Tag Archives: blogging

A tribe of writers

Did you know that there is no collective noun for writers?

I suppose it’s not so surprising, really, what with writing so often being a lonesome experience: sat with a notebook, or in front of a computer, or reading a novel, or lost in important imaginings.

But actually, it’s pretty hard staying focused on all that without a group of people around you that know what it’s all about.

Plenty of people have mulled over this question of what that group should be called: I quite like ‘an alliteration of writers’ – if only for how it sounds. Or a ‘hyperbole of writers’ – but maybe just because it’s one of my favourite words… For me, my group of writers is most definitely a tribe.

Mainly our interaction exists in this virtual world – we met through social media, and our blogs, and through the wonderful What I’m Writing community. I found it all a bit awkward at first: I realise meeting people online has been pretty standard for years now, and on a more personal level I don’t think I would ever have become reacquainted with the man who became my husband if it hadn’t been for Facebook. Still, though, it took me a while to get my head round the fact that these people who I knew only through their words, who I had never actually met in real life, could become my friends.

Turns out that was nonsense.

It is different, getting to know people online. But in a lot of ways it cuts through all the crap. Reading people’s blogs is like a little window into their souls, and much as it can feel strange sometimes to share perspectives on the world which might only come out in real life after hours of chat with people who are essentially strangers, it all becomes worthwhile when you find the words which dance around the same frequency as your own – and even more so when you meet the people who wrote them.

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When you end up with a lunch like the one we had on Saturday, which starts at 1pm and lasts into the evening, with eight creative and talented and opinionated and awesome women sat around a table sharing their thoughts on everything from politics to parenting to relationships to, of course, writing. When you realise that somehow by bonding over words of fiction you have happened upon a group of people who share a deep injustice at the state of the world and the determination to do something about it. When you accept that each one of them will do that differently, but that’s ok – just like we’re all going about this writing thing differently, and that’s ok too.

We spent ages dissecting the pros and cons of self-publishing and agents and independent presses, of aiming high versus getting your words out there, of writing what you want versus trying to shape your work for the market. And our conclusion? They’re all just different ways of doing things, and we all have different perceptions of the way that will work for us.

And that’s ok. And more than a little bit liberating.

I am so grateful for all of the amazing friends I have met during the different phases of my life so far, and to have come across this brilliant group of women now, just when I’m starting to own this current incarnation as a writer, feels almost too good to be true.

Because although writing is by its very definition a solitary pursuit, there is a strength in numbers that cannot fail to help when the self-doubt sets in. And after Saturday, it feels more than that: we protect each other, sure, but we inspire each other too – and egg each other on to pursue our own impossible dreams.

The world has felt like an increasingly scary place to be this year, and whilst part of my response to that has been reaching out to old friends and finding with relief that they are very much still there, the fissures that have opened up in our society have made me doubt whether my place within it is quite as secure as I once thought it was. Having focused for a long time on carving my own path, confident to choose the road less travelled if that is the one that calls to me, I am feeling the need for back-up.

And here, through my writing tribe, whether they are tapping away at a keyboard hundreds of miles away or sharing just one more glass of wine across the table as day turns into night, I might just have found it.

Writing Bubble

Writing at the end of the world

Let’s just take stock of where we’re at.

The UK is hurtling towards an ungainly Brexit, voted for by just over a third of the adult population and headed up by an unelected Prime Minister who is swiftly making Margaret Thatcher look like some sort of socialist saint.

The US, not to be outdone, has voted in a billionaire who openly gloats about tax avoidance and assaulting women. The percentage of the population who are happy about this is even lower than the ‘overwhelming mandate’ leading our country into disaster, and both of our nations, who can thank for their successes generations of immigration and open-mindedness, are battening down the hatches for an extreme right-wing orgy of which Hitler would be proud.

