Time Spent Poorly?

Lately I’ve been back and forth with Facebook a lot.  On the one hand it’s my major way of keeping up with things; socialising with friends, finding out what’s going on and checking out news stories.  On the other hand it doesn’t take long for me to become either angry or depressed or both, and that’s not good.  As soon as I notice that reaction I close the tab, only to go back on there an hour or two later for the human interaction I barely otherwise get, due to writing being such a solitary occupation.  It’s very difficult when the reaction to your work from the wider word is silence (though I did have a rather nice rejection today, of which more anon) so I crave comments from other writers and thoughts like my daughter’s this morning (‘I’m still reading your novella and it’s really good.’)  I can’t get enough of that stuff.

So today I thought I’d try an experiment.  I’ll set a timer on my phone and see how long it takes me to get unacceptably depressed or angry.  But as many people have spotted, observing a phenomenon changes that phenomenon: the very act of timing it meant that I was more detached from what I was reading and able to observe both it and myself from a distance, as it were.  The result was that I lasted five minutes.  If that doesn’t sound very long, my usual time limit is (I would guess) less than two.  Unless I’m chatting on messenger it’s not long before several horrible news stories hit me and I can’t take any more.

Maybe I should set a stopwatch every time?

The rejection email I had this morning was not too bad: it said they’d passed my story ‘Heart 2 Heart’ onto the editors (ie effectively shortlisting it) but that it didn’t fit with the rest of the issue.  Since they have different editors each time I am by no means downhearted – appropriately enough, given the title (if you’re interested the story is about a woman who has a heart transplant which ends up changing her personality in drastic ways.)

I may be a little downheaded though…

Two more stories going off to The Fiction Desk today.

Kirk out

PS  Good luck to everyone doing NaNo

My Seven Tips for Better Blogging

One of my recent followers is The Art of Blogging:

https://artofblogging.net

where you can find tips on how to make your blog better; all of which set me thinking, what are my tips on blogging?  Do I even have any?  Is the way I blog personal to me and not relevant to anyone else?  Well, let’s find out.

I began blogging because as a writer I wanted readers – and blogging is an instant way to get them.  In theory.  In theory, you just hit ‘publish’ and your words are out there in the world for all to read.  But blogging is like a miniature version of self-publishing; the publishing’s the easy part: in order to get readers you have to do the marketing.  Which presents me with a problem: I’ve always eschewed self-publishing because frankly the thought of doing all that self-promotion makes me feel a bit faint and then I have to go and have a lie-down.  Nowadays we’re all supposed to be self-promoting, self-starting, self-aggrandising little market forces, and that’s just not me.  And what’s the point of writing if you have to be someone else in order to succeed?  So I guess my first tip is this:

Tip No. 1 – Be Yourself. 

If you don’t know what that is, you’ll find out in the process of doing this stuff, but don’t assume you have to be like others in order to succeed.  You are unique and you have unique and individual things to say.  So whilst you can learn from others, don’t try to be them.  Be you.

Tip No. 2 – Communicate. 

It sounds obvious, but make sure others can understand what you’re saying.  If you’re blogging on a specialist topic don’t use words a lay person wouldn’t know: people have very limited tolerance for looking up words.  As I’m continually telling OH whose main blog can be found at:

https://zerothly.wordpress.com

try to look at it from the reader’s point of view.  Are you being too technical?  Too abstruse?  Too long-winded?  This brings us on to:

Tip No. 3 – Don’t Go On And On.

OH maintains that a post of 2000 words is ‘not too long’: I disagree and aim for around 500.  There’s no set limit but I tend to think that more than 1500 words puts a strain on the reader’s time and attention span.  Remember, you’re competing with 1001 other things on the internet, all demanding time and attention.  Which brings me to:

Tip No. 4 – Make It Worth Their While.

Just because you’re interested in something, doesn’t mean your readers will be.  If you’re describing an experience, make them feel it; if you’re giving instructions make them clear and doable, so they’ve really learnt something.  Nothing is more frustrating than a ‘how-to’ blog which skips important sections or assumes knowledge you don’t have: nothing is more dull than a description of someone else’s holiday which doesn’t take you there.

Tip No. 5  How Often?

When I started blogging I made it a rule to blog every day.  My posts were a lot shorter then; but the every day rule was a daily discipline for me, so that I’d get into the habit.  Nowadays I’m more relaxed and several days can go by without a post.  There’s no hard and fast rule but I think that too much content can weary the reader: you don’t want your followers to be getting too many emails.  On the other hand, if I’ve been absent for more than a week, I tend to find my readers drifting away, so I post something to let them know I’m still here.  There’s no point in posting just for the sake of it, but you don’t want people to forget you – so find a balance which works for you.

