New Year, New Challenges

Yes, I’m calling them challenges this year, rather than the usual resolutions, or goals of the past. It feels like taking a more realistic attitude to call them challenges. It takes away that underlying idea that you absolutely have to do them, or else, that you’re a failure if you don’t achieve them. So, let’s get into it.


In December, once again, I started learning another language. This time, I went for something completely different, rather than going with another romance language. You’re probably thinking Russian, or Mandarin. Nope. It’s much closer to home than that. I started learning Welsh. Why? Well, Wales is, as the crow flies, pretty close to where I live and it’s a less well-known language.

Now, I’m getting used to that, but the strange thing is, that my fingers, when I’m typing, are not.

You know what else it is? It’s a complete-screw-with-your-brain kind of a language, because, apart from the more usual language-y things, some of the vowels are completely back to front to how we use them in English. Now, I’m getting used to that, but the strange thing is, that my fingers, when I’m typing, are not. I know that teledu is spelled with a ‘u’ at the end, but my fingers want to type an ‘i’. What’s with that? How can I know what I want to type and my fingers don’t cooperate?

Anyhow, my language challenge for this year is to get all the way through the Duolingo course. It’s going to be a lot slower than Italian, methinks. The good thing is, the BBC has a whole Welsh channel and I’ve been watching some of the kids’ programmes already. Yes, I can only recognise the odd word, so far, but it’ll get better.


At the time of writing this (on New Year’s Day), my author tech channel is standing at 257 subscribers, which is approximately a quarter of what I need for monetisation, and my watchtime is about one-twelfth of what I need. I’d really like to reach the monetisation target before the end of the year, so that it feels like I’m not doing all that work for no reward, other than the satisfaction of teaching what I know.

I do have an idea for another channel, which I’m not going to discuss the subject of here, but I will say that it’s nothing to do with writing and possibly has a wider audience. I’ll be testing the waters on that before the end of January, but I won’t be spending a lot of time on it at the start.


I have several small-ish things I want to achieve here.

First, to get out the book of my NaNoWriMo stories. I think that’ll take a few weeks, but should certainly be out before the end of February.

Second, is to get the flash-fiction writing book for adults out. I’m going to tentatively give that the same timeline, but this one might slip a little.

Third, I have a very sketchy idea for some more children’s stories, which I’ve started playing with. I think it will be a collection of short stories, rather than longer, individual ones, but as I’m a discovery writer, that may turn out not to be true. I’m not going to set any firm date on this, but it would be good to have it finished before the next Christmas season.

And Everything Else

Yes, I will try to eat more healthily – I hope to grow more of my own food than last year, but I’m still taking baby steps on that front and experimenting.

I will also try to do a little more exercise than last year. It isn’t that I stopped exercising this year, but that I didn’t make the effort to do those little extras.

And that’s about it. I think that’s enough. Better get on with it, I suppose.

How to Write a 106 Prompt Story

Last week I mentioned that I’d written a story a day for NaNoWriMo. Well, that’s not strictly true. For example, on the last day, as well as the daily story, I wrote a second story using many of the prompts for the whole month. That amounted to 106 words, if I’ve counted them correctly. Yes, that’s a lot.

That amounted to 106 words, if I’ve counted them correctly. Yes, that’s a lot.

In the past, I’ve written a number of stories, with up to 31 prompts, from daily word writing challenges. But this was a different beast. It was going to be much more difficult.

First, you may be wondering why it wasn’t 120 words. Well, the maximum would have been 119, because one dictionary, I think it was Collins, didn’t post a word on one of the days. However, in amongst all the words were quite a few based around specific religions and some related to cultures that are not my own. I decided not to use these words in the final challenge because I didn’t want to feel restricted by them. I wanted to be able to use all the words in whatever context. Anyway, 106 was quite enough!

