Focus: Looking Beyond The Cloud In My Silver Lining.

It’s time to focus my time and energy on what really matters: writing.

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A week of camping by the river has given me opportunity for reflection about the past year, particularly in terms of my writing. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished – two new books of poetry, two deliciously macabre horror titles, and two reinvented fairy tale novellas in a completely unique and absolutely gorgeous anthology collection. I’ve also had poems included in a couple of themed anthologies and a number of magazines. I have received emails and messages when something I’ve written has moved or helped someone else in a powerful way, which gives me confidence that what I write is actually pretty good. At this point, I’m highly motivated to move on and write more.

There is, however, a cloud in my silver lining. In my experience, the biggest downside of being an Indie author is that the demands of social media can be a whirlwind – marketing, promotion, teasers, creating new material to keep up momentum, engaging so that others don’t think you’re only there to push your own stuff… It’s easy to get sucked into that vortex and start to believe that marketing is the be-all and end-all of your writing career.

Yes, marketing and promotion matters. I want to find readers who will be interested in my books. But it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing for me to invest my time and energy into is writing.

The time has come to redirect my focus. Of course, I will still engage in social media and promote my work there, but I need to do it differently so that I spend more time each day writing than I do trying to leap across people’s screens to get noticed. I’m going to work out how to use Facebook‘s mysterious algorithms, which are set to change yet again, to my advantage instead of the other way around. Furthermore, I’m not going to give them one cent to achieve that. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing on Twitter, as that’s working well for me thus far. My blogs will see some revision, and hopefully some renewed focus there will have good results.

There are so many stories and poems I want to write. Some of the stories are planned and outlined. Some are just ideas at this point in time. The poems happen when the muse overtakes me, but I have quite a few ideas written down so that they can simmer away on the back burner of my mind, developing slowly until they’re ready to go. A renewed focus on bringing my ideas to life on the page for others to read will serve me well: writing is the most satisfying and therapeutic thing I do.

 

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My New Years Resolutions for 2018.

My goals for 2018 are realistic and achievable… so here goes!

I’m not the world’s biggest believer in New Year’s Resolutions, because I’ve seen plenty of people make ridiculous decisions that fall over before January 5th.

Even so, I decided at this time last year to write down a few things I needed to do, and I did fairly well at achieving them.

So, I’m doing the same thing for 2018. Here are my goals for this year, in no particular order:

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1. Beat the TBR Backlist – read and review the books in my kindle that I have not yet read. I haven’t counted how many books are on it… but I know it’s a lot.

2. Write and publish three more books.

3. Be kinder to myself. I am probably my own harshest critic and most demanding taskmaster. That needs to change.

4. Unleash the Squirrel! Grow his profile with Twitter, Facebook and the Book Squirrel blog with continued reviews, featured author interviews and a regular mailing list.

5. Build my Twitter list to 5000.

6. Be more consistent in posting to Instagram.

They’re certainly achievable, so here goes!

My New Year’s Resolutions for 2017: How Did I Do?

An honest response to the list of resolutions I wrote for myself a year ago.

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Lots of people are talking today about New Year’s Resolutions. I haven’t always set a lot of importance upon them, but at the beginning of this year I did make some resolutions.

Today, I thought I should revisit them and evaluate my “performance”.

 

 

#1. Get 500 followers on Twitter.
Check! I started the year on about 317. Today, I have just over 3100.

#2. Write a review for every book I read.
So, there were two books for which I did not leave a review. They were… how do I say this nicely? The reviews would not have been positive, nor would they have helped to sell any further books.
I did, however, email both authors with my responses and comments. Hopefully they made some changes, hired an editor, and improved the quality of their book.
Goodreads tells me that I read and reviewed 68 books, so that’s a fair effort!
I’m checking that one off, too.

#3. Develop my book blog.Book Squirrel Reading TSF
This is something of which I am very proud. Book Squirrel has spent the year featuring books, authors, new releases, and book reviews. On December 15th, Book Squirrel announced the inaugural Golden Squirrel Awards for Indie books of excellence.
This is a definite check!

#4. Publish two more books.
Done! In fact, I added five (Five! How the heck did I manage that?) more books to my author’s shelf, two in a new genre for me, and two novellas in a wonderful collection of reinvented fairy tales. I also have two poems published in two different anthologies, one on forgiveness and one on fairy tales and folklore. Whew!