Alongside this, the world is still facing (if not yet facing up to) the worst humanitarian crisis since World War One, military leaders from Russia to China are seemingly putting things in place for yet more global conflict, and our media is having a field day in this post-truth age which has never been less interested in the facts of the situation where there’s a good story to be had.

And don’t even get me started on the travesties that are quietly being played out on our doorsteps behind this international shitstorm. The health and education services that are being dismantled and sold off to the highest bidder, the fat cats getting fatter whilst the poorest and most vulnerable in our society are living hand to mouth, or dying behind a smokescreen of spin.

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It is hard to know what to do.

It is hard to know what the point is of doing anything.

And yet…

I was reminded the other day about why it is I am a writer: why I love books, and art, and culture. Why it matters even more when everything else is falling apart. It was one of those rare moments when the different parts of my life collide: I was at a Torbay Culture Forum meeting to discuss ideas for the future of Shoalstone Pool, and I found myself surrounded by a table of inspiring, talented people who have an unshakable belief in the ability of culture to affect change.

I do, too: that’s why I was passionate about teaching literature and drama and film as well as the more functional elements of literacy and media studies. It is why I trained as an actor many moons ago, and is why I have spent so very many hours over the last few years carefully crafting three novels whilst learning what it is to be a mum.

It is easy to forget, though, at times like this. It is easy to think that it is only by addressing politics head on that you can really make a difference, and that artistic endeavour is frivolous and self-indulgent. I think I’ve been stuck in that space for a while now.

But it’s time to break out. Something clicked when I was away last week, and I have come back with a renewed sense of what I’m doing and why.

I have an idea for a collection of short stories, inspired by this impending sense of doom but altogether more hopeful than that sounds. I’ve been putting pen to paper, playing around with words, and finding the whole process quite therapeutic. As stories emerge I’m planning to set them free into the world and see if any of them can find a home, but I’m feeling strangely liberated by the fact that I’m envisaging this as a collection too, a cohesive work that I might be able to put out there myself someday soon.

I say soon, but I still have no idea where that bigger picture of submissions is taking me. What I do know, though, is I need to own this writer hat, to separate it out from the new-mother angst that spawned this blog. So I have a separate writing blog in the works, which hopefully will be ready to launch in the new year.

This links in to another realisation I’ve had, about what it is that ties together all the stuff on this blog that isn’t about writing – and that is, surprise surprise, linked closely to that sense of creeping armageddon too.

It’s all about changing the world, basically. About nurturing a new generation – as a parent and a teacher – that will do things differently. Do things better. And I think I want to explore this more explicitly, with a blog dedicated to this idea of child rearing as a quiet and determined revolution.

It fits quite neatly with all my thoughts already about parenting and education, but I think the time has come to own that side of me too – not just to voice my thoughts and apologise afterwards for failing to embrace the status quo.

So.

Change is afoot.

Time to silence that demon who has taken a break from criticising my writing to laugh at me for believing that I can make a difference, however small that difference might be.

Because if not me, who? And if not now, when?

Writing Bubble

In pursuit of popularity

We moved on to the third series of Black Mirror this week, which began with the slightly too close to home satire of Nosedive.

I say too close to home, but actually as I was watching (and judging) the protagonist as her picture-perfect life descended into chaos after her pursuit of people’s approval became just that bit too obvious I spent most of my time thinking how glad I was that I had managed to avoid getting sucked into the social media cess pit that already bubbles just beneath the surface of our society.

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Sure, I have a pretty active online presence. There’s this blog of course, and the instagram and twitter and Facebook accounts that go with it. But I don’t strictly use them as promotional tools. I mean I use them to promote my posts sometimes of course. But not exclusively, or even mainly. And the rest of what I post is just observation or record-keeping. I don’t really care if anyone reads it, or if I get more followers as a result.

Not much anyway. At least I don’t think I do.

I mean, I don’t even know my Klout score.

