both of us are bilingual, we spent the rest of the flight ‘en français.’

I’ll let the photos describe our flight as I think that they convey the magic more than my words could describe.

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It would have been extremely difficult to have had a better experience than the one we enjoyed that day.

Later, after touchdown, we chatted some more with the pilot and crew back in the reception while we waited for the DVD of our flight, filmed in HD from several onboard cameras.

Rather than go straight back to the hotel we asked the driver to drop us off at the waterfront.

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We shopped in the market to get some fancy dress for an upcoming African Ball on the ship. I took more photos, while we drunk a coffee on a shaded terrace. We listened to a local Zulu Band who were selling their music on handmade artisanal CDs.

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I even danced a little with them afterwards, Zulu style.

We were fabricating memories by the bucketload.

The cherry on the cake was the boat ride from the quay to the hotel, winding along the canal and up to the hotel.

Back at the Hotel, we just had the strength to sit out on the terrace and order dinner and a nice glass of South African white wine before going upstairs and falling into bed, totally exhausted.

On our way up to the room, we saw clouds rolling over Table Mountain like a stream.

What a day!

(813 words)

This is the second part of a series of travel tales.

  1. How I went to Brazil

2. Flight over Table Mountain

3. The Tracey Arm Surprise

4. The Lone Piper

5. My Vanuatu Swim

6. Breakdown in Peru

7. It Takes Two to Tango

8. The Bali Run

9. Almost the Northern Lights

10. I’ll Love You To the End of the World

my500words : day 28 : From Being a Paper Boy to Having a Career

From Being a Paper Boy to Having a Career

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My first job, with a salary, was as a paper boy. I had a paper round and delivered door to door until my bag was empty, six days a week.

My first real job though was a Saturday job in Woolworth’s where, wearing a long brown overall, I worked behind the scenes, organising the stock, receiving deliveries and working the machine that crushed paper into large cubes, secured with metallic ribbons.

After a few months, they let me behind the counters, and I sold nails and bolts, washers and screws by weight. A sort of pick and mix of the DIY variety.

I remember loving the banter and the contact with the customers and those Saturday’s flew by.

When the shop doors closed at five pm, I would run up the stairs to the little office on the first floor, to get my pay in a small brown envelope. Then, sitting on the cold concrete stairs, I would rip it open and let the coins fall into my hands and feel their weight in my clenched fists.

I felt wealthy and of course, the coins would burn a hole in my pocket until I had spent them all on sweets, comics, model aircraft and Dinky toys.

My passion for music developed at home and at school around that time.

I’d been having piano lessons every week, but one day my piano teacher heard me sing and persuaded me to drop the piano and take singing lessons instead.

At the same time, I was taking the bus every Sunday to a manor in the country, where a wealthy woman hosted an orchestra of forty or so amateur musicians. I became the percussionist.

When we had finished rehearsing, we would retreat to the hall, or walk out onto the lawns when the weather permitted, for afternoon tea.

Then our host would give me an oboe lesson before I took the bus home.

I treasure the memories of those Sunday afternoons, five decades later.

I was passionate about music, and I envisioned it as a career. I also had a yearning for adventure. I wanted to join the Royal Marines when I left school and play an instrument in a marching band.

Circumstances, however, led me to leave school, and I ended up taking a suitcase with a few belongings and travelling to Edinburgh to work for a small publishing company. During the week I would work the printing machines and make pamphlets and bind larger books. On the weekend I would visit the bookstores and offer books on a sale or return basis.

It was a far cry from the shining adventure I had anticipated, and looking back at it now it was a form of slave labour. I only got paid when the company had sufficient funds, and I slept in a small room on the second floor of the warehouse. I ate when I could, but I don’t remember having meal times, just a sandwich or two grabbed between never-ending tasks from morning till night.

I hated that job and only persisted for one reason.

It was there that I found my first love, and discovered the joys and pains of infatuation.

At last, I was on a real adventure, of passion and sweet suffering. For a time nothing else mattered, and my only thoughts were to be with her.

We eventually left the publishing company together and pursued a summer of love in bedsits and grotty flats living an authentic hippy life.

It’s amazing what you are willing to do to quench your thirst from the cup of love.

Most of those memories still make me smile, but some of them I’ve tried to push as far back into the recesses of my mind as I could.

Unfortunately, with memories, you don’t get to pick and choose, and although I’ve tried hard, I’ve not been able to forget many of them.

Two years later we parted company, and I found not only a real job but a career that I would embrace for the next 25 years.

This is day 28 of my 31 day challenge to write 500 words a day.