Tip No. 6 – Don’t Be Ordinary.

Avoid cliches and everyday phrases; without being contrived, try to think of different ways to describe things.  Depending on the topic, use humour; and if you’re writing about something serious like death or depression or suicide, be helpful.  Don’t leave your reader on a total downer – nobody likes that.

Tip No. 7 – Edit.  Then Edit.  Then Edit.

Don’t just write, finish and hit ‘publish’.  Your readers deserve better; hit the ‘preview’ button and check it through.  Then click on ‘edit’ (I usually bring this up in a new tab so I can check back and forth) and look for errors: it’s amazing how many typos slip past even in a few hundred words.  Then look at how you’ve expressed yourself.  Is it clear?  Does it flow?  Could you substitute a colon or semi-colon for that full-stop?  Are your sentences too long, too short, just right?  Could the vocab be sharpened up?  Does the title hook you in?  What about the first sentence?  Think of it like a newspaper article – you need an attention-grabbing headline and then a really good first paragraph (though as with tags, make it relevant to the article).  None of this means the rest of it doesn’t matter, but hooking people in is half the battle.

Tip No. 8 – Categories, Tags and Sharing

These are the kinds of things you usually get tips on and I’m not an expert on these so I’ll just say this: categories are a means for you and others to understand the areas the blog covers and search it accordingly so think about how to divide up your content in the best way.  As for tags, don’t misrepresent the post.  If there’s nothing about Johnny Depp, don’t put him in a tag just to get more readers: if people want Johnny Depp they can go to other blogs.  Make your tags short, punchy and above all relevant.  For example, when I’ve finished this post I’ll probably put tags like ‘top tips for blogging’ or ‘how to perfect your blog’.  Tags are picked up by search engines and are a really good way of getting accidental readers, so make them count.  As for sharing, social media is a great way to reach more people; I connected my blog to Facebook years ago and got a sharp spike in views.  I’m not on Twitter but if you are, use it: I recommend connecting to any social media platforms you’re on.  You may find readers comment on those sites rather than on the blog itself, which some find annoying; but I tend to think all comments are worthwhile and a basis for engagement.  Which brings us to:

Tip No. 9 – Respond!

When readers take the time and trouble to comment, respond.  If you’re in the fortunate position of having too many comments to reply to, make some general response.  Always thank people for commenting: not every time as that becomes a bit wearisome, but make sure commenters feel listened to and appreciated.  One of the most enjoyable aspects for me is engaging in conversation with readers.

So, turns out I do have some tips for blogging – so please comment below and let me know what you think.  If you like the blog, please click the ‘follow’ button on the bottom right, so you’ll get an email whenever I post.  I cherish my followers – and I will ALWAYS look at your blog when you follow me.

Kirk out

 

 

 

 

I Have Been Paged – or Rather, I Have Paged Myself

I had another little notification from WordPress yesterday.  They’re always changing things around here and for some reason they have seen fit to discontinue connections to people’s Facebook profiles.  Wait, now that I read the email it’s actually Facebook who are doing this, not WordPress, so let’s not blame them.  Whoever it is, it came as a bit of a blow because I get lots of readers via Facebook, and although it’s annoying when people don’t comment on here because they’ve done it on there, it does at least mean that you get dialogue; and dialogue is one of the main reasons for getting a blog in the first place.  Writing can be quite isolating, especially if you’re not yet at the stage where you get to do lots of performances, book signings, festivals and so on; so a blog is one of the main ways you can have dialogue with readers.  When I first set fingers to keyboard I was scared of getting negative comments, but I’ve had very few of those.  I’ve dealt with persistent offenders by blocking them, and I once got rid of a troll by asking him to send me some of his own poetry as it was obviously so much better than mine.  I’ve had radio silence ever since.

No, most comments are lovely.  They are interesting, stimulating and, if not always appreciative, at least never hostile.  I have come across points of view which I would never have encountered otherwise, and had conversations with people I would never have met.

But one of the main reasons for writing a blog is what OH calls a ‘brain dump’.  You have thoughts going round and round in your head and you want to do something with them, so you forge them into a blog post.  In so doing you are able to examine these thoughts and see where they lead.  You can evaluate them and judge whether they are worthwhile.  You can hone and refine them – and in so doing, hone and refine your own thought processes.

What’s not to like?