I’m not even sure I really understand what Klout is, but that’s what I thought of as I saw Lacie delight over the positive reviews she received and despair as her rating began to plummet. And if you’re serious about blogging, or social media in general, then of course you have to come out on top, right? Of course people have to like what you do the best, because otherwise why would anyone want to invest in you, to use you to help sell their brand and bestow on you all the perks that come with that?

I guess it is different in that ultimately the things being rated are brands themselves, yes? It’s not the people who are being judged, even if sometimes it’s tricky to tell where the person ends and the brand begins. And really that’s the whole stamp of a successful brand in this personality-driven blowing culture I’m dipping my toes into – it needs to be authentic, to have integrity. Otherwise what’s the point?

Anyway. I’m not doing that. That’s not what this blog’s about – it’s not what my social media presence is about. I don’t care about my ratings. It doesn’t matter how popular I am. I just want to write.

Except…

A few days ago I heard back from the administrators of the competition I’d entered one of my novels into. It was a standard response – exceptionally high standards, yada yada, I should be proud of even finishing a novel, yada yada – the upshot of which was that my novel hadn’t made it through to the next round. It hadn’t even been longlisted.

And I reassured myself that it was the response I’d expected, obviously. I hadn’t thought I’d hear back so soon, had figured I’d be able to hold on to my optimistic imaginings for a little while longer, but I hadn’t really dared hope that my novel would get anywhere.

Except of course I had, because that’s why I’m still doing this. That’s why I’m still writing, and editing, and submitting, because one day I believe that someone will pick up one of my books and declare it a masterpiece.

But not this time.

And really, why should it bother me? It’s just the opinion of one person after all. One more person, who admittedly counts for rather more in this fickle world of publishing than your average reader, and in fact is one of the gatekeepers who decides whether the average reader ever gets to make their own mind up about the book I’ve written, but still just one person.

And it’s not really about me. It’s about my words – my work. Except I haven’t quite mastered the art of separating that out from the very essence of my soul quite yet.

Ultimately I guess there’s less than I thought that separates me from Lacie, and that whole slippery slope of the popularity game. I could ignore it completely I suppose, just write because I love it – because I do love it. But if I’m honest I’d quite like people to read the stuff I write, and to like the stuff they read.

So I’ll keep on keeping on, nurturing my corner of the internet whilst not being too bothered if it sometimes seems a bit littler than I might like. Writing the things I feel like writing, occasionally reaching out to the gatekeepers who might help me find a bigger audience but trying not to mind too much if they don’t respond.

It’s all a bit of a minefield this aspiring author business.

I think I might need a holiday…

 

Writing Bubble

A rambling mind…

After endless procrastination I finally submitted my second novel to a competition this week, meaning that all three have a (temporary) home. I am not holding out much hope that the two ‘finished’ ones will shine in what I’m sure are hugely competitive fields, but still it gives them something to do whilst I patiently await feedback on novel number three.

I seem to have a particular knack at handing over a significant project to my agent just at the point that the franticness of Frankfurt Book Fair hits, but now that’s over it shouldn’t be too long before I know where things stand with that one and can focus back on the bigger picture of finding all three a more permanent home.

In the meantime I have been finding seeds of inspiration all over the place, scribbling them down in my notebook and mulling over their potential to germinate into stories.

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I’ve been doing some free writing, snatching moments of calm to just pick up a pen and see what flows. What I liked about that was that when I was starting with the words themselves rather than an idea the sounds of those words and the way they interplay as collections of letters on a page became my focus. Definitely something to remember when plots and characters start to get in the way.

I’ve been taking quotes too – things Arthur has said, mostly – and using them as first lines to develop a stream of consciousness.

Then there was a moment when we were in Barcelona that really got me thinking… My friend’s daughter asked Leigh to tell her the story of King Arthur, and he sat down and did, in great detail. Reflecting on it afterwards he said he was struck by the misogyny and abuse at the heart of the story as he began to see it through the eyes of a nine year old girl. Which made us both think about how the story could be reshaped through that lens, the male and female characters recast… It’s not a new conceit, to bring a female character to the foreground in the retelling of an ancient myth, but it is something I would like to explore.

