In which I think about why I’ve had such a long blog break

I used to be a jolly enthusiastic blogger. Not always reliable in the posting every week on the same day sense, but I posted moderately frequently and could generally come up with something to pontificate on at relatively short notice.

And then I sort of stopped. I didn’t stop dead. I stopped over months, or possibly even years. The posts slowed down, and by the middle of last year they’d all but dried up.

And now, it being January, and the year being all fresh and new I’m thinking ‘I shall get back into the habit of blogging in 2018.’ And as a first step I’m thinking about why I stopped.

I think that ultimately having an opinion on stuff started feeling a little bit pointless. I’d say I’m economically generally pretty left-wing and socially pretty liberal. And there have been moments – quite a lot of moments – where it’s felt like those things were fairly pointless things to be in recent years. It’s been easy to feel like the world us hippy liberal types thought we were building is slipping away. The morning after the Brexit vote I felt physically ill. The only reason Donald getting elected was any better was that by then I’d sort of conditioned myself to expect the worst.

Now, I’m a liberal leftie who grew up in the north of England during the eighties so I’m by no means unused to the feeling that the political tide is sweeping away from me. That happens. But this feels worse. Possibly it is worse. Possibly it feels worse because there are millions of voices all over the internet magnifying the horror.

And the magnification isn’t just people I disagree with shouting loudly. It’s people I agree with shouting loudly too. It’s the fact that on the internet so much of the time we’re all set to transmit. We listen only in order to work out how we’re going to argue against, rather than to try to understand. And that makes being just another voice set to transmit feel like a very bad thing to be.

But maybe in that context quiet voices, popping up once a week, and muttering ‘I think it’s a bit more complicated than that,’ or ‘You know those two points of view your vociferously arguing from aren’t actually mutually exclusive,’ or y’know ‘Hey guys! Why can’t the farmer and the cowman just be friends?’* are even more important.

So in that spirit I’m stepping back into the blogosphere. Be warned – it will, as ever, be eclectic and random. Posts will be based solely and entirely on what shiny thing has caught my attention in the current second. And 90% of the time the conclusion will be either ‘It’s complicated,’ or ‘Everyone just play nicely,’ and sometimes I will break my own rules about not just shouting into the abyss and get a little bit ranty. Apologies for those weeks, but even in those weeks, I think I’ve decided that it’s better to engage and converse (even on a tiny corner of the interweb that barely anyone will ever see) than to sit quietly and feel overwhelmed by the dark.

 

* Extra musical-theatretastic brownie points for everyone who gets that reference.

In which I think about the lack of recent blogging

I’ve been a bit lax about blogging lately. After resolving last week to get back into it, I find myself, this morning, staring at a blank screen devoid of blogging inspiration. And that’s been a problem a lot recently. There are plenty of subjects I could opine my little heart out about. Just yesterday I overheard someone talking about the refugee crisis, and saying ‘I’m not racist but…’ And yes he actually said that in real-life – it’s the sort of line I’d edit out of a book for being too cliched but she really really said it. Anyway, ‘I’m not racist but,’ he said, ‘what they have to understand is that they’ve got to earn our trust back. You know, after Paris and everything.’

Now I have Views on that statement. By golly do I have Views?* But I increasingly find myself weary of sharing those views on the interweb. One thing the internet does not lack is people who reckon stuff about things. Whether you like to be irritated and get into twitter fights with people you vehemently disagree with or whether you prefer to create a perfect little social media echo chamber of people who entirely agree with you, the internet offers a ready supply of opinion for you to be enraged or cosseted by.

So I could write you lovely blog posts about novel writing instead, but again, blogs about how to be a writer are not in short supply. There are blogs that will tell you how to write, edit, submit and promote your book. And, here’s my one piece of writing advice for this post, reading them can be interesting and lovely, and a fab way of meeting and interacting with other writers, but it’s also probably procrastination. Writing themed procrastination, which is the highest form of procrastination, but procrastination nonetheless.  There is no substitute for just writing the sodding book. Harsh, but true I’m afraid.

So that leaves me wondering what on earth to blog about on weeks when reckoning something about the news of the day fails to fill my heart with inspiration. And I’m genuinely wondering. Suggestions and ideas more than welcome in the comments… Otherwise I might have to abandon all pretense of coherent thought and just post pictures of baking. Mmmm… baking.

