Tag Archives: blogging

rabbit in the headlights – introvert alert!

lamp
*Sneaks on to blog*

*Looks around furtively*

*Whispers* “Who’s here? Is it just us?.. good… ok… huddle up and we can have a chat.”

See, last week was a bit of a crazy week on this blog. If you’ve read my last post: on being a revolutionary (hahaha to that, I’m mean, I’m just not.) You’ll know that I wrote a post about education called No, Mr Cameron, No. that made, by my (admittedly teeny) standards, a huge splash. It got shared on social media far beyond the realms of anything I’ve ever written before, I was inundated with positive comments and reactions and was contacted by so many people (parents and teachers across the country) to say ‘thank you’ and ‘yes, I feel the same’ and ‘what now?’. I spent hours and hours (across days and days) on social media chatting about the content of the post, what it meant and what could happen next.

And in the space of seven days my blog went from its usual number of weekly views (in the low/mid hundreds) to being viewed ten thousand times. TEN THOUSAND. I mean, how amazing! Ten thousand people reading my words! Ok, they may not have all read the whole article or whatever but still – how exciting! How thrilling! How… how…

… terrifying!

I’m just not used to it, you see. Not remotely. I’m used to this blog generally just being read by a few people. Just my little ‘tribe’ – my collection of like-minded people who have gravitated towards each other the past few years. When I write, I’m really thinking of them. I mean, I know this blog is public so anyone can read it and and I’m glad of that – I like new readers! But the experience last week was kind of like… ok, I’m going to ask you to imagine it:

You’re sitting, relaxed, legs curled up under you, favourite comfy jumper on, chatting to friends. Everyone is on squashy sofas and armchairs, surrounded by cushions and fleecy throws… the room is lit by a few table lamps… there’s a wood burning stove in the corner radiating a gentle warmth. Candles flicker from the side tables sending shadows dancing across your friends faces as you all giggle at a joke or gasp at a revelation. There’s cup of hot tea in your hand and plate of freshly baked biscuits on the coffee table in front of you which you’re all dipping into as you chat. Just a few of you. Dim light. Cosy room.

And then…

WHAM. Someone turns on the overhead light and, oh! Your little selection of armchairs and sofas turns out to be in the middle of an arena. There are microphones above you recording every word you say and transmitting it to thousands of people. And look up, yes, UP – see that enormous screen above you? Wave! Yes that’s you! Ok, let’s have some questions and comments from the audience! Do your best to answer them all!

arena

I mean, don’t get me wrong, last week was AMAZING! I was THRILLED at all the likes and shares and comments and support (I think my husband may have got a bit sick of me showing him my blog stats and saying ‘Guess how many views now?!”– I wasn’t remotely cool about it!). I was genuinely moved by people’s responses (I may even have cried a bit at some of the ones from teachers) and it felt AWESOME to have connected with people like that. It really showed me the power of words and gave me a massive confidence boost.

But each night when I clambered into bed (far later than I intended because I’d got caught up in a chat on Twitter or FB or whatever) my head would be spinning. I felt like I’d been at a busy party in full-on social mode. And honestly, busy parties when I’m required to go into full-on social mode exhaust the crap out of me. (I have been known to go to the loo just to get some peace and quiet in such situations!).

But it’s ok. Because my blog hits have gone back down now. Not back to where they started (yet) but the arena-feeling has gone. And I know, before you say it, ten thousand views isn’t that many anyway, not if you write for a big publication or if your blog has considerably more views than mine. But it’s all relative. When your posts routinely reach maybe a hundred people and overnight, they suddenly reach thousands and thousands, that feels huge. When you write something and share it only once on Facebook and it still ends up in the ‘other people shared this’ scrolling bit, that feels huge. Last week just felt huge.

And I’m one for the quiet life. So lets have little chat. Just us.

Pass the biscuits, would you?

Writing Bubble
And then the fun began...

do I want to make money from my blog?

Right now I’m going through a phase that I suspect is familiar to all bloggers – one where I’m questioning my blog’s purpose and direction. Specifically, at the moment I’m wondering about monetising it. I didn’t start blogging with an aim to make money at all, ‘Writing Bubble’ was just an outlet for my thoughts, and a way to connect with other people. And I’m very happy with the how it has developed in that way. But recently, I’ve been wondering if it’s time to make a change.

money

Over the last two-and-a-half years my blog has slowly got more readers and interactions and whether it’s recently crossed some sort of threshold on the Domain Authority scale (she says, like she knows what Domain Authority is… ) or just got on a list by chance somehow, I’m now frequently getting approached by PR’s. I keep being asked how much I charge for sponsored content and if I would like to collaborate on this, that or the other. It’s all fairly basic stuff – I imagine the emails are sent out en masse to thousands of bloggers, but still, it’s made me stop and think.

Do I want this? Do I want to earn money from my blog?