Something else that’s got me thinking is the TV series Black Mirror. We only discovered it in the last couple of weeks, and I love its near-future dystopias and reflections on the impact of technology on society. It’s reminded me of some old ideas I had, and made me keen to go back and look at them again.

I’m not sure if I’m ready to try to mould any of these thoughts into something more concrete yet, but I might give it a go over the next few days – just to see what happens. Though I’m still enjoying this process of rambling around in my head for the time being too.

The main challenge has been to keep my rambles on topic. As well as ideas for writing, my brain has started to consider again where I’m going with this blog. I’ve finally got round to setting up a Facebook page, mainly because I want to be able to share my posts with people through that medium but don’t want to clog up my personal feed. That’s got me thinking again though about what my focus is in my little corner of the internet. It’s always been fairly diverse, but actually recently it’s starting to settle into two distinct channels, writing and unschooling, with other posts hanging their themes off those.

I suspect that, a little further down the line, I might look to split those channels into two separate blogs. Possibly even explore the unschooling one as a potentially ‘commercial’ enterprise (firmly in inverted commas because it’s a territory I’m not sure about at all…)

We shall see.

In the meantime, though, I need to keep reminding myself that all of that is sterling distraction work for the writing I should be focusing on. And I certainly don’t need any more distractions just yet…

Writing Bubble

Happy New Year!

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I am wandering around in a bit of a haze today.

It’s always a bit of a blurry day, the first Monday after the festive season, and this one is made no easier by our journey home this weekend from our adventures in Iceland and the USA. It took approximately twenty seven hours to get from the house we were staying in to our front door: fun and games at the best of times and made that little bit more challenging with the addition of a three year old.

It’s the longest journey by far we’ve attempted with him, and actually he was pretty amazing – he slept for almost all of the two flights and a fair portion of the car journeys. Though of course that meant that at 2am this morning I was left negotiating with a temporally confused toddler who wanted nothing more than to play.

So today is a little more blurry than usual. But in between the essential sorting I am trying to get my focus on and think about the shape I want this year to take.

And part of that has been pondering about the place of this blog.

I feel like I’ve been prevaricating for a while now – not entirely sure what I’m blogging for, but not wanting to give it up entirely. But after taking a complete break for the past couple of weeks I’m getting closer to understanding why I’m still here.

It comes back to the initial intentions of this blog really: a place to carve out my new, post-motherhood identity – for myself, and anyone else who wants to listen. After a mostly enjoyable but emotionally turbulent couple of weeks over Christmas and New Year with my family that is feeling more important than ever.

For reasons I may or may not elaborate on in the future I’ve come back feeling the opposite of invigorated – my self-esteem has taken a bit of a beating, and that sense of identity I thought I was getting closer to having all worked out is suddenly seeming more than a little elusive.

But I know it’s in there somewhere, and this is the place, I reckon, to work it all out.

That’s not to say I have entirely worked out the shape these ponderings will take, but I have the beginnings of ideas – and certainly more than enough to get me started.

I want to continue to document Arthur’s childhood, and I’m going to do that a bit more explicitly with a shift over to The 52 Project as the drive behind my weekly photo. I’ve been sort of doing it for a while, but I want to use the project now to focus my lens a little more closely on Arthur as he grows – and maybe even to inspire a shift to ‘proper’ photography rather than a total reliance on my phone.

I also want to look more closely at Arthur’s learning and development through a journal about the beginning of our explorations into homeschooling. Whilst I don’t know for sure whether this is the direction we will take when it is actually time for him to start school, I don’t see the damage the government are doing to our education system easing any time soon. Besides, I’ve already started down this road to an extent by dint of the fact that I have chosen not to send him to nursery or preschool – a decision that rightly or wrongly it is feeling increasingly important to defend.