 

* They are about the ignorance of othering, and the general heartlessness and stupidity in mentally dividing the world into us and them, and grouping the them together based on race/religion/nationality.

In which I wonder if I’m over twitter now

I posted a couple of months back about how I don’t really have a strategy for social media and how, apparently I’m very much supposed to have one. Well since then, nothing has really changed apart from that I’m starting to think that I really really don’t want to be a person who knows How To Do Social Media, because, I suspect that people who know How To Do Social Media are might be killing* twitter.

I love twitter. I wasn’t a desperately early convert, but I joined just before the numbers of people, and particularly writers, on there went stratospheric, and back then, back in the good old days, twitter was a completely different place. At least my twitter feed was. It was smaller for one thing, so it flew past at a much more manageable rate. And it was mainly people chatting. Sometimes people who already knew each other. Sometimes random strangers who happened to be watching the same thing on TV or be struggling to put together the same piece of flatpack furniture. During that period I *met* lots of people on twitter who I would now consider friends, most obviously Lisa Hill who responded to a tweet about Croome Park being on TV, which started a conversation which somehow ended up with us agreeing to meet up at Croome and have a scone, which we did, and it was lovely because scones are lovely and Lisa, despite being a random person met on the interweb, is not a serial killer.

I can’t imagine that happening now simply because the percentage of people on twitter who routinely ‘chat’ rather than simply share and RT links and motivational sayings seems to be in terminal decline. I sort of know the four or five people who are likely to reply if I post something that’s just a comment or thought rather than a link to a post. For most people, I suspect, their twitter feed is now such a fast-moving stream of links that the odd chatty post gets lost in the haze.

So what to do? On the one hand writers are under great pressure – from agents, publishers, other writers, the tiny voice of self-doubt inside their head – to be on twitter and to be actively using it to sell books. On the other, if everyone’s doing that, the net benefit for each author must be reduced. One person standing on a table in the middle of a restaurant and shouting over the diners quietly chatting is notable – if what they shout is dull or offensive then that’s rude; if what they shout is funny or clever then they’re a visionary. If everyone’s shouting, nobody notices whether they’re rude or incredible, AND nobody gets to have a conversation.

None of which answers the question of what to do. I want my twitter feed to be a place where interesting people say funny and insightful things, and where there is an appropriate amount of discussion about Celebrity Masterchef, and the links that are posted are only to unusual and interesting things, but maybe the glory days are gone, and I just need to learn to move on. And now I’m going to go and tweet a link to this blog because if you can be part of the solution, you might as well be part of the problem.** Or something like that.

 

Yeah. I’m over-dramatizing. I’m a writer. What did you expect?

**That’s not right is it? It doesn’t sound right…

In which I, firstly, have a plan, and, secondly, lack a plan

I had a plan for this week’s blogging. It was twofold. Firstly the blogging was definitely going to happen yesterday and secondly it was going to be about how David Cameron announcing that he doesn’t want a third term as prime minister isn’t news, and doesn’t demonstrate in any way that he’s a stand up guy who’s not motivated by ‘glory, ego or wealth’.

I would have been a good blog post; basically it would have pointed out that by ruling out a third term Cameron has created a whole chunk of news coverage based on the unspoken assumption that he’s going to win a second term, and secondly I’d have argued that Cameron is vulnerable to a leadership challenge straight after the election if he fails to win an outright majority for the Tories. At the moment an outright majority for any party looks like being a tall order, and so Cameron is shoring up his own position by discouraging potential rivals from challenging the incumbent leader too soon. Why would they risk it, if he’s going to stand down in a few years anyway?

But, having failed at the first part of my plan, a whole 24 more hours has now elapsed, so the tiny political hoo-ha feels even less like news, and I have become distracted by other things – primarily by how I think I might be doing social media wrong. I’ve suspected this for a while. Every time I find myself gathered with writing chums, either at conferences (occasional), places with cake (frequent) or, indeed, online (bascially all the time), the conversation invariably turns, at some point, to social media and How To Do It. And every time, I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I do not have a strategy. I basically live on facebook and twitter, and I do post links to blog posts and new book releases and I RT book related stuff that looks interesting, but mainly I just tell the world about my lunch or the shiny thing I’ve just seen and then sort of chat to people. I don’t have a system for checking who’s followed me or unfollowed me or isn’t following me back. I don’t really schedule tweets or statuses, although I use TweetDeck so I totally could, but it would involve deciding what I wanted to tweet more than 4 seconds before I tweeted it, and I don’t know what shiny thing I’m going to be looking at in the future, do I?