Unlike with previous challenges, I did do some prep for this. I organised the words into rough groups that seemed to go together, so that I wasn’t scrabbling around quite so much. If you group words, you can often get two, or three, into a single sentence, without too much difficulty. This is easy enough, without any prep, with only 31 words. With over 100, not quite so much. Doing this helped a lot.

The other thing I did, which I’ve never done before, was to decide roughly what the story was going to be about. These are the things I knew:

  • It was going to be set in a restaurant.
  • The restaurant was somewhere in space.
  • Two people were going there for an anniversary celebration.
  • The restaurant served gourmet-style food.
  • One person out of the couple was actually there as a food inspector, without their partner’s knowledge.

Well, that’s what I thought I knew about the story. One of these things turned out not to be true.

Technically, getting all the words into the story wasn’t too difficult, although there’s always a little bit of shoe-horning them in. But the whole process was exhausting, because I had to finish the story on the 30th and get it uploaded to YouTube, after having written the daily story. The writing took about two hours and by the end of it, my brain was complete mush. You can watch the writing process here, if you wish. Yes, it is speeded up.

Would I do this again? Maybe. It forced me to write every day and be accountable for doing so. Would I commit to uploading the process to YouTube again? Only if, by then, I had a faster computer for rendering the files. That, plus uploading, took longer than the writing in many cases.

I will be editing and putting all these stories together in a book, with commentary on the process, in the not too distant future. I’ll let you know when that’s published.

Dictionary Corner

For the first time in a number of years, I took part in NaNoWriMo last month. The challenge I set for myself was to write a short story a day using prompts from Word of the Day posts from various dictionary websites (yes, I was a NaNo rebel!). Was this a rash thing to do? Well, it didn’t go quite as smoothly as planned, but it wasn’t a bad thing. This is what I learned about those dictionaries in the process. Bear in mind that I’m mainly talking about this in terms of using the words as writing prompts every day for a month. This is very different from using them as a casual word-learning resource.


The selection of words from Merriam-Webster was generally good and varied. There was a nice mixture of well-known words and slightly less well-known, and most of them made excellent writing prompts. However, the definitions on the Word of the Day page were pretty short. Because I already knew most of the words, this wasn’t an issue, but for my purposes, in some cases, they could have been a little fuller.

However, on looking at the website again, as I write this, they seem to have changed the format of the page and added to the information immediately available, which is much better. You still have to click through for a full definition, though., again, had a good general selection of words. What I really liked about their page was that they gave you a lot of detail right there. Just by scrolling down from the short definition you got word origins, usage and a pronounciation clip. This made my life a lot easier and for an introduction to new words, I think this is definitely a good website.

The OED Word of the Day is like your quirky cousin, the one who always says something unexpected, or something that you don’t really understand.

Collins Dictionary

I have a bone to pick with the Collins Dictionary. Well, in terms of my writing prompts. Collins likes to theme their Word of the Day posts to current events, like COP26 (OMG was I sick of climate-related words by the time they changed tack). There was also a Diwali collection and a Saint Andrew’s Day theme within the month. I wish I hadn’t chosen to use their words as prompts, because I began to feel stifled by them. Yes, I could’ve stopped using them, but that would’ve been failing in my challenge. From a pure learning point of view, though, I’m sure people would get quite a bit from the theming. However, I didn’t think their mini-definitions were the best, which is partly because they were trying to put concepts in there, rather than single words, on occasion. There just wasn’t enough space for a proper definition, and I had to click through to another page to get the full details.


The OED Word of the Day is like your quirky cousin, the one who always uses strange words you don’t really understand. They seem to delight in choosing archaic and rarely used words and I have to say, I loved this. It certainly helped to add colour to what I was writing. I wasn’t that keen on the format on their website, though. They put the word in a tiny box in a sidebar and every time I had to click through to see what the word’s full definition was, because there usually wasn’t enough space for it. But, for sheer novelty and the mind-stretching effect of their word choices, I’d definitely use their site again.


So, those are my brief thoughts on using these sites for writing prompts. I’ll be talking about another aspect of my NaNo challenge next week.