In fact there is much of my approach to parenting which is coming under increasing scrutiny as it continues to diverge from mainstream expectations, and this is something I’m keen to explore further in the coming weeks and months. I’m intending to start with a ‘parenting manifesto’ – a summary of the principles driving my approach and what I am hoping to achieve – and as I begin to thrash out the contents of this in my mind it’s spawning lots of ideas for further posts about the choices I have made when it comes to parenting.

Finally there is of course my writing. I am still waiting on feedback on the latest draft of my second novel from my agent, but I am hoping in the next few weeks to not only have an idea about the next steps with that but also to start work properly on drafting novel number three. And as part of this whole process I’m looking forward to continuing to link up with the lovely What I’m Writing community – without whom, if I’m honest, I might not have made it through my rather sketchy year of blogging in 2015 at all…

So there you go. A little bit of focus to the haze, a few ideas to get me started, and hopefully the beginning of a bit more blogging this year. Because whilst I have a million other things going on to take up my time I have come to realise that this one is pretty damned important to my sense of self – and I owe it to myself to get that sorted.

 

Writing Bubble

A new chapter

I never meant to be a mummy blogger. I stumbled into it by accident when I set up this blog, which if I’m honest I only did to give myself something to tweet about. Before that point I’d never really even read blogs, apart from the odd post a friend might link to, and I was blown away by how many people were out there, so many windows into so many worlds.

Before long I found myself getting caught up in it. Joining in with endless linkies, modelling posts on ones I read elsewhere, feeling elated when the words I wrote seemed to strike a chord, feeling frustrated when I began to focus on the stats that lurked in the background betraying how relatively few readers I actually had.

So many people were doing it better – funnier, cleverer, prettier. They were making a living from pouring their hearts onto the screens, whilst I was just taking up time that in my mind I should have been dedicating to ‘proper’ writing, or at the very least hanging out with my son.

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Of course that’s only part of the picture. Blogging has given me so much else: a voice when I felt I had no-one to talk to, the confidence to just write rather than panicking about having nothing to say, a community to keep me company as I made sense of my new, often lonely, existence as a stay-at-home mum.

I was reminded of this when I went to Brit Mums Live last weekend. In the run up to it I had wondered numerous times why I was going at all. I worried that in the real world I’d have nothing to say to these people I only knew online – that when it came to it I wouldn’t really know them at all. I worried that I would feel like a fraud – not ready to buy into so much of the blogging world, just hovering on the periphery whilst everyone else got on with the serious business of carving out their new careers.

There was a bit of that, admittedly. But it was actually wonderful to meet these women in the flesh – people I knew from the blogosphere and many others besides. I realised that everyone there was doing this for their own reasons, that none of those reasons were better or more legitimate than others, and that any attempt to directly compare our many different goals and aspirations, let alone the many different ways we’re choosing to reach them, is fraught with difficulty.

I realised that rather than looking out at the journeys others are on it is high time I focused on my own.

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My blog is only a small part of what I write. I cannot let it take over – not unless I decide that I want it to be an enterprise in and of itself. I need to refocus on how I can make this space one I am truly proud of, one which reflects my goals and aspirations rather than just the humdrum of the everyday. I need to refocus on my writing, on perfecting my craft. I need to refocus on my ‘brand’, however unmarketable that might be.

Because this is where I have that privilege – to write what’s right for me.

It’s the other words I need to be taking more seriously: honing my novels until they find a home with a publisher, seeking out opportunities through magazines and competitions to share my short stories with a wider audience. The time and energy and headspace that has been taken up by this blog needs to be invested there.

I’m not disappearing from here completely, but a shift in focus is long overdue. I have no idea exactly what that’s going to look like yet!

If you bear with me, hopefully we’ll both like what we find.

