Today I’ve taken some time out from writing to work on updating this site, which I’ve been meaning to do for a while. And, if I do say so myself, it’s looking pretty dapper. So what’s changed? Firstly I’ve invested in a domain name so it’s a website in itself rather than just being A.N.Other Wordpress site. Secondly, I’ve updated the theme so it looks a touch smarter. Thirdly, and most importantly, I’ve added some additional tabs to the menu bar and posted links to my published writing and the top posts from this blog since its inception (saving new readers the hassle of trawling through past posts to find the best ones). It’s still a work in progress but it feels good having made a start on pulling everything together. A writer’s website is, after all, their shop front, and it doesn’t do to have a messy window.
This Sunday I will be embarking upon a 26.2 day sponsored social media silence*, as part of my Rome Marathon fundraising effort (for which you can sponsor me here, should you so desire). Those of you who know me will know that the social media element of this challenge is arguably going to be harder for me to endure than the marathon itself. It’s no secret (how could it be?) that I’m rather fond of Facebooking and prone to the occasional tweet and Instagram photo opportunity. Indeed it could reasonably be posited that I’m one of those annoying people who live out their lives in the public domain, as if my life offline would simply not be worth living. Well, I’m about to find out if that’s the case.
Whilst every passing second bringing me closer to the moment I go offline is raising my blood pressure and anxiety levels, I am also intrigued and even a tad excited to see how I fare without the crutch of online interaction upon which I have come to rely. Will I, for example, see a sharp increase in creative thinking and productivity that will lead to my writing my very own Magnum Opus? Or will I (more likely) end up rocking in the corner by the end of day one, repeating 140 character tweets to myself on a loop and driving myself mad because there is NOBODY TO SHARE THEM WITH? One thing I’m sure of is that I’ll quickly feel annoyed by everyone around me who is engrossed in their smartphone, just as when I gave up smoking I found being in the company of smokers intolerable. So that will be fun for my boyfriend, friends and colleagues (and will, quite frankly, serve the bastards right for forcing me to do this in the first place).
To surmise: There may be tears. There may be withdrawal. There may be shattered relationships. But by God will there be some good writing material**
*which means no engagement with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or this blog (waaaah)
**either that or (most likely) some dangerous new TV series addictions
It is nearly half past twelve on ‘Writing Monday,’ and thus far I have achieved the following: A five kilometre run around Clapham Common (to offset the weekend’s beer and chocolate indulgence in Bruges); the weekly shop in Sainsbury’s; a clothes wash; a top-to-toe clean of the entire flat AND the preparation of a slow cooker gastronomic delight (lamb stew, since you’re asking) for two friends who are coming for dinner tonight. I have also, it would seem, entered into a stand-off with a lederhosen manufacturer in Germany (not a sentence I ever thought I’d write), as the product I returned last week via airmail (due to their mistake in sending the wrong size, I might add) has thus far failed to arrive, meaning that they are now withholding the replacement (in my correct size) until it does. This is a particular problem as said item was ordered for my impending birthday party, which makes swift resolution of the issue significantly more pressing. Given my recent track record with Royal Mail (two of five letters sent by my mum never having arrived), I know which side my money would be on if it wasn’t for the fact I’m already exorbitantly out of pocket from making the purchase in the first place. I could not be kicking myself more for not sending the damn thing recorded, but since they offered me free coloured contact lenses instead of agreeing to pay the return postage cost and the postage was ten pounds via regular air mail and twenty via recorded, I opted for the former – evidently a big (and costly) mistake.
Anyway, I digress. The point I’m trying to make – more to myself than to anyone else – is that it’s nearly half way through Writing Monday and, whilst the level of productivity today has seen is certainly impressive, not one bit of it has had the slightest thing to do with writing. If I was a professional runner, chef or cleaner the past few hours would at least have been lucrative. As it is, I am none of these things. No, for one day each week I am a freelance writer – a freelance writer who is very good at doing anything except the thing she claims to love. In the past ten minutes I have even abandoned my computer again to go into the roof and fix the window so the wind no longer whistles through it (though as that was, in fact, something that needed doing in order to avoid losing my concentration whilst writing that’s technically allowed, no?). To surmise, today I’m feeling mostly useless and frustrated at my own inadequacy. I may have managed to post a blog for every day of the year so far, but in terms of cold, hard cash I’ve hardly covered the cost of the lederhosen dispute with my writing, let alone made enough to pay myself a wage for Writing Monday. Still, I’m writing now, aren’t I? Even if it is only today’s blog? And anyway, we writers write for the love of our trade rather than out of any serious belief we’ll ever earn a crust from it….don’t we?