Somehow I seem to have found myself embracing social media in a weirdly luddite sort of a way. I like just chatting. I like seeing pictures of the weird stain that random people on the other side of the country have found on their carpet, and musing about what it might be and how to get it out. I like feeling that if I RT or share someone’s post it’s because I think it’s interesting and not because I’m trying to get a certain number of reciprocal retweets every day. I like having a place (albeit a virtual place) where people who spend a lot of their time sitting on their own in their pyjamas can feel like they’re slightly connected to the world. I even quite like getting outraged en masse about some minor thing that does not matter at all, and then sort of sheepishly sidling away when we all calm down. Basically I like being social and chatting to people; I don’t really like to have a strategy for how I’m going to chat to get the most benefit out of it. Chatting to people is the benefit.

And here endeth today’s lesson. I had a blogging plan and I failed. I have no social media plan at all, and therefore can’t even say if I’m failing or not, which is nice I guess. How about you (especially you writer types)? Do you have a system for social media-ing and how does it work?

If you enjoyed these random musings and would like to read more by me, I also write actual novels and novella. Details here.

In which I think about ChipLitFest and this very blog

So, lovely blog readists, I have had a delightful weekend. Simply delightful. The sun was out. The cake was chocolately. The wine was pink and sparkling, and there was a literary festival to attend. Really, what more could a prematurely middle-aged and unapologetically middle-class girl ask for?

Saturday was spent at Chipping Norton Literary Festival, stroking lovely books and eating excellent cake. We even managed to squeeze in a couple of talks. Both were aimed at writers, one discussing why writers still need agents, even given the self-publishing boom, and the other looking at social media for writers.

To be 100% honest it was really the agent talk that I was most interested in. The Social Media session was something I’d booked because it fit in well with the other things we were doing and I thought it might be mildly time-passingly interesting, but actually, that was the session that provided the most food for thought. Liz Fenwick, who led the session, is a fellow RNA member and a published novelist. She talked, interestingly and with great humour, about a whole host of social media platforms – twitter, facebook, pinterest, goodreads etc.

She also talked about blogs, and what we, as writers, should and (perhaps) shouldn’t talk about on our blogs, tweets and facebook pages. She suggested, quite rightly I suspect, that talking about religion and politics risks alienating at least some potential readers. Now, as the observant amongst you may have noticed, I do, on occasion, get a tiny bit political on this blog. I, it has to be acknowledged, Have Views. Now I try to ensure that those views are reasonably measured and researched, but I’m not entirely above having a little rant about Michael Gove either.

Now lots of you won’t find that off-putting at all, and I, of course, think all the views expressed here are entirely normal and  rational and right-thinking. So how could anyone find them off-putting? But then, if I found a writer who regularly blogged very right wing or reactionary material, I would probably find that somewhat tiresome myself. Generally, we are all much less prone to consider a person ranty and over-the-top if we tend to agree with what they’re saying.

So I guess the question is, what is the point of this blog? Is it just a place for me to write what I like in the hope that you might be interested, or should I be viewing it more definitely as part of my writerly brand? When I started the blog I said it would “be filled with whatever thoughts pop into my brain. My only commitment to you is that I will endeavour, whereever possible, to think only interesting thoughts.” The idea was that this would be a little corner of the internet where I could write things about stuff that seemed interesting or worth mentioning and that possibly there would be people (I was thinking anywhere up to about eight of you) who would find some of those things interesting too.

But I also want to be a published novelist. I have a full novel manuscript out under consideration with a publisher as I type. When that publisher (or any other in the future) googles me I want them to find someone who doesn’t look like a potential liability. So do I need to put a pin in the bigger rantier opinions and create a blogland more in keeping with the wannabe professional writer image I’m trying to project? Or is a bit of opinion welcome? Would losing it make for a duller blog or is it better when I don’t rant anyway? I have no conclusion today, so please, tell me what you think…