#5. Be nicer to people.
In all honesty, I’ve tried. I haven’t always succeeded. But when I wrote this on my note almost a year ago, I had no idea just how much grace or forbearance I was going to need in order to survive some of the treatment I’ve received this year, either.
I want to give this a check, but with a “work in progress” disclaimer.

 

All in all, I think I’ve done okay. Some of these will feed into my resolutions for 2018. I’ll be posting about those tomorrow!

If you have suggestions, or reflections on your own resolutions, I’d love for you to leave a comment below.

One Year of New Horizons.

My Grandpa used to tell me that there were never any guarantees of success, but there was one sure-fire way to fail, and that was to not try.
It’s good advice, and I’m thankful for that lesson – and many others – that he instilled in me. 

Promo New Horizons Cover eBookSIBA 2017 badged

What a surprise this morning to realise it has been a year since ‘New Horizons’ was published.

When it launched, I was nervous about how it would be received. People knew me as a poet. Would they be interested in these stories? Would they find them as meaningful and profound as my poems?

It was certainly fitting that these stories are about how people encounter and respond to changes and new situations in their lives. Heaven knows, I was experiencing that for myself at the time.

Since then, it has sold around the world in paperback as well as ebook, and has won the 2017 SIBA Award for Best Short Story collection. It now has a shiny badge on its cover to announce that recognition to the world.

This gave me good reason for positive reflection this morning. There are times when life feels as though it’s at a standstill, or when it feels like I’m not achieving what I want to as a writer.

Yet in the past year, I’ve achieved more than I ever would have thought or dared to imagine twelve months ago:

  • Three new poetry collections, all of which have been nominated for awards.
    Of those three books, Nova has won awards for 2017 Top Female Author – Poetry, Reality Bites 2017 Best Non-Romance, and the bronze medal for a poetry collection in the 2017 SIBA Awards.
  • Two poems in two different themed anthologies, nestled in amongst the work of some incredible writers.
  • Two macabre/horror titles.
  • Two ‘reinvented’ fairy tales about to be published in a magnificent anthology titled ‘Once Upon A Fabulous Time’,  with other stories written by five of the most creative minds I know.

Who knew?

If you’re a writer – published, aspiring, or just for your own enjoyment – be encouraged. You may feel like you’re not achieving much, but you are. You may feel like you’re a small fish in a very large sea, but every small fish has its place and a purpose, too.

If there’s something you feel you’d like to do, or try, but you’re lacking confidence – be encouraged. You will never know what you can do until you try. The only way to find out where any road will take you is to follow it.

My Grandpa used to tell me that there were never any guarantees of success, but there was one sure-fire way to fail, and that was to not try. It’s good advice, and I’m thankful for that lesson – and many others – that he instilled in me.

So here’s to another year and whatever challenges, journeys and victories it brings.

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On Realising How Awful I Look. 

A day with family, holding a brand new baby, can make you see things from a new perspective.

I spent most of today with family, welcoming my new great-nephew to the family. It was a day full of love, laughter and baby cuddles… and lots of photos. 

Holding my beautiful baby boy made me overflow with all sort of love. Seeing my 86 year old dad holding him made us all more than a little emotional. Another picture of four generations – my dad, my brother, a niece and a baby boy – is a wonderful blessing that many families don’t see. 

I have also observed multiple times today how awful I look. That has been my first reaction to every photo I am in. 

In addition to chronic pain and depression, too many months of anguish, stress and anxiety have taken their toll. I have cried every day for at least 250 days. I have feared and I have despaired. And it shows. 

BUT I have also survived. It doesn’t really matter how crapful I end up looking. I’m stronger than everything that has tried and still tries to bring me down.

My heart and soul have bled onto pages and screens, but my words have touched, encouraged and inspired people on the way. My writing have been praised, and my books have won awards. 

So when you look at me or see pictures and think I don’t look so great, you just remember that I’ve earned it.

Ten Ways We Can Start To Change the World For Our Kids. 

When I was 20, I pledged to never buy another women’s magazine.