Writing Bubble

Just need to stay focused…

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I started this year with such grand plans. Not resolutions, exactly – I only really made one of those. But so many different things I wanted to do. I was raring to go, in fact – after two weeks of not doing anything particularly constructive over Christmas I couldn’t wait to start ticking some tasks off my mental to do list.

As well as my goals around my novel and blogging, I really need to find some time to get our increasingly messy house in order. And then there’s Arthur – as he gets older I’m starting to feel like I want to structure our days together a little bit more closely. He’s with me pretty much all the time, and whilst we do get out to a few excellent groups over the course of the week I want to ensure I’m giving him the opportunities for a whole range of different types of play, not just the ones that are easiest for me to facilitate. I’ve got lots of ideas for all of this – I know pretty much exactly what I want to do in fact, at least in my head.

But actually, in reality, it’s felt a bit like the universe has been conspiring against me getting very much done.

Arthur’s sleep is still all over the place since he’s moved out of his cot, and this has coincided with a particularly busy period for my husband (he has his finals at medical school this year, so the academic pressure is being ramped up alongside an increasingly challenging schedule of hospital shifts). I am, to put it plainly, knackered. And that does not do much for my productivity.

There also seems to be lots going on in Arthur’s ever-growing social life. I’d sort of forgotten that following him turning two at the end of December we would have a very busy few weeks of birthdays with NCT and baby group friends. This is all great fun of course – but does add in a whole other layer of things to organise!

I’ve found myself collapsing on the sofa after seemingly endless days barely able to recall what I’d managed to achieve since I’d got up that morning whilst listening to the whirr of things I still needed to do and wondering when my mind would ever be still enough to focus on them – let alone make a proper start on editing that novel…

And then it struck me. I didn’t need to keep all this stuff trapped inside my head. I needed in fact to write it down, to make some lists, to see it all there plain and simple so I could begin to tackle it. I needed to get a diary.

I’m not entirely sure why I stopped using a diary – a paper one at least. In the ten years I was teaching I would never go anywhere without my planner. Every thought and task relating to my professional life would be documented in there somewhere – and it was an important ritual at the beginning of each week to go through and get my goals clear in my head. I kept a separate diary for my personal tasks – a pocket moleskine one for years, with space for notes. This gradually transitioned onto my phone, and once I was on maternity leave that electronic method became the only one I used.

That seemed ok, for a while. Especially once Arthur arrived so much of what I had to do was so ‘in the moment’ that it seemed a waste of any precious spare seconds to write it down. Things have got increasingly complicated since those early days, but I’ve generally managed to muddle through, hanging the thoughts and tasks in my head onto our simple routines and frantically making the occasional list when it all got too much.

But I’ve realised that the time has come when I need more structure. There are so many balls I’m trying to juggle now that if I try to do it by the power of my mind alone then I’m going to start dropping them. So last weekend I ordered a diary. A moleskine, for old-time’s sake, but one which encapsulates what I loved about my teacher planner alongside the conventional day by day approach. It’s called a ‘professional taskmaster’ (even the name makes me feel more organised), and it’s pretty awesome.

When it arrived on Tuesday I sat down and filled in our plans for the week ahead, spread clearly over two A4 pages. Then on the next two, in the bullet pointed spaces for ‘actions and projects’, I decided on my non-negotiables for the week. There were quite a lot of them, but seeing them there in black and white made it all seem possible.

And as the week’s gone on I’ve been taking great pleasure in ticking off the things I have achieved. I’d forgotten quite how satisfying simple,everyday lists are. I’m still playing catch-up a little, and I’m still exhausted, but I’m getting there. I’m looking forward to reflecting back on my week on Sunday, celebrating what I’ve done and setting out what needs to happen next.

None of this is rocket science I realise, but they are things that somehow I had forgotten in all the changes I have lived through in the past couple of years. And I’m hoping, as I fall back into the routines left over from a very different life, they might just help me to keep the one I’m living now more focused.

 

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