In one way of course, earning money from blogging would be fab. I know some people have hugely successful, glittering careers based on their blogs while many others have created a steady stream of decent income by committing themselves to their own little corner of the internet. If I put my mind and energies to it, I’m sure I could make this blog (moderately) successful in that way. And wouldn’t that be lovely? Money made from writing, here at home. And in MY space on the internet too – not writing for another publication but for my own. Tempting.

Tempting…

But do I really want it? Enough to prioritise it? Because honestly, if I went down that road I think more time-sacrifices would have to be made. I’ve already found that fitting in my illustration course, with all the drawing practice that entails, is squeezing time from other activities like reading and writing and collapsing like a potato in front of the telly. Plus there are unavoidable time-draws like work and running a house to consider. And then there are the things that REALLY matter – my life as a mother, a wife and a friend. How much more can I juggle?

On top of this there’s the question of what content I’d be happy to put in this blog and how that would square with how much I was hoping to earn from it. To make a reasonable amount would I end up blogging about nail varnish or furniture polish or other things I don’t give two hoots about? Or could I target myself at enough interesting brands to mean I need only to blog about stuff that is of genuine interest to me and, of course, my readers? At the moment I can write whatever I like but in collaborations, compromises would need to be made… wouldn’t they?

So I’m kind of spinning my wheels on the issue at the moment. Toying with notions. Undecided.

If you have any thoughts or advice to offer on this issue I’d love to hear from you!

Writing Bubble
And then the fun began...

seven lessons learned from being without broadband

Throughout December we had extremely patchy Broadband in our house. This was due to our phone line being cut off when parts of our village were flooded. Sadly, the floods caused far worse damage to other people’s property than mere mangled communication methods, so we largely felt lucky… but I can’t deny it was frustrating to be mostly wifi-less. Then on New Year’s Eve we were reconnected to someone else’s landline entirely (!) which meant we had no broadband at all.social media buttonsThere followed two weeks in which the only way of accessing the internet was by S-L-O-W mobile signals (there’s no 3G or anything around these parts). I was able to post the odd tweet and write a few blogposts as Word documents, hopping onto the internet just to copy, paste and hit the publish button, but that was pretty much it. By the time we were reconnected two weeks into the new year I had made some discoveries about my relationship with the internet. I thought I’d share them as I’m willing to bet I’m not alone!

1. I’m dependent on the internet in more ways than I realised…

Twitter and Facebook are tricky without broadband, and image-based Instagram is almost impossible. Blogging is difficult on a mobile signal and you can forget internet shopping (not ideal in December!) These things I realised immediately, but other things took longer to recognise – I was brought up short when attempting to find some Christmas music to listen to with the realisation that NO BROADBAND MEANS NO SPOTIFY! We do have CDs but I use Spotify and You-tube a lot to listen to an assortment of music. I really missed this. The same thing is true of iPlayer – no catch up telly for us. And of course, no Netflix or Amazon Prime video. It was like 2005 or something.

2. … FAR more ways than I realised.

Ah well, Never mind the reduced telly options, I love reading so I’ll just find some new books to read on my kindle!

– Oh no you won’t without wifi to download them.

But hey, I have time now to do some research on that new project idea I’ve had for this year

– Great plan Einstein – remember there’s no internet! Not sure how you even go about researching things these days without going online.

Ok but look, there’s this video I’m supposed to be watching for work, I could just…

– Oh no you couldn’t.

I’ll just download this school newsletter…

– Nope

Upload this…

– Can’t.

Well then, I’ll just sit down and read the Newspaper…

– If you mean the iPad version of the Guardian that you usually read, think again. You’ll actually have to go to a shop and buy a real life paper!

Argh, the frustration! I’ll vent via FB messenger to my husband.

– Or not. Haha.

And on and on it went, honestly you don’t notice how often you use the internet to look up phone numbers, decide where to go for a meal, see what films are on at the cinema, find a plumber when your boiler’s broken three days before Christmas (true story) etc. until you can’t.

BUT I also discovered:

3. There were advantages to doing things ‘the old fashioned way’.

Without iPlayer or Netflix we went and rented some actual real live DVDs! In doing so, we supported our local video shop (yep, we have one of those – how quaint!) which is always a good thing to do.

Without the ability to shop online we bought more Christmas presents in local shops. I always make a point of doing a decent chunk of shopping this way anyway (as an ex-shop owner I understand the importance) but there’s nothing that’ll kick you out into the cold and down to the high street quite so effectively as the knowledge you CAN’T buy online.

I dug out old Christmas CDs to replace Spotify – ah, nostalgia :)

I read an actual book – one made of paper! I do like real books I just read faster on the kindle so that’s always my preference these days. But it was nice to have a bit of a retro, page-turning experience and proper books do look nicer on a bedside table.

