The Best of Times

The last week has been tough. And I’m sure I’m not alone. The vast majority of A-Level exams start tomorrow for the next two weeks, after a one week respite (if you can call it that) of frantic revision and studying. That’s the idea, at least. For many, the next two weeks will decide what they do for the next year, and most likely the rest of their lives. No pressure, right?

There’s no denying that it’s difficult. Cast your mind back two years (or however long) and you’re sitting there stressing over your GCSE’s, you’ll hear everyone saying “They’re easy”/”You’ll walk them”/”Piece of piss”. And they’re right. You watch the Year 11’s getting all stressed out, and you can completely understand where everyone older than you was coming from back then. They were incredibly easy, at least relatively. You won’t hear that from anyone about A-Levels though.

You won’t hear undergraduates mocking you about how easy A-Levels were. You won’t hear teachers or lecturers do it, either. They know, perhaps more so than you, that A-Levels can be tricky. You might hear them say “You’ll never work harder in your life”, or even just silently agree with your complaints. That’s my experience, at least. I looked over past papers, over my notes, and I came to realise just how much work needed to be done. Seeing as my exams start tomorrow, I’d like to think I’m nearly ready. If I’m not, there isn’t much I can do about it, it’s far too close to make a difference.

I felt a bit burnt out this morning. I knew I needed to finish up with some work, but I just felt so stressed. I could barely concentrate. There was no point in trying to work like that, so I started playing a game. Surely, the satisfaction of running around a virtual world firing machine guns and rockets at people would just melt the stress away. I didn’t account for the fact that everyone else playing wasn’t in the same state of mind and would brutally capitalise on my lack of concentration. After three rounds I left more stressed than when I began. So much for that idea. No matter, YouTube would provide some mellow music that would solve everything. And it did, for about two minutes until I hit the stream buffer. I don’t think there can be anything more irritating than music interrupted by streaming every 30seconds. This clearly wasn’t working, and my stress levels weren’t getting any better. I resorted to writing this while listening to the radio. I now feel at ease, and maybe this afternoon will lead on to peaceful, productive working.

One thing I thought about, though, with all of the exam stress it’s not so much the fear of working but the expectation that comes along with it. After all, in the course of conversation with friends and relatives you’ve no doubt talked about how you want to go to university, and this has probably followed on to where you’d like to go and what grades you need etc. The honest truth is that Universities care more about what you think you’re going to get in your A-Levels than who you are and what you’re like as a person. Three letters on your piece of paper will say more about you to the admissions tutors than anything else. That’s why getting your three letters becomes the most important thing in your life. It’s not so much the A-levels that decide your life, it’s the three letters that come with them. By telling everyone, including people you’ve probably never met, you’ve given yourself an awful lot of expectation to live up to. It’s a big thing to deal with and when you’re trying your best to revise it certainly isn’t helpful, particularly if you’re constantly reminded of it.

Mark Twain once said “There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded”. It’s only two more weeks and then you could be the type of person who accomplishes things. I sure hope I do.

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Shiny New Updates

After resurrecting my blog from it’s seven month hibernation I looked at it and something wasn’t quite right. Everything was exactly as it was left but I just didn’t like the look of it any more. So I decided to change it all. It’s not the first time I’ve done it, back in July/August last year I changed my blog from it’s default theme into the grey and atmospheric theme I had kept until now. Looking at it this afternoon I didn’t even like the name I had chosen for it.

Now that everything’s been redecorated, you might notice some differences. It isn’t grey and atmospheric. It doesn’t have a weird name (well, actually it still does but it’s a different weird name). It is now all hippy like, airy and generally more welcoming. I suppose before I was trying to go for a hard-hitting information blog but I’ve come to realise that it just doesn’t fit with my style of writing. In the words of Anton Ego (who is the restaurant critic in the Disney Pixar film Ratatouille) “it’s all about perspective”. When you write anywhere up to 3 blog posts a week you haven’t really got time to step back and look at them. Sure, there’s time to proofread and pick out your awful sins against the rules of grammar, but you never really have the time or the will to read through what you’ve written and try to understand what you’re writing about.

In many ways that’s the tricky part of blogging; you can sit at a keyboard and type away with whatever comes into your head but it never really goes anywhere. Quite literally, you’re rambling about your head occasionally throwing out sentences here and there. Quite a few of my early blog posts are very much like this, lurching about in my sea of thoughts, throwing new ideas out with each paragraph. It can often be interesting to read, and it’s perhaps a key part of blogging but when you read back over what you’ve written it seems cluttered and generally insane.

If I don’t get the chance to read over what I’ve written you’ll probably see me slide back into rambling, ranting and letting my mind wander freely. I don’t want to sound cheesy and cliche but “The Cavern” is a pretty big place now; there’s plenty of space to jump around in the array of ideas floating about. What I write in my blogs is very much spontaneous, so I guess we’ll all have to wait and see what becomes of the third generation of tomhowlin.wordpress.com

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A very late NaNoWriMo update

When you start doing something that you’re meant to do quite regularly, like blogging, it really does remind you how quickly time can fly when you don’t blog for any length of time. It’s been seven months since I last wrote something on this site. I can’t actually believe it’s been so long, to think I was trying to write a novel when I last visited this site.

If you’ve been reading my blog since I began you’ll know I attempted NaNoWriMo in November 2011, which now I come to think of it seems like a very, very long time ago. In short, I didn’t succeed; I only managed to write 25,000 words in the month. For the first two weeks I was steaming ahead, comfortably exceeding my word targets each day. I guess I then started to get a bit complacent, and before I knew it I’d run out of ideas and the word count stopped. I’ve still got ideas on how to finish it but I haven’t a clue how to link it up, or extend it for another 25,000 words. One thing I did learn, though, is that 25,000 words is quite a few when they’re all in one file. I’d managed about 40 pages of block paragraphs before my metaphorical  fountain of creativity ran dry. I never managed to find more ideas in time.

It was an interesting few weeks, it has to be said. I don’t think I’d ever before put so much effort into writing, not even in exams. I honestly thought I’d got it sussed, and I’d walk the 50,000 words with maybe even a week to spare. What I didn’t realise was how much energy it took to think about and then write 2,000 words a day for 30 days straight. It’s certainly not easy, and when you’ve got to juggle schoolwork alongside it becomes a very difficult task indeed.

I had, however, learned an important thing. Big tasks can be achieved if you break them down and stick to a plan. It’s only once you stray from your plan that you’re almost always doomed to failure. I’d never previously thought it possible to write even 25,000 words on one topic, let alone double that. It was because I began missing my word count targets that the goal began slipping away into impossibility.

Next November, I may have enough ideas to continue. I know it’s slightly cheating to pick up where you left off, but if I can write 25,000 words in one month I can do it again. So hopefully in December 2012 I’ll have written a novel. One thing checked off my bucket list. If the rumours are to be believed it’ll be just in time to see the world end. At least I’ll have accomplished something.