One In A Million.

Believe it or not, I’m one in a million. 

A million authors writing to entertain others.
A million poets bleeding their souls onto the page.
A million people trying to help others.
A million people who are actually loyal. 
A million teachers going the extra mile for their kids. 
A million people caring for someone they love. 

It might be easy to get lost in the crowd. 
It’s easy to feel insignificant.
One tree among a million in the forest, so to speak. 
But I know I am one in a million. 

We all write and grieve and serve and give of ourselves differently. 
Each of us is unique. 
Each of us is a distinct blend of personality, talent and substance. 

Not a single one of us is worthless. 

I may not stand out among the million. 
I may never strike it rich or become famous.
I may never be someone else’s ideal. 
I cannot be perfect.

The truth is, I don’t have to.None of us do.

What matters is the contrast with some of the other people on this planet: the hateful, the cruel, the greedy, the selfish, the power-hungry, the narcissists. 
What matters is that I stand against the things they accept. 
What matters is that I am true to who I am, to my priorities, my values, my faith. 

What matters is integrity. 
That’s what stands out in this world. 

That, more than anything else, makes me one in a million. 

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A Mutual Kidnapping.

Today, my best friend and I have kidnapped each other. 
We’re going to spend the whole day doing whatever we want to do. 

Our phones are on silent. 
We haven’t told anyone what time we’ll be home. 
We haven’t even decided where we’ll go. 
We’re winging that part.

We might visit somewhere new. 
We might go on an adventure. 

But we did both bring a book, just in case. 

What I Have Learned From Blogging 150 Days In A Row

Blogging consistently for 150 days in a row is no mean feat. It takes time, effort, and brain power, and a bit of self-discipline really helps, too. I’m thinking very clever things of myself today, but that’s not the only positive outcome. 

When I first started blogging, I was a bit here and there with it all, which is perfectly fine. Over time, though, I noticed that the more consistent I was, the more consistently my posts were being read. When I managed a three or four day streak, I felt like I had really accomplished something constructive in terms of getting myself “out there” as a blogger,

At the beginning of this year, one of my resolutions was to blog more consistently. I can certainly put a check in that box!  Now that we’ve reached the middle of the year, I have spent some time thinking about what I’ve learned from doing so. 

Goals are highly motivating. When you’re on a long streak, it’s very easy to dismiss thoughts like “I’m too tired” or “not today” and get it done. 

Planning is essential. Sometimes, deciding what to write about is the hardest part. Planning helps to overcome this.  I have developed a list of themes, post ideas and issues to explore. That way, I’ve always got something to write about if there is nothing pressing or timely bobbing around in my head.  Participating in special “months” like Women in History and “National Poetry Month” has helped me to focus my posts during those specific times. This has helped me to attract different kinds of readers to my blog, which is generally quite eclectic in the topics I cover. 

I still want to improve the way I coordinate my planning. I’ve started to time my Shakespeare-related posts to coincide with #ShakespeareSunday on Twitter so that I have an audience to reach that is automatically curated for me by someone else’s design. That’s proven to be very handy, so I want to find more opportunities like that to fit with my interests and content. 

Reblogging is a great way to share sand add value to someone else’s content. I often share other people’s posts via Twitter, and do so very gladly. When I discovered how to reblog someone’s work, that was a revolutionary moment for me. It enabled me to share their work in a more meaningful way than just tweeting it – which is meaningful and helpful, but it doesn’t add any value to the content. 

Reblogging makes it possible to add comments or a reflection of my own on the topic. This is helpful to both them and myself: their content reaches another blogger’s audience, and my content is enriched by theirs. It is also a very good thing to be inspired by what someone else produces, and to let that fuel my own thoughts and words. 

It’s also fair to say that there are times when the tank has been dangerously empty, and those bloggers whose work I have shared have literally saved my day – both by inspiring my post, but by encouraging my mind and spirit when life has been hard. 

Varying the topics attracts different readers. There are blogs dedicated to just one topic. Some of those bloggers do it extremely well. I am probably never going to be one of those people. 

I like to discuss different things that interest me. By mixing it up, I’ve been able to find new readers who like history, or poetry, or horror, or Shakespeare, or who are Indie authors and interested in the issues that relate to our awesome little corner of the publishing universe. These audiences often cross over, so if someone isn’t interested in what I write one day, they probably will be on the next. 

Over the past 150 days, I have seen my readership grow, measurable by the increase in followers on my blog. I find this very exciting, as when I started out, I thought having ten followers was incredible. Actually, given that I had very little clue what I was doing, it probably was incredible!