4. Life with a reduced access to social media is more peaceful, relaxed and (I suspect) psychologically healthier.

At first I missed social media – I missed posting status updates and catching up with everything other people were doing. I felt slightly cut off – I’m just so used to that constant stream of chatter in my brain.

But then something changed. I realised that it was actually a bit of a relief not to get that glimpse into people’s lives. You know the phrase ‘comparison is the thief of joy’ (which lots of you quoted in the comments to my post a few weeks ago and I was in total agreement with)? Well social media is just a hotbed of comparison. We project snapshots of our own lives and see snapshots of others and I think a lot of the time it doesn’t do us much good. Social media isn’t ALL bad  of course but I can say now that I think my relationship with Facebook was unhealthy. Taking a forced step back was, once the initial frustration waned, like taking a deep breath of mountain air. Good for mind, body and soul.

5. Without the distractions of the internet you have more time – you really do!

The time I waste on the internet is pretty staggering. I realised this as soon as we got our Broadband back and I accidentally wasted half a hour reading about Cheryl Fernandez-Versini and her latest relationship collapse. Urgh. Celebrity gossip is a bit of a drug to me.

While we had no Broadband though, I was devoid of the usual distractions and I focused. I wrote a whole new picture book. Having no Broadband was like getting a Christmas gift of time.

6. Having no broadband for a bit can kickstart new habits without you even trying.

I can’t deny I was thrilled (like, REALLY thrilled) to get the internet back, but I’ve noticed a change in my attitude since. Part of it may be my plan to hide my smart phone between 3 and 7pm in order to be a more attentive parent, but I also think there’s a lot that’s about habits too. Checking FB constantly was a habit that I had really fallen into. Then I was forced not to check it and now, that feels habitual instead. I can’t really be bothered with it the way I could a month ago. I don’t care what I miss. My closest friends all have alternative methods of contacting me anyway (even if it’s in FB groups which are different to reading my main feed – they just are, ok? ;) ). I’m going to try and harness these new habits.

7. The internet is awesome in many ways, but I need to set boundaries.

I love being back online. Everything is so much easier. I’ve managed some of that research I mentioned, watched that work video I needed to, downloaded a new book to my kindle, read the sunday papers on my iPad and had a joyful reunion with Spotify (which has channelled a lot of Bowie this week). But I can’t go back to having it constantly in my pocket flashing its little lights and buzzing its notifications in a constant attention-seeking dance. Just no.

I’ve realised I need to be my own internet parent. A firm but fair one who allows some metaphorical chocolate and ice cream but insists I eat my broccoli and be in bed by 7pm. So I’m going to be spending less time on social media from now on and I’ll try to limit my celebrity gawping and mindless BuzzFeed reading too (although who doesn’t love the odd BuzzFeed list?). I’m about to be even more pushed for time this year (with that new project I keep hinting at) so I need to focus. If I can do that and harness the extra time and mental space then everything can start moving in the right direction.

On that note, I’m logging off.

Writing Bubble

plans for 2016

I’ve been thinking for a while that I need to figure out a plan for this year. I’m not sure it’s goals or resolutions I’m after, so much as a direction to take and some decisions about what I might need to do along the way.

organiser

I know I need to organise my time more effectively and I know I need more focus. Not only do I have this blog, my work and things I want to do with my writing, I also have a big, new, exciting (and terrifying) project that I want to take on. And then there’s parenting, the most important aspect of my life. My boys are 8, 6, and nearly 3 so still need a lot of my energy and attention. And I always want time for my husband, my family and my friends all of whom light up all the various paths of my life like the sparkly jewels they are.

How to manage all this has been whirling round in my head for a while. Some ideas are starting to emerge and I’m kind of hoping that if I write this post, it will help. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Areas In Which I Will Make Change Occur in 2016 – With Perhaps A Few Set Ideas But Mostly Just Possibilities (Catchy, eh? Bet you all wish you had some of these!)

Parenting

I need to focus on my kids more and not be so distracted by writing stories in my head, planning and thinking about other stuff and especially by social media. I’m finding that the age the boys are now, while easier in some ways (they sleep well, eat normal food and can entertain themselves a fair bit) is more complex and challenging in others. I need to be present and be the best parent I can be. Thoughts in this area include:

  • Banning smart phones between certain hours (mine and my husband’s – the kids don’t have any) in order to avoid the temptation to be ‘just checking’ the flippin’ things constantly (oh, the seductive flashing light that tells you there’s a notification of some kind!)
  • Introducing a ‘family story time’ just before bed. We read to them all when they were small and our youngest still has bedtime stories every night. The six year old often joins in with these (either to read to his little brother or to be read to) but our eldest usually just reads to himself now. All of them love being read to though and stories are so calming at bedtime and such a bonding experience. We need to re-introduce more of these ideals.
  • Planning weekend activities in advance so we don’t spend half the day wondering what do, changing our minds, and waiting ’till we’re all cross before we leave the house.