Input is Key

The more you read in the genre you write, the more you will understand what makes up a satisfying tale in that genre. I think this is a pretty well-known, and agreed, fact and practice and, as far as I’m concerned, it is an essential part of writing. It’s the reason that, when I decided I wanted to write middle-grade books, I read a tonne of books in the genre in preparation. It’s all about input. The more you put in, the better the content you will produce and it’s mainly your subconscious that’s doing the work.

I think, sometimes, we don’t give our sub-conscious brains enough credit for all the work they’re putting in, without us even realising it.

In my last post, I mentioned that I was a convert to the idea of comprehensible input with regards to language learning. This is pretty similar in concept. It’s a language-learning method that involves watching, listening to and reading content in the language at a very early stage. You start with simple content, so that it is comprehensible, and gradually up the difficulty. Before you know it, you can understand whole chunks of conversation and can read a book without needing to look up all the words.

In neither situation should these things be done in isolation, of course. Reading so much that you never have time to write isn’t going to work very well when you want to be an author. Only listening, watching and reading in a language, without studying any grammar at all, is going to be a tough ask. But both processes work, because our brains are clever enough to work a lot of it out on their own.

I think, sometimes, we don’t give our sub-conscious brains enough credit for all the work they’re putting in, without us even realising it. So, today, I’d like to officially thank my sub-conscious brain. I think it’s doing a really good job.

Life, Language and Writing

Today is the first day of the second year of me learning Italian. In other words, yesterday was one year since I started. I had no great plan. I just wanted something to fill those long winter nights that wasn’t wasting my time. Why did I pick Italian? Well, when I was much younger, I’d studied Spanish and French to a reasonable level and obtained a smattering of German. I wanted something that wouldn’t be too difficult, in terms of the structure of the language being different from what I was used to and that left me with two possibilities I was interested in – Italian or Portuguese. And, even though Portuguese is almost certainly spoken far more widely than Italian, I preferred the sound of Italian. As you can tell, pretty scientific.

I just wanted something to fill those long winter nights that wasn’t wasting my time.

So, I downloaded Duolingo, because at the time I had no idea there were so many other language-learning apps out there, and began my journey. Repetition, after repetition, after repetition.

Being an introvert, I much preferred this type of solo language learning, where I was only making a mess of things in front of myself. There was no teacher marking me, or correcting me, (okay, yes, there was an owl) and things went apace. As it happens, Italian is one of the shorter courses. This means that, near the end, you get bombarded with so many verb forms you have no chance of coming out of it without tearing your hair out, but, as far as I’m concerned, it was also the perfect length. I finished the course in five months. That is quick, but when I set my mind to something, I keep going.

By that time, I had also read one novel in Italian. Yes, it was an easy novel. It was a translation of a cosy mystery. And yes, it was really tough at the start, but I got there. I have since completed another three novels and am about to finish a fourth. Reading is much easier now. Over the year I have also watched a tonne of YouTube videos in, and on, Italian and watched two different Italian TV series – actually, I’ve watched three, because I watched one on YouTube, too. I now truly believe that the input method is far superior to the classroom method when learning a language (maybe I’ll talk about that another time).

Can you imagine that? Having to write in a different form of the language when writing a novel, or a short story?

How am I going to bring this back to writing? Well, interesting fact. The past tense that’s used in Italian literature is a tense that isn’t used in normal daily life by many Italians (there are some areas that do use it, but most don’t). Can you imagine that? Having to write in a different form of the language when writing a novel, or a short story? As if writing fiction wasn’t hard enough. (This also makes reading in Italian more difficult, until you get used to it, because you don’t really need to learn this tense for your own use. You simply need to recognise it.) Plus, you only use this tense for the narrative. If someone’s speaking, you use the more common past tense.

So, that’s your interesting fact for the week. I wonder if there are any other languages that do this? Maybe, I’ll look that up.

Until next time, which, hopefully, won’t be another whole year.