Even then I was frustrated by the unrealistic body image they consistently communicated to women.  It wasn’t long before that extended to the “cool” publications like Cleo and Cosmo, which I had convinced myself were different because they provided helpful articles on makeup, health and other issues relevant to younger women.
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Okay, so I was deluded about that, but it didn’t last long once I observed that these magazines also projected false and unrealistic body images that neither I, nor most of the young women I knew, could ever hope to meet.
 For longer than anyone can remember, our western society has had  an unhealthy fixation on looks. We’ve been getting it wrong since long before Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves based entirely on her portrait and promptly divorced her the minute he met her in person, citing as his reason the fact that she looked like a horse.
And it’s only getting worse. Chlidren as young as five or six are no strangers to the words “cute”, “handsome” and even “sexy”. Pre-teen kids have body image issues and the eating disorders that go with them. Peer pressure and bullying are daily realities in every school and friendship group that our kids belong to. Marketing is aimed at wearing the right clothes, having the right look, and doing what everyone else does. Social media can take those problems right into kids’ own homes. And it happens to boys every bit as much as it happens to girls.
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When does a kid ever get a chance to be themselves?
 
All of this leads to one challenging question: How do we swim against the stream when the current is so strong?
My answer is that we need to invest differently in people.  We need to model much more healthy and constructive behaviour, and encourage others to do the same.
Let me say straight up that I don’t have kids of my own. I have, however, been very active in helping a lot of friends and family raise theirs. Our house has, quite literally, been a second home for more than a handful of teenagers over the years. I’ve also been a teacher, youth leader and mentor for almost thirty years. It’s this accumulated experience upon which I base these comments.

 

I don’t have all the answers. Nobody does.
But I do have a few ideas about how we can start.

 

This is my starter list:

10 Ways We Can Change The World For Our Kids

  1. Don’t put kids or other people down. Ever. I can’t stress this enough. Never tell kids, or anyone else, they are stupid, useless or worthless. Criticise a behaviour if you need to, but do not make it about the whole person.
  2. Stop buying into what the media tell us is ideal. Choosing not to surround yourself and your kids with unattainable ideals helps to take your focus off how far short we fall. This decision had a significant effect in my own life, so I am speaking from experience here.
  3. Stop commenting on how people look. Whether someone looks beautiful, tired, or exhausted, don’t say so. Don’t comment on whether someone has lost or gained weight – in this case especially, you can safely assume that they already know. Just don’t comment on anything external. Chances are, the less you comment on it, the less you will think about it. And the more you think and talk about those things, so will your kids.
  4. Instead, comment on things that have intrinsic value. Statements such as “I love it when you smile like that!” or “You did such a good job of that! Well done” can make such a difference to someone because they emphasise one’s value rather than looks. Saying “I really appreciate your kindness” (or any other value) reinforces that behaviour as well as encouraging the person who hears it.
  5. Discuss celebrities differently. Instead of saying “I wish I looked like that!”, discuss the positive qualities of a person or the character they portray. There will doubtless also be opportunities to discuss negative behaviours and messages. Be honest about the consequences those behaviours carry for real people, even if they’re made to look funny’ popular or “cool”.
  6. Don’t comment on your kids’ or your own health, weight or fitness. Make an effort to do something about it instead of commenting on it. Model behaviours for your kids that help to establish habits that will help you as well as them – provide better food, go for a walk, go to the gym together or take up a hobby together. It doesn’t have to cost more to be better for you.
  7. Discuss feelings and values in a positive and purposeful way. Not every feeling or experience shared will be positive, but honest discussion lets kids and young adults know it’s okay to not always feel great about things and teaches them ways to handle different emotions and experiences. This encourages self-awareness, but more importantly, it builds honest communication and relationship that both they and you will value enormously.
  8. Make an investment of time, more than money, in people, especially in your kids. It won’t matter to kids what they have if they feel unloved or undervalued. Take an active interest in each one and find out what matters to them.  Building a strong, loving relationship with your child is the best gift you can ever give them. It will bear fruit in every other relationship they have.
  9. Celebrate worthwhile achievements. “You did it!” should be more valuable than “You’re so pretty!”
  10. Be realistic and constructive about disappointments and failure. Make sure they know you care about their disappointment and hurt. Don’t tell them it doesn’t matter, because it does matter to them – at least for now. In time, they will be ready for you to help them see the bigger picture and refocus their efforts and priorities.
We can’t expect to change the whole world. However, we can influence the way they see themselves, and we can influence the way our own kids see, experience and respond to the world they live in.  

And there’s no better time to start than today.

Stained Glass

Promo Stained Glass Cover

I’ve just released an eBook titled ‘Stained Glass’.

‘Stained Glass’ is a collection of 22 poems for and
about women, by a woman who is striving to live,
love, work and make sense of the world she lives in.

‘Stained Glass’ is poetry that reflects the light and shade of life, and all the colours in between.