Blogging

I love my blog but I’m concerned about how much time blogging takes away from my other writing. This has been more of an issue since my toddler dropped his nap as my writing time is now pretty much limited to the evenings. Linkies are very time consuming (especially if you want to be a committed commenter – I spent three whole evenings on commenting last week!) and the social media that comes hand in hand with the blog can be overwhelming. Possibilities for change (and a few extra plans) here are:

  • Only write two (or maximum of three) posts a week – my linkie post (which I’ve now decided to put a bit more content into by sharing some posts from the previous week), the post I link up to the linky and possibly one other post some weeks.
  • Only link up to one other linky a week besides my own (this wouldn’t have to be the same one other linky every week as I have a fair few I like to join in with).
  • Make a structured plan for social media – see below
  • Go to BritMums Live for the first time! I’ve got a free ‘editor delegate’ ticket because I write the Poetry and Prose round up and I plan on putting it to good use. I could learn loads.
  • Arrange another #WhatImWriting meet up!

Writing

This is really being squeezed at the moment hence the need to organise my blogging time a bit. I do have some actual goals for this year in this area:

  • Carry on the push to find an agent for my picture books – this will mean re-submitting numerous times and getting good at handling rejection. Re-writes may quite possibly be part of the process too.
  • Write some more picture books – three more this year at least. As it happens, I’ve just written a whole new one! We don’t have broadband at the moment so my internet time is basically just down to when I can nick my husband’s phone to use as a wifi hotspot. I’m faffing around on social media MUCH less and have more time to write!
  • Keep writing my limericks whenever I can and continue to move towards my self-publishing goal.
  • Consider going to the Festival of Writing in York for a day (I loved it last year!)

Social media

The love and bane of my life. I check FB like it’s a nervous tick. Having no broadband might be frustrating but I’m certain it’s good for me. Plans here include:

  • Remove the FB app from my phone (I’m going to do this as soon as we get our broadband back)
  • Institute a smart phone ban after picking the kids up from school and until they are in bed (that’s a lot of hours! Can I cope? Yes, of course I can – I’ve only had one for five years after all!). This should help with my parenting goals because yes, I do check my phone when I’m with the kids even though I know I shouldn’t.
  • Schedule tweets and FB posts for blog purposes – I’m hopeless at this.
  • Makes lists for twitter. I waste loads of time being completely disorganised in this area.
  • Have a set time of day (an hour in the evening?) when I do all my social media stuff and to stay within that set time.
  • Post more often on my FB blog page. I’m rubbish at this too and my insights page suggests FB hardly shows my posts to anyone. But having just looked at my blog stats report for 2015, it appears that many of those ‘sights’ lead to referrals. So perhaps I should concentrate a bit more on a decent FB strategy? I’ve never put any money into it. Advice in this area is very welcome!

Work

I don’t talk about it on my blog but I’m writing this here anyway because I know I need to make some changes in this area. I’m spending a lot of time at the moment trying to work out what to do for the best.

Reading

I love reading and I’m a better writer because of it. I’m thinking of joining Goodreads this year as a way of keeping track of what I’ve read and maybe writing a few more reviews. I read 25 books last year (I posted yesterday about some of my favourites) which is much fewer than in either of the two previous years (I read 60 in 2013!) so I’d like to at least hit 30 books this year.

Big new exciting thing

This will take time, energy and commitment hence the need to re-think my approach to blogging and writing. I’ll let you know more soon!

***

That was a fairly long list! I think it’s helped a bit to see it written (well, typed) down. I’ll have to start cracking on with some of these now won’t I?!

How do you manage your time? Any tips most welcome!

Writing Bubble

five inspirational quotes from #Blogfest15

Last month I went to my first ever blogging conference – Mumsnet Blogfest. It was fantastic. I’ve already written a post about how much I got out of it but I couldn’t fit everything I wanted to say in one post without it becoming ridiculously long. I wanted to write more about the inspirational aspects of the event though, so I’ve decided to share my favourite quotes from the day. (N.B. I made a note of these as they were said but can’t promise they’re word for word quotes. Often I was too gripped by the speaker to do more than glance at what my pen was writing.)

#blogfest15 panel

Five inspirational quotes from Blogfest:

1.

“Creativity is the road to revolution. It is challenge. It’s the way we fight back against those who would oppress us. So embrace it, whatever form it takes”

Val Mcdermid

I loved this. Val then went on to say that if anyone tries to “burst your creative bubble” you should tell them to go away or “put it more forcefully using a phrase involving sex and travel… “. She was really funny and inspiring and made me realise the real power involved in creativity. That literature, art and music make us think and question everything around us, opening up the world and encouraging humanity towards all sorts of achievements. So don’t doubt yourself – go, create.