So please, if you’re on Facebook, check out my page and ‘like’ it:

https://www.facebook.com/saradagray/

Kirk out

That Wash The Week That Wash

We’ve had some very good drying days of late, so I have got to grips with a backlog of horrendousness which was found lurking in the son’s room.  Normally I take a strict view of washing, having introduced both children to the washing machine at the age of fourteen and then backed off forever: I simply cannot understand parents who allow their grown-up offspring (usually their sons) to return from uni with a pile of washing.  They’d get short shrift from me.  But in this case Son had not only cleared out his room but made strenuous efforts to keep it clear, so I thought I’d pitch in and finish the job.  There’s something quite satisfying about doing several loads of washing if by the time the second lot’s finished, the first lot has flapped about in a strong breeze and fierce sun and is now ready for folding (not that I do fold, not in any real sense of the word.)

Since all that, I am now shocked to discover that it’s been nearly a week since my last post (I can’t help writing that like a confession.)  A week in which I didn’t get the writer-in-residence post in Scotland but did get the loveliest rejection email I’ve ever had; a week in which a story of mine was returned at lightning speed (never a good sign), a week in which early spuds have been dug up, tennis at Queen’s watched (Murray is not in great form though considering he’s had 50 weeks off it’s not surprising) and the local contender to oust Nicky Morgan launched.

I’ll give Nicky Morgan this: she’s ubiquitous.  Any local event you go to, she’s right there – and not just for the photo-op either.  She’s thought of as a good constituency MP, which makes her a hard person to oust – but if we want a change of government (and god knows we do) we have to get rid of her.  So let’s put aside the pleasant manner and the local events and consider Nicky Morgan’s voting record.

Here are just a few of the things she’s voted for (or against):

AGAINST equal rights for gays and lesbians

AGAINST investigations into the Iraq war

AGAINST a right to remain in the UK for EU citizens post-Brexit

AGAINST higher taxes for those earning over £150 K pa

AGAINST a bankers’ bonus tax

FOR more restrictions on Trades Union activity

FOR replacing the Trident nuclear missile system

FOR the Bedroom Tax

FOR a reduction in spending on welfare and benefits

FOR reducing capital gains tax.

I think it’s quite clear where her priorities lie.

In other news, I am now acquiring more material for my next sitcom; a follow-up or possibly a rewrite of ‘Waiting for Theo.’  This morning’s material went like this:

OH: You know about fully-automated luxury gay space communism, right?
Me: What?
OH: (shows me the phrase written down) It’s a thing
Me: But what thing?
OH: It’s basically Iain Banks
Me: Well that tells me nothing. What’s the gay bit about?
OH: It doesn’t mean anything really. It’s just put there because it’s a three-letter word
Me: Oh, for god’s sake! This is getting less clear by the minute!

OH:  All right.  Consider a lesbian automated checkout.

(pause)

OH:  Have you considered it?

Me:  No, but I’m writing THAT down.

And so on – in fact OH could legitimately say like Alan Bennett’s mother (The Lady in the Van), ‘by ‘eck, I’ve given you some script!’  OH really has given me some script too; stuff you couldn’t make up if you sat at your desk for a thousand years – which by coincidence is about how long ago I invented two characters called Ladimir and Oestrogen (a rather clever pun on Vladimir and Estragon, or so I thought).  Here are a couple of examples:

Ladimir:  God!  Three degrees in Edinburgh!

Oestrogen:  What?

L:  Three degrees!

O:  What – temperature?

L:  Of course, temperature!  What else?

O:  Oh, nothing

L:  It’s so foggy

O:  Really?

L:  You can’t see your hand in front of your face!

O:  Wow!  So I guess they’ll be singing when will I see you again?

L:  (groan)

 

Ladimir:  Here you are!  I’ve been looking for you

Oestrogen:  Here I am

L:  what’s this then?

O:  It’s my putting shed

L:  Your putting shed?

O:  Yep.

L:  Not a potting shed?

O:  Do you see any pots?

L:  OK then.  Is it for golf clubs?

O:  No.

L:  Well, what is it for then?

O:  It’s for putting things in.

L:  Oh, I see.  How foolish of me not to realise we were in a written conversation.

 

L:  In Fortran it was ‘right’ and in Basic it was ‘print’

O:  Okaaay…

L:  Fortran was hard.  Everyone learnt Basic

O:  Even I learnt a bit of Basic

L:  Oh?

O:  On my computer programming for morons course

L:  Was it really called that?

O:  No!

L:  Well, they have ‘Computer Programming for Idiots’ and ‘Internet for Dummies’

O:  Well it wasn’t.

L:  You’ll know all about the ‘go to’ problem then?