Consistency increases visibility. I’ve noticed that I’m getting more post likes and engagements from people who weren’t following me previously. I can only assume that this is because my posts are gaining visibility via the WordPress reader as well as on Twitter and via my very amateur attempt at SEO. My rather thorough use of categories and tags might be helping, too.  Whatever the source of the magic, I’ve enjoyed some great feedback and questions from readers that have been both helpful and stimulating. 

Accuracy and accountability matter. When you say something on your blog, you need to be able to back it up. Thankfully, as a History teacher, this is something I’ve always known. So when a reader asked me recently, “What’s your source?” I was able to answer promptly and easily.  I really don’t want to start providing a bibliography for every post I write, but it does matter that I can verify my content when I am called on to do so. 

People want to know who you are, Even though a blog post focuses on a particular topic or idea, readers respond well when you show them something of who you are or what makes you tick. I do not suggest making it all personal or discussing all your private issues in detail, but if readers can see that you are genuine, they will respond to you in positive and encouraging ways 

I am better at blogging than I used to be.  Part of that is in the development of my skills by learning as I go, and part of it is confidence that can only ever come from experience. This has, in fact, been the most motivating lesson of all. If I keep going, I’ll get even better. I don’t know if the world is ready for that, but I am. 

There are, however, still things that remain a mystery to me: 

How do you actually get people to click “like” before they leave? 
How can I get more people to leave a comment or question? 

Those are questions that fall into “next level engagement”. I’ll write that into my goal-setting now. 

Nominated!

Guess who got nominated again for Top Female Author 2019? 

I did, that’s who!

‘Smoke and Shadows’ has been nominated in the Poetry category – the same one in which Nova won in 2017.

It’s fair to say I am excited!

It couldn’t have come at a better time. The crazy busy pace and emotional demands of the last three weeks and the stress I have been under because of things outside my control have really worn me down, and while I’ve enjoyed the release of ‘A Rose By Any Other Name’, I haven’t really given my books or my writing the attention they deserve at all the past month or so.  I’ve started a number of poems lately, but haven’t finished any of them… yet.

It’s really nice to know someone loved my book enough to nominated it. I love it, and I’m proud of it for so many reasons – but that is no guarantee that anyone else is going to. The reviews have been good, though, so I have reason to hope that others will enjoy reading it, too. 

It’s also very timely reminder that there are things which transcend those times of stress and exhaustion in our lives that seem to take over and leave no time or energy for anything else.  

Of course, we know that, but sometimes we forget to keep that thought in our mind. It’s amazing the difference a little bit of encouragement and support can make. 

Winners are announced on July 8th. I’ll be sure to let you know if I win! 

The Next Challenge: Learning to Knit

Today, with encouragement from my friends Kim and Helen, I am undertaking a new challenge: I’m going to learn to knit. 

It is a skill that has defied me in the past. I have tried— and failed—several times before. As humiliating as that has been, I have remained a little jealous of people who can whip up a scarf or pair of gloves, or a lovely sweater, with relative ease. 

My first project is going to be a scarf. I found some wool that I really love, and will look wonderful as a warm, wide scarf that I can wrap around me when it gets cold. I bought the wool and some bamboo knitting needles just the right size, so I’m ready to start. Helen has promised to teach me this afternoon. 

I’m excited. I’m keen to put my past failures behind me. I’m super keen for the scarf. To be honest, that’s probably the biggest motivator, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Right? 

If I catch on and manage to make a go of it, I will update you on my progress at some point. 
If I don’t… we will never speak of this again. 

Pondering Promotion

One of the things I do in all the spare time I don’t have is creating book promotion for other Indie authors. 

Over the past few years, I have learned a lot about creating promotional images, writing effective tweets, putting images and text together for different platforms and using it all to put books in front of people who hopefully want to read them. 

Ironically, it’s a process that works better when you are advertising someone else’s book and not your own. If I tell a person that Charlie’s book is good, they are likely to take my words at face value. When I tell them my book is good, they tend to assume I have no idea. 

I have been pondering these things afresh while organising the preorder promo for ‘A Rose By Any Other Name’. 

Despite my obvious bias, it’s up to me to get my book seen by readers.
How can I make people want to read my book? How can I pique their interest? How can I get their attention? 

Those are the million dollar questions every author or promoter mst ask. 