2.

“Social media is where we raise a little flag of self. Offence is used to put wind in that flag.”

David Baddiel.

Ok, this isn’t really an inspiring quote so much as a thought-provoking one. David Baddiel was, as you’d probably expect, very funny and insightful. He showed us lots of examples from his Twitter feed of how easily offended people are by him. You could see in the zealousness of some of the tweets how much those people were actually rather enjoying taking offence and how it was making them feel more important – in classic bully style. As he was talking I could visualise everyone on social media desperately waving their little flags, trying to be seen amidst the masses. It made sense of how I feel on Twitter (teeny, tiny) and why trolls do what they do.

3.

 “Equality is better for all of us: it is better for our daughters. It is better for our sons.”

Sandi Toksvig OBE

Sandi Toksvig was talking about gender equality with reference to her own political party – the Women’s Equality Party which believes “Equality for women isn’t a women’s issue. When women fulfil their potential, everyone benefits.” – something I wholeheartedly agree with.

I’m frequently staggered when I read statistics about inequality. Even in this country there are huge divisions between the way men and women are treated and it seems to happen across the board. I was reading an article recently that suggested you are far more likely to get a publishing deal if you submit a manuscript under a male name rather than a female one. Yes, here in the uk. yes, now, in 2015.

But lack of equality isn’t just relevant for us as women, it’s relevant for men too. The sexism that props up our system starts when our kids are tiny. It is there when girls are called ‘bossy’ (while their male counterparts are rewarded for ‘confidence’). It’s there when we praise our daughters for their looks rather than their brains, and laugh off our sons bad behaviour with ‘boys will be boys‘. And don’t get me started on “he’s just lazy – typical male!” that I’ve heard mothers fling at their young sons.

None of these gendered expectations are helpful. Bit by bit they teach our kids that some things are ok for boys and not ok for girls, and vice versa. It constrains and alters them as kids and affects their choices as adults. We need to treat our boys and girls equally so they can grow to be the people they are meant to be, not into the roles society expects of them. Equality is better for all our children.

4.

“As bloggers, authenticity is key. Trust is your power.”

Jude Brookes

This was during a session on ‘building your brand’ and Jude Brookes was reminding us that, as bloggers, we are free from the constraints that writing for another publication or speaking for a company would place us under. We speak for ourselves and if we are authentic people will come to trust us. She encouraged us to focus on telling engaging stories and building relationships. 100 engaged readers are more valuable than 10,000 twitter followers who you never interact with (and may well be ignoring all your tweets anyway).

This resonated with me as I do sometimes wonder if I should write in a certain way – follow a few more trends perhaps? – to get more followers (not to mention promoting myself more which I am rubbish at). I have worried about the risks of being too open in the past and held back a lot. Jude made me reflect on the value of honesty and it was good to have the idea of ‘quality over quantity’ reinforced by a brand specialist.

5.

“Could I have my photo taken with you? And Maddy, I can take a photo of the two of you together if you like…?

Sumbel Gilani

This was when the lovely Sumbel from Mama Not Dumber– my friend of a mere few hours at that point – asked Tim Dowling if she could have a photo with him and also encouraged me to do so too. This was obviously very excellent because it meant I got THIS photo!

tim dowling

Tim Dowling had his arm round me. I simply couldn’t hide my glee.

But it was more than that – Sumbel knew what she wanted and went for it. And she was lovely enough to notice that of course I too wanted a photo with this talented, funny (and handsome) man. Given we’d only met that morning, it was pretty insightful of her…. or perhaps I was a little too obvious in my fandom. But anyway, the fact is, she asked something I didn’t dare ask, was thoughtful enough to take me along for the ride and, in doing so, gained me a memory that makes me grin like a cheshire cat. A lesson in ‘going for it’ if ever there was one. Thanks Sumbel.

So, what have I taken away from these quotes? Be brave, be honest, be creative – and do so for all our sakes. Be thoughtful. Wave your little flag with kindness and empathy, rather than anger and offence. Let the winds of creativity and passion fly it high. Believe in yourself and go for it.

Writing Bubble

This week ‘The Prompt’ is ‘believe’ which fits with the overall feeling of self-belief I got from Blogfest.

mumturnedmom
Also linking with Victoria’s last ever #PoCoLo. Thanks for being such a great host all these years, Vic and good luck with your blog’s new direction.
Post Comment Love

 

#WhatImWriting announcement

It’s time for a little change at ‘What I’m Writing’ HQ. Chrissie and I have loved hosting our linky together for the last fifteen months but regular readers may have noticed that my once-prolific co-host has been rather quiet of late. She’s incredibly busy with work and kids and likes to fill all the (teeny) gaps in her schedule with novel-writing (a little birdy told me she just won another NaNo! GET IN!) which doesn’t leave much time for blogging.

coloured pencils

coloured pencils – because why not?