O:  Go to?  There’s a problem with ‘go to’?  It was the only bloody thing I understood!

L:  It didn’t have an equivalent ‘come from’ function.

O:  Oh, I see.  So it wasn’t quite finished.

L:  No.

O:  You might say it was antiquated

L:  I guess

O:  Even Shakespearian?

L:  Unh?

O:  “Go to, my Lord”.  You know, that sort of thing.

 

And so on… I think our real conversations are better.

Kirk out

This Post Will Self-Destruct in Ten Seconds

When I was a child one of my favourite TV series was ‘Mission: Impossible’ (not the films – those came later.) 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission:_Impossible

At the beginning of each programme a disembodied voice would say: ‘Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is…’ and I would be on tenterhooks lest they choose not to accept it and there would be no programme.  In fact one week they did choose not to accept it, though thankfully they changed their minds a moment later.  Phew!  The music was thrilling and there was a fuse burning down across the screen – very exciting:

I must have had a deep attachment to programmes back then (I know my life was ruined if I didn’t get to watch ‘Batman’) but somehow as you grow up the attachment wanes: and one programme I have never been tempted to watch is anything with Matey Popkins on it.  In fact I think as a media troll Matey should get as little publicity as possible, which is why I’ve given her a pseudonym, and why this post will self-destruct once it has been read.

The trouble with trolls is that they feed on attention, which is why it may have been a mistake for Theatr Clwyd to put on a play entitled ‘The Assassination of Matey Popkins’:

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2018/apr/27/the-assassination-of-katie-hopkins-review-theatr-clwyd-mold

Of course Matey, impulsive little scamp that she is, didn’t trouble to find out what the play was actually about and turned up out of nowhere with a giant billboard saying something about free speech or whatever (yeah, yeah).  But the trouble with satire is that unless you know it’s satire, it can look exactly like the thing you’re satirising: so that if all you know is the title, ‘The Ass of Matey Popkins’, rather than coming across as an examination of social media, seems like something much more sinister and intolerant.

Which brings us back to the world of dear old Matey – who has had enough publicity for one day and needs to go back to bed.  Night, night Matey!

Please click the ‘like’ button, after which this post will self-destruct in ten seconds.  Please stand clear of your computer. 

Ten… nine… eight…

Kirk out

Hell is Other Facebook Friends

I have been reflecting recently on the difficulty of interacting with any decency on Facebook.  I have long since withdrawn from political discussion since any slight disagreement can degenerate in the blink of an eye into a nuclear standoff and the mildest of phrases such as ‘I’m not sure I understand your position here,’ can somehow translate as ‘you are an utter arse and have no right to exist’.  But I thought I’d be safe with closed groups; particularly groups which are there for mutual support.

I can’t say too much without giving away confidential stuff, but yesterday we had a situation.  This situation involved potential harm to a person close to me and I wanted some thoughts – not necessarily advice, but support, consideration, sympathy, comments from anyone in a similar position: the phrase I used was ‘positive thoughts.’  No sooner was my post up than someone commented: not someone I knew in real life, nor someone I’d interacted with before, but still a member of a support group.

What was I thinking?  This is Facebook, for god’s sake – you might as well stick your head above the trench in World War One and ask for the enemy’s opinions on dialectical materialism.  What I got was a blast of hot air from someone who in no uncertain terms told me I had no right to do what I was doing and should do x, y and z immediately.  Clearly to some people the phrase ‘send me positive thoughts’ translates as ‘please give me your strong opinions.’  It hurt: I deleted the post.  Maybe I shouldn’t have done; but I felt wounded by the encounter and unwilling to risk more criticism.

Isn’t it a bit of an over-reaction to feel that way about a few words from someone I don’t even know?  But I don’t think I’m the only one – lately people are opening up less and less on Facebook.  There’s far less personal stuff (even good news can attract some nasty comments) and far more general information.  It’s a shame, but I understand it.  When even a support group turns out to harbour nastiness, where do you go for support?

All of this feeds into the trans debate.  Obviously there is abuse and that shouldn’t happen; but equally, the mildest of questions can trigger an incredibly aggressive response.  I recently had a debate with a F to M trans person who got very angry with me for asking questions and not simply accepting their view of things.  They were rude and aggressive and when I’d had enough and signed out, saying I’d tried to debate respectfully, they said I’d failed.  Well at least I tried, I thought.

Sometimes Facebook feels like a highly dysfunctional household where you have to keep your thoughts to yourself because anything you say can and will be misconstrued.

And yet every time I think of leaving there’s something that pulls me back.

Kirk out