The key lies in making them attractive to the target audience. An interesting story, well written and thoroughly edited, proofread, checked, formatted and checked again. A great cover that catches the eye and suits both the story and the genre. Promo images that are varied in colour and style, relevant to the story and genre, using clear and appropriate fonts. Not too wordy, and not too plain. 

Hopefully, those things will combine to have a positive effect. 
The fact is, before you can sell the book, you have to be able to sell the idea of the book. That’s why blurbs and taglines matter.  That’s why a cleverly worded tweet will sometimes have more effect than a beautifully written excerpt. 

Don’t get me wrong. A great excerpt is an effective way to win a reader, but you’ve still got to make people want to read it in the first place. 
So, for the next ten days until the book’s release date on June 14, I have prepared a bunch of teeets, some short Facebook posts, three different 16×9 promotional images ideal for Facebook and Twitter, and three square promo images for Instagram. 

There are hints but no spoilers. There is a mixture of information, humour and invitation. The hashtags are varied so that I reach more users than if I just stick to four or five basic tags. The images are different colours and styles, but all consistent with the story and genre.

Every post must have:

  • A promotional image that includes the book cover
  • Some information about the story or character
  • Clear indication of the genre
  • The link for ordering/buying the book
  • A mixture of popular and useful hashtags 

My goal is to achieve preorders for my book so that it has some sales momentum as soon as it launches, and then to continue promoting it to generate sales after that. That means creating different images, different tweets, and so on, on a regular basis. There is, after all, no such thing as “set and forget” promotion. 

***

A Rose By Any Other Name’ is available for preorder here

118 Days.

Holy Toledo!

I have achieved a 118 day blogging streak. How’s that for a consistent effort?

I just wanted to say thank you for the encouragement to everyone who has motivated me by reading, responding, liking or commenting on my blog posts.

They seem like such small things to do, but they really are significant in the life of a blogger.

They help me know I’m not just typing into a void.
They help me know I’m not alone in this big old bloggerverse.
And it’s fair to say that they remind you of the same things.

Thank you for sharing the ride with me so far.

Stay tuned, folks. For my next trick, I plan to see how far I can make the streak last!

Time Flies Whether You’re Having Fun Or Not.

They say time seems to go by faster as you get older. 
Today, I have two questions in response to that premise: 

  1. Exactly how ancient am I?
  2. How is it already June?

I don’t actually think it’s age that does it. I blame deadlines and responsibilities. They’re the things that put us under pressure, that make us work more than we play, and that stop us being all lackadaisy and carefree about how we spend our time like we were when we were kids.

Pressure put on us by employers. Pressure put on us by kids and families. Pressure put on us by ourselves. Pressure put on us by society to be perfect, to be leaders, to be models, to be lots and lots of things we feel we can’t be. We struggle to do it all, and the vortex of expectations and time pressure that is created by those pressures drags us into a cycle of racing against time and waking up every morning surprised that it’s already Wednesday, already June, already 2019. 

Sure, I want to be a responsible adult. But I also want to be able to relax without feeling guilt. I want to be able to slow down sometimes, and drink my coffee without actually thinking about all the things the caffeine is going to help me to achieve within a given time frame. I want to be able to fill my day doing things I enjoy doing without having to rationalise or justify how I spend my time. 

Those dratted deadlines and responsibilities keep me from doing those things. These days, you can’t even be deathly ill and stay in bed for two days without doing paperwork and announcing your impending demise on social media to account for your whereabouts. 

That was one of the many things I loved about being in Spamalot! last month. It was a responsibility and a demand on my time, for sure, but it was loads of fun, and being in rehearsal or on stage meant that I could say, “Sorry, not available” to everyone and everything else that wanted a slice of my time. Even better, I took on a role and left myself and those darned responsibilities behind for a few hours at a time.
It was wonderful. 

Another thing I loved doing in May was blogging about my favourite classic books. Yes, it was another commitment to doing something every day, but it gave me a daily opportunity for a few minutes where I could justify picking up a favourite book, leafing through it to  reacquaint myself with it, spend some time reading, taking a photo of said book, and enjoying my not-so-secret life as an unapologetic book nerd.
That, too, was wonderful. 

June promises to be a busy month with auditions and casting for the school musical, grading exams and assessments, writing reports, and meeting a bunch of work deadlines that are looming. I shall put my plans together today for possible blog topics so that I can keep up my momentum here, and for images and ideas for Instagram posts, because I really enjoy those aspects of my author/blogger life. 