Anyway, I’ll leave any more lengthy explanations to Chrissie herself but suffice to say we’ve decided that I’ll be hosting the linky on my own from now on. Which I’m happy with as I’m hooked on writing my weekly post to link up anyway. ‘What I’m Writing’ keeps me focussed. Not that my recent posts are necessarily about writing, strictly speaking, but I do think it’s an excellent discipline to make sure I’ve got a post written in time for every Tuesday. I’ve been so pushed for time recently it’s usually the only post I manage all week!

Having said that, in the past seven days I’ve published three! My Blogfest roundup, a post about gratitude (inspired by a panellist at the conference encouraging women to stop saying thank you so often. Go figure.) along with one about polar bears and parenting. And I’ve somehow squeezed in this month’s poetry and prose round-up for BritMums in the past few days too. Wowzers.

But now it’s really late at night and I have to get to bed. This post was really just to update you on the linky and point those delightful people who display my badge on their blog, in the direction of the new, updated version. This one has a ‘no follow link’ because apparently you’re supposed to add those to linky badges now or google sends you to jail or something. I have no idea.

And on that note… zzzzz

Writing Bubble

five things I loved about #blogfest15

Last Saturday I went to Mumsnet Blogfest. It was the first time I’d ever been to a blogging conference but it won’t be my last – I had a great time and returned inspired. The whole day felt like a huge “Yes!” and “Hooray!” for creativity and creative people. Here are my highlights:

Margaret Atwood Blogfest

Margaret Atwood (in Toronto at 4am!), Meera Syal, Bridget Christie, Bryony Gordon, Polly Vernon and Catherine Mann.

The five things I loved most about Blogfest:

1. Meeting other bloggers

I sometimes think blogging must seem, well, plain weird to non-bloggers: what sort of person would put their life online and share their innermost thoughts with whoever happens to read them? Bloggers understand all this though – the drive, the point, the benefits and the downsides… and it’s so good to get together and just talk. I met a couple of my online friends at the conference and made a few new friends too. I’m no social butterfly, so can’t pretend to have flitted around chatting to everyone but the conversations I had were good ones and the connections I made, real.

2. The Inspirational “Think Bombs”

I saw these in the programme and was intrigued – Sandi Toksvig OBE, Val McDermid and David Baddiel (I know – a non-too-shabby line-up!) would each be giving us a: “five minute idea-blast to inspire and entertain”. They did that and then some! Sandi Toksvig talked passionately about her political party – the Women’s Equality Party – in a way that really resonated with me (I’m writing another post in which I’ll say more), Val McDermid made my brain fizz with excitement when she talked about the power and importance of creativity and David Baddiel was hilarious while making some very important points about the nature of social media and our sense of self. Just, WOW. Five minutes each was nowhere near enough.

3. Fantastic panel sessions

The day started with a talk about ‘Motherhood and Creativity’ with a panel that included Meera Syal CBE and Margaret Atwood. Unfortunately the live link that was supposed to transmit the words (and no doubt great wisdom) of the latter was barely functional which was far from ideal but even seeing Margaret Atwood on a big screen beaming down at us was a thrill. Later in the day, Tim Dowling and Esther Freud were amongst a fantastic panel talking about Brevity in Writing (keep articles and posts to 800 words tops folks!) and the final session on ‘Public Stories of our Private Lives’ chaired by Fi Glover pretty much blew me away. The humour and honesty of the panel was totally inspiring!

4. Laughter

I hadn’t expected it to be a particularly humorous day although in hindsight, with that much talent and creativity in the building, I probably should have seen it coming a mile off. David Baddiel, Meera Syal, and Bridget Christie all made me laugh but it was the fabulous Shappi Khorsandi who stole the show – brilliantly witty and touchingly personal, she had the audience eating out of her hands. I’ll definitely be seeking out her stand-up show.

5. The opportunity to hear from, and interact with, inspirational people

I’ve already thrown a few big names into this post – I really was impressed with the calibre of the talent that Mumsnet had gathered for us. A great part of it was that plenty of them stayed to chat too. I had a lovely talk with Esther Freud (author of Hideous Kinky) and was completely unable to cover up my excitement at meeting Guardian writer Tim Dowling. He has three sons like I do, has been making me laugh on a weekly basis for years and, it turns out, is rather more handsome than I was anticipating. “Oooh, I love your column!” I squeaked “But you don’t always come across very well in it”, managing to accidentally insult him while also throwing in a bit of carry-on-style innuendo. I should probably work on my technique.

***

Those were the highlights for me. I’m well aware there was plenty more I could have got from the day – there were blog clinic sessions that I was too busy talking to sign up for, ’round-table’ discussions and ‘how to’ seminars that sounded great but clashed with other things I was seeing, and lots of sponsor activities that looked fun. You can’t do it all though and I guess there’s always next year!