Right, enough with the negativity and introspection. All is not lost. I’ve just remembered this picture I took in Bruges yesterday and it’s buoyed me considerably. Half the writing day may have been wasted but it was wasted doing necessary things. And now there’s still a glorious half day remaining to make up for lost time. The only question now is what to write about…
Recent “research” from the folk over at Facebook posits more people see our posts than we might think. I put the word research in speech marks because this comes at a time when Facebook is being criticised for limiting the reach of peoples’ posts to force them to pay for promoted posts. The research in question, therefore, could be taken to be a poorly disguised and somewhat unscrupulous attempt to generate positive PR in response to the media backlash.
But whatever the reason, the research has got me thinking about the reach and impact of my own posts on social media, and indeed my blog. I must confess to feeling a sense of deflation when I see the number of views on my posts declining, and a rush of excitement when they begin to climb again. When someone new follows my blog I beam from ear to ear. Why? Because it means there are people out there who actually like what I write and who, rather than briefly scanning posts before deleting them, want to read them with some degree of regularity.
But who are my followers, and those who like to read my musings frequently? What drives them? What makes them tick? And what is it about my writing that keeps them coming back for more? It strikes me now I think about it that thus far in my writing experiment it’s been almost entirely one-sided. What I’d love to know is what my readers would like more of, what they’d like less of, and generally how I can write in a way that’s more agreeable to them.
It’s fair to say we writers crave acknowledgement, and the best form of acknowledgement – to my mind, at least – is feedback. But the online world operates in a similar way to the real world when it comes to levels of active involvement. Humans fall roughly into two categories; introverts and extroverts. I say roughly fall into, because it’s rare to find someone who would claim to be entirely introvert or entirely extrovert – we usually all exhibit both persuasions from time to time.
This brings me back to the Facebook research. I think it’s probably true that we engage more people than we think when we post things on the internet – because a lot of those who read it aren’t inclined to comment or to actively engage with the content. They are passive observers, perhaps because they’re introverts whose nature isn’t to wade in and shout about their thoughts and feelings but rather to consider them and process them privately. Them not engaging may not, therefore, mean they aren’t enjoying the content, but rather that they prefer to enjoy it from afar.
This rationale (irrational as it may well be) makes me feel better about not having lots of feedback on my writing. What it fails to do is make me any less curious about who my readers are and what they most like to read.
So if you’re reading this and feel inclined to drop me a line about what makes you tick, I’d really love to hear from you…
It’s a well-known fact that, for the most part, writing doesn’t pay. Or at least it doesn’t pay until you make it big, though you might be surprised by how few authors ever reach the heady heights of JK Rowling’s wealth, despite being on the best seller lists for weeks on end.
So what do aspiring writers do to make ends meet? Some sacrifice luxury and get a part time job in a cafe, devoting the rest of their time to writing in the hope they’ll have that much needed break and be catapulted out of their Hackney bedsit into a Hollywood condo.
Others, like myself, who have fallen into a relatively comfortable way of living and aren’t keen to suffer for their art to quite the extent of living below the poverty line, get a full time job. Days, therefore, are spent in an office, doing someone else’s bidding for eight hours or more at a time, and nights are spent trying to fit writing in amongst the other many competing priorities.
But I’m not complaining, and nor should anyone who is serious about making it as a writer, because if writing is your passion it shouldn’t be difficult to make time for it. What can be a problem for the aspiring writer, however, is what they choose to sacrifice to make time for their writing. In my case, I’ve realised that what’s all too often being sacrificed is reading.
I take my Kindle to work every day, but on the journey there often struggle not to be distracted by the free newspapers. I therefore spend the duration engrossed in the latest drama in Rihanna’s love life instead of making a start on the latest Booker Prize-nominated tome I’ve downloaded.
Before conceiving my 365 day writing challenge I would at least spend the return journey reading a good book, but in recent weeks even those few precious snatched minutes have been compromised, as I’ve spent them drafting that day’s blog post. What this means is that although I am now (at long last) writing regularly, when it comes to reading I’m not getting much further than the odd sensationalist tabloid press story – hardly inspirational stuff.
What’s troubling me is this: How can I even hope to be a good writer if I’m not seeing how it’s done by learning from the best? To use an analogy, imagine trying to ride a bike without seeing someone else do it first. It’s not that you couldn’t do it – if you had instructions you’d get there in the end – but the whole experience would be harder, and you might not end up cycling to the best of your ability.
The realisation that I’m not reading enough has made me see I need to reassess my priorities again; rather than substituting reading for writing I must make time for both, or risk my writing being so badly compromised that the heady heights of JK Rowling will always remain out of reach.