June will also see the release of a new fantasy novella, which I am very excited about. Titled ‘A Rose By Any Other Name’, it was one of my stories included in the fairytale retelling anthology titled ‘Once Upon A Fabulous Time’, and which is now back in my hands for individual release, as that collection is now only available in paperback. I’m in the process of having a new cover designed for the story, and when that’s ready, it will be good to go! That’s the advantage of having a manuscript that is already thoroughly edited!

So, a busy but hopefully enjoyable month looms ahead, and no doubt it will fly past as fast as the months before it have done. All I can do is hang on and do my best… and maybe hope for a little downtime, too.

Spamalot! aka The Show That Ends Like This.

This weekend and last I achieved one of my ultimate theatre goals as an actor, singer, and not-quite-a-dancer in Monty Python’s Spamalot! The Musical. 

A lot of people have done an incredible amount of work, both on stage and off, to bring the show to life and make it run smoothly and professionally. 

It’s a really, really funny show. By the time our cast was done with it, it was non-stop hilarity and good times for the duration of each performance. To be honest, that was pretty much the order of every rehearsal, too,

Sure, there have been moments of frustration and, occasionally, despair for some of us. More than anything, though, it has been fun. It’s fair to say that however many tears may have been shed in tiredness or anxiety, a hundred times more have been borne of laughter. 

From our first read-through of the script to taking our bows of the final night, we have laughed together, learned from one another, inspired and encouraged each other. 

From the final week of January to the second week of May, the cast members have grown from acquaintances into friends. Those with whom I have worked most closely have begun to feel like family. It’s fair to say that they understand my love for theatre and performance more than most members of my family, and it seems they have fully accepted my own individual brand of weirdness and subversive humour. I have found my theatre tribe. 

Today, dismantling the absolutely amazing sets and cleaning the theatre felt kind of surreal. Yesterday I had tears because I didn’t want it to be over. Today, tears threatened again as reality set in: the show really is done. 

My heart is heavy, and even though my Fibromyalgia-plagued body and permanently rather dodgy spine are expressing a strong and well-earned sense of relief, I regret nothing. 

At the end of it all, I am blessed to count these amazing people as my friends, and to be able to say “see you next time!” with every confidence that there will be another show and we will be keen to do it all again.

All photos in this post are by Joel Barker aka Sir Bedevere, and have been used with permission.

A Change That Is Long Overdue.

Sometimes, you reach the point where enough is enough.

I have reached a new landmark in my journey of self-acceptance and self-care:  I have finally decided to stop saying and thinking horrible things about myself. 

When I posted this image last night, a friend responded with the observation that ” The trick is to catch it and recognize it. That’s the hard part.”

What she says is true, but the fact is that I’ve already been recognising it, and it’s something that has been bugging me for a while. 

For me, the hardest part is that I see my flaws and failures much earlier and more honestly than anyone else does. I know I’m valued and loved, and I know I have talents and abilities that others admire, but I am much quicker to comment on my mistakes and shortcomings than on anything good or positive that I might do. Sadly, this is the habit of a lifetime. 

It’s often said that we’re our own worst enemies. When it comes to cruel words, I think that’s definitely true of me. 

I write poetry that moves people and touches their souls. I write horror stories that chill my readers to the bone. My books get good reviews, and readers tell me they love my work. I teach teenagers, and from time to time, some of them tell me I’ve had a positive impact on their life. 

At the same time, I know full well that not everyone loves me. That doesn’t actually bother me: I don’t like everyone else, either. None of us do. 
Yet it seems that my most consistent critic is none other than myself.  It’s fair to say that on some days, even the people who really, really don’t like me – and they do exist – would be hard pressed to say worse things about me than I do.

Why do I accept it from myself, when I never would from anyone else? Why do I allow words about myself that I refuse to hear my best friend say about herself? I don’t allow my students to talk about themselves or others that way. I’ll unashamedly call someone out for putting another person down, and remind them that they don’t get to talk that way to other people. 

I’ve written previously about having to learn to be patient and kind toward myself physically, especially since my back injury. Now, I’m taking the challenge to master the words and thoughts I use, and to be as quick to defend myself as I am when it’s others on the receiving end. 

I know that making this decision is only the first step, and that actually doing it will be harder than writing about it. I do hope, though, that putting it into writing makes my commitment more binding and less of an impulsive thing that I can forget about. 

This is a change that is long overdue. And no matter how flawed or prone to error I may be, it’s a change that I really need to make. I deserve better treatment than I have been giving myself, and today is the day I will start to make it happen.