Writing Bubble

friendships old and new

I’ve just returned from a fantastic couple of days in London, meeting my ‘What I’m Writing’ blogging friends for the first time. It was only my second night away from home (without my kids) since the birth of my youngest, two-and-a-half years ago, and I think I’m getting a taste for it. Not that I don’t love being around my boys most of the time but it is fantastic to be ‘footloose and fancy-free’ for a weekend!

view of the shard

The view from my hotel window – much more impressive than I’d expected!

And what a weekend! I set off with my younger boys (six and two) after school on Friday, leaving the eldest (eight) with my husband for some father/son bonding time (good plan – they both loved it), and headed down to Yorkshire to stay with my parents for the night. First thing the next morning I left the boys with my parents and hopped on the train down south.

As I watched the beautiful Yorkshire landscape whizz past the window it occurred to me that there was nothing I needed to do that moment – no demands on my time, no small people to entertain, no deadlines to meet (or not ones that couldn’t wait) so I… *drumroll* read a magazine! A really crappy one! I learned all about Botox (it may smooth out your skin but often causes muscle wastage that hollows out your appearance thus making you look older in the long run… oh, and recent research suggests that overuse when young affects you psychologically since mirroring other people’s facial expressions helps develop empathy… interesting eh?) and also about who’s dating who, celebrity diets and whose body I’m supposed to wish was my own. Hmmm.

Anyway, before my brain was even half filled with fluff (it was a three hour trip but my head has a large fluff-capacity) my train arrived in Kings Cross and I was off to meet my gang.

What I'm Writing lunch

L-R Reneé from Mummy Tries, me, Rachael from Honest Speaks, Rebecca Ann Smith, Nikki Young Writes, Emily Organ and Sophie is…

It was SO fantastic to meet them all. It felt a weird mixture of completely surreal and utterly normal. These were people whose faces I’d only seen in FB profile pics, whose voices I’d never heard and whose lives I only knew about through words on a screen… and yet they were also people who I’d chatted with online and read and shared so much with through our blogs that I felt I knew them well. Conversation, laughter and wine flowed freely over a delicious four hour lunch and over cocktails afterwards. We talked about real stuff – who could be bothered with small talk? The only downside was that we didn’t have longer – so we’re already planning a next time!

Having had a wonderful Saturday, the next morning I rounded off my London experience with a leisurely brunch with my oldest friend. We first met before we were born (well ok, our mums met in antenatal class) and we’ve been best friends ever since, but seeing her was an all-too-infrequent treat. With my new-found freedom though I’m hoping to change that.

On getting back to my parents’ house later that afternoon I was met by two delighted boys who’d had a fantastic weekend with their grandparents. My six-year-old then gave me this story which he’d written (and illustrated) for me on post-it notes. I didn’t think he’d paid attention when I’d told him where I was going but clearly some of it had sunk in, well, the location anyway:

trip to London story

It’s rather prosaic for him (his stories usually involve castles, trolls or flying pigs) but I rather liked its blunt, straight-forwardness. He’s wrong about one thing though – this isn’t the end. It’s just the start of the story.

Writing Bubble
Little Hearts, Big Love

anticipation

Last week I was wondering about whether holding back, trying to find a middle ground and not wanting to be controversial was making my blog bland. The post seemed to strike a chord with people and I just wanted to say thank you so much to everyone who commented and for all the support – it was interesting to hear all your thoughts on the matter and very affirming too. I now feel stronger in my certainty about only sharing what I’m comfortable with and, funnily enough, I also feel that maybe I will be able to share more in future without scaring myself silly.

sparkler

Mostly though, your comments reminded me of the most important aspect of blogging to me –the connection to a community. I may not be blazing an exciting trail to blog fame, fortune and immortality but I have made some lovely friends and that means so much to me, SO much.

When I started Writing Bubble the blogosphere was pretty much unknown to me – the world of writing too. It felt like walking into a party and not knowing anyone and having to hang out by the snacks nervously sipping slightly-suspect punch.  But then I got chatting to one or two people and wandered out into the room a bit. I met more people –  lovely, like-minded people. Then someone handed me some decent wine and I chatted some more. Had a laugh. When the lights went down I even had a bit of a dance. Now I’m happy at the party and feel like whatever goes on (and unfortunately it’s not always lovely at this particular event) I have my friends. They rock. You rock.

Which brings me to now. And it’s all very exciting because this weekend the party gets real (kind of) – we’re having a #WhatImWriting meet up! It’s been months in the planning and I’m so looking forward to meeting some of the lovely people who I’ve got to know in blog-land over the past year or so. So often I’ve read posts and commented “I wish we could sit down and have a big chat over coffee!” and now, finally, we are!