The poems celebrate the strength and extraordinary resilience of women through the exploration of diverse issues, including love, loss, social expectations, self-awareness and personal integrity.
In rare moments the glass is rose-coloured; elsewhere, the window is astonishingly clear.
There are 7 brand new poems in this collection.
Some of these poems – roughly one-third – are in ‘Leaf’, and others – another third – are in ‘Nova’.
‘Stained Glass’ will be permanently priced at 99c, and is available on AmazoniBookskobo and other digital stores.

2016 – Turning Over a New Leaf

There’s no denying that in many, many ways, 2016 has been a rough year.

People around the world mourn leaders and entertainers, and there seem to be plenty of those that have left us this year. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, Leonard Cohen…just to name a few. And I’m not even going to start talking about politics – nope, I’m leaving that one right alone.

I also know a lot of people personally who are struggling with illness, pain, grief, money problems, relationship issues. I know those things happen every year, to everyone at some point.

Personally, my year has had very few highlights.

One of those highlights was the launch of my book, ‘Leaf’, in June. That was the one positive event in a very dark patch of grief and sorrow like I have never experienced before.  Thankfully, my launch of ‘New Horizons’ ten days ago was plagued only by end-of-year teacher fatigue, so it was a much more enjoyable event.

Imagine my surprise when this little poetry book made it onto a number of selected reading lists on Goodreads! I’m so excited that people are reading and enjoying my work, and that it’s starting to get some attention.

If you’re on Goodreads, check out ‘Leaf’ on these lists:

Favourite Books That Released in 2016
Best Indie Books 2016/2017
Beautifully Written
Poetry

Wow!  I’m humbled that ‘Leaf’ is in very fine company, and not even last. ‘New Horizons’ is also on those first two lists, which is even better!

If you love reading, and you’re not on Goodreads… let me recommend it.
It’s a great place to find new books, network with other readers, and connect with writers whose work you enjoy.

 

 

Book Review: ‘In Passing’ by Tobie Hewitt

“This delightful book opens with one of the best opening lines I’ve read in a long time …”

‘In Passing’ by Tobie Hewitt is a thought-provoking story that explores questions we often have about life, death, and how we find those soul mates  we know we’re meant to be with. The characters are just gorgeous, and the struggles they face are ones that the reader can easily identify with.
This delightful book opens with one of the best opening lines I’ve read in a long time : “The air shimmered with a knowing beyond doubt.”
That line really made me stop and think, and visualise scenes where this could have been the case. From that moment, I was fully engaged with the story and completely hooked by Tobie Hewitt’s writing.
Five stars, Tobie. Beautifully done.
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The challenge of not being an angry poet.

Last week I was talking with Sean about my poetry. He challenged me to write something that wasn’t dark and negative. I had to admit that while my prose writing is quite varied, there was definitely a mean streak in my poetry.
I promised that at some point, I’d give writing some more positive poetry a shot.

That got me to thinking about why I write the way I do.
Lately, my poetry has been the place where I’ve been able to say what I think and feel when it would be inappropriate to say those things aloud to the people who need to hear them. Keeping one’s friends and one’s job is generally considered to be a good thing. Writers have long considered their work a place of refuge and sanctuary from the world around them, and a safe venue in which to voice their thoughts and responses to the difficulties that life throws at them.

This week was a tough one on a number of levels, and it’s not unusual for me to get very creative when I’m feeling oppressed. On Thursday night, another friend told me that she was concerned that my writing might get me into trouble if the wrong people were to read it.
“How?” I asked her. “Nobody is identified, not even me. No place or situation is specified. It could be about anyone, or anything.” Besides, I thought to myself, those would be the right people. 
To be honest, if someone reads one of my darker poems and thinks it’s about them, which it most likely is not, they probably need to take a long, hard look at themselves to see if there’s an issue they need to address. As they saying goes, “If the shoe fits, lace that sucker up and wear it.”
My writing is about my experiences and my feelings, or those of the people close to me, but it’s not specific to us. Sometimes, it’s pure fiction. My intention is to share glimpses of human experience, emotions, and responses to the challenges of survival in a difficult world.  I’m really not always angry; those are just the poems that are the most cathartic to write. It’s the least expensive therapy known to mankind.

This week, I’ve managed two poems in a row that are not angry. In my writing “career” so far, that’s quite an accomplishment. Sean’s challenge has reminded me that I can still tap into powerful feelings and experiences without sounding like I want to hurt someone.  That’s probably a very good thing.

If you’d like to read my writing, you’re more than welcome.
It’s not about you.
Honest.

https://wordynerdbirdwrites.wordpress.com/