I’m a little nervous too of course. This is a whole new thing. Apart from a long ago meeting with Rosie Scribble (back in my previous life when I had a whole other blog) and meeting Sadie Hanson at the Writer’s Festival last month, I’ve never met online friends. I’ve certainly never met a group of them at the same time. And it’s not just popping along for a chat over coffee either, it’s a weekend away from home and a trip to London which, for someone who lives on a Northumbrian hillside and is mostly surrounded by a herd of small boys, is quite a big deal.

But I know it will be fab. I get to talk writing with other writers: what could be better than that? Oh, I know – talking writing (and much more besides) with writers who I’ve come to think of as friends. Friends whose lovely words have inspired and motivated me over the last few years.

I can’t wait!

Muddled Manuscript

on being too bland

sunset clouds

I was in a meeting the other day with someone close to me. This person is generally one of my great supporters in life, but the sort of relationship we have means he can be honest with me and doesn’t always feel the need to sugar the pill.

I was making a suggestion to the various people in this meeting about some changes that I felt needed to be made. Some people agreed, some disagreed. Because it was important that we found some sort of consensus, I started pondering (out loud) how I could change my suggestion (I guess, perhaps, how to ‘water it down’) to make it something we could all agree on.

And this person stopped me. He said (frustratedly) “You’re doing that thing again!”
“What thing?” I asked. “That thing you do when you make a really powerful argument and I’m all like, “Yeah! Great! I’m with you – let’s do that!” and then you go: “On the other hand…” and you put over the alternative argument for the other side and I just think “Oh… well, I don’t really care anymore now, you’ve lost me…”

Yes, it seems I’m just too reasonable. Too willing to see the other side. I need to take a stand and stick to it, otherwise, well, who cares? Right?

Well no… I think there’s great strength in being reasonable and being able to see things from different people’s point of view. I want to be reasonable and I aim to be (and, believe me, I’m certainly not always!) I try to be someone who listens and doesn’t just ride roughshod over other people’s views. I certainly know that others have different perspectives and that I’m not always right.

So I disagree, but… he has a point (see – here I go again) – I know where he’s coming from. I don’t like to court controversy. I don’t like to get on the wrong side of people. I like to try and find a middle ground where everyone is happy. And that, I guess, can make me seem a bit wishy-washy sometimes.  Because there’s great strength in having an opinion and speaking with conviction. Of knowing you’re right and standing your ground. Sometimes nothing else will do – imagine if Shakespeare’s Henry V had done his great, rousing “Upon St Crispin’s Day!” speech and just as his men were about to charge into battle he said “But on the other hand, these French, they’ve had a hard time too… I mean, from their point of view, we’re a pretty nasty lot and they’re just following orders…”

We would have lost the battle of Agincourt for sure.

So conviction has its place just as reasonableness does. I dare say there’s even a way to act with both. (“Please pass me the cake… no, I’m quite certain I wouldn’t prefer an apple despite the health benefits. Chocolate has health benefits too – I read it in New Scientist last week. Cake. Please. Thank you.” Did that do it?)

But this idea of standing for something rather than trying to tread the middle ground and of ‘you’ve lost me’ as a response to diplomacy did hit home because it’s something I’ve been pondering for a while in terms of my blog. See, I’m very careful with what I say here. I censor myself all the time:

Can’t say that – it might offend someone.

Can’t write that – it could be misinterpreted.

Keep quiet about that, it’s private.

Better stay away from that – not my story to tell.

Think about what your kids would say…

How would you feel if all your family read that?

Whoa there – that’s a total no, no!

And on and on till I’m left with… blandness. I steer away from any point of contention in my life, I mute my opinions, polish the rough edges off my experiences and think (worry) about how others might perceive what I write to an extent which frankly, takes away a lot of the interest too. Middle-of-the-road does not a compelling blog make. If I want more readers I probably need to put a bit more grit out there, be more willing to be controversial and a bit less concerned with seeming reasonable.

And yet, putting more out there doesn’t feel safe. It’s not like just being more open with people I know – this is a public space so potentially anyone could read it. And the scope for misunderstandings is so much huger than in normal life. And disagreements – well, in the real world someone might disagree with you and not even say so, but the anonymity of the internet allows some people to respond in a way they never would in person. I’ve seen enough nasty comments on online articles and read enough about the horrible experiences of fellow bloggers to know that being more honest and open and opinionated could have some very nasty side effects.

So, there are reasons to be more open on my blog and there are reasons not to be – I can see both sides (you were warned). But my gut says no. I can try and say to myself ‘you should go for it!’ but I don’t really believe myself. No – I need to have the courage of my convictions. This is where to draw the line. This is how open I can be.

Just this.

***

Before I disappear in a puff of introspection I’d love to know your thoughts. Are you comfortable sharing lots online? Do you worry about what others think of you or your opinions?Do you like to find middle ground or do you stand by your guns no matter what?

Writing Bubble
And then the fun began...