Monthly Archives: May 2014

Looking back on a year of blogging: 11 tips for aspiring bloggers

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Last Friday was my birthday (34 years young already!), and as well as celebrating in style with friends, it’s been a good opportunity to reflect on another date that came and went unnoticed earlier on this year:

On 2nd March 2013, over a year ago, I pressed “publish” on my first blog post on this site (and yes, that is a photo of me age 1!).

At the time I was taking part in the “30-day challenge”, and had received great encouragement from coach extraordinaire Selina Barker who had assured me that starting a blog had completely changed her own life for the better.

Still, I was pretty scared. Not only because I knew that the writing would be bad (everyone has to start somewhere, right?), but because it would be bad in public. And even though that was precisely the point of entering the challenge (I could have just have kept writing and told no one) it did feel daunting.

I was also stepping into the unknown: I had no clue what I would be writing about, I only knew that I wanted to write, share, improve my writing skills and explore my interests. 

So 47 posts later, how far have I gone?

  • My writing has improved: or if hasn’t, at least I feel more confident about it.
  • I think I found my elusive “voice”: now when I write, it still feels like me.
  • I’ve learnt to share: it’s still pretty scary, but I get on with it (plus I no longer shy away from telling friends in “real life” that I have a blog.)
  • I made friends with other bloggers: they have been really inspirational in keeping me going when I go discouraged.
  • I know myself better: I gained a better sense of the topics that work for me, and I realised how much I love writing. Also, I found out I’m quite a bit more creative than I thought.
  • Thinking about what I love also made me realise what I hate doing (and what I suck at): anything that requires too much precision, or rules, or repetition or God forbid, all three

So broadly it’s been a positive year. Mostly it’s made me appreciate that it’s okay to be a dreamer, and spend time thinking about stories or just doing nothing to see what ideas arise, rather than thinking it’s laziness.

And so although I know a year and 47 articles doesn’t make me any kind of specialist, here are a few tips I would like to give you if you are thinking of blogging but haven’t dared to try yet:

  1. It’s okay to have no clue what will come out of it: you won’t know until you start. When I started I honestly though I might write poetry and meditations as well as “self-helpy” stuff. As it turns you, I never posted one poem and almost everything is a story from everyday life. I don’t know for sure what I’ll be writing about in another year.
  2. Don’t be put off by technicalities: you don’t need any specific techie knowledge. Sites like Blogger or WordPress let you create a free account in 5 minutes. And there really isn’t much more to posting than to sending an email with a picture attachment. Honest.
  3. You are not alone: there’s always help at hand. I had encouragement from all the other contestants on the 30-day challenge, and it made me realise just how many new bloggers there are out there, who will be more than happy to meet and help you, online or in person, via all sorts of courses or communities.
  4. Don’t overthink it: you won’t know which posts your readers might respond to and which will go unnoticed. Don’t try to guess and don’t try to write what other people like. Go with what interests/ moves you, and with a bit of luck it will interest/ move your readers too. Also, it’s useful to have an editorial strategy, but it’s more important to actually get started.
  5. Don’t be scared to share: or rather, it’s fine to be scared, but make sure you share anyway. There are two massive advantages (three, if you count being proud of yourself for doing something scary) : you will probably get some great feedback and encouragement, which will make you want to write more. And it will create a sense of accountability, because once people know you blog, it makes it harder not to.
  6. Write with your heart, not your head: I could probably write a whole post about this, but if you don’t know the difference between the two, you probably are writing with your head. Practice free-writing in your spare time. Don’t edit yourself as you go (you may want to do first draft and edits on different days). Don’t use words in writing you wouldn’t use in conversation, and if it helps, imagine you’re talking to particular friend or reader.
  7. What you put in is what you take out: of course you could always write theory on whatever topic you’re into, but the magic of blogs is the insight into other people’s private lives, and how they can inspire our own. So don’t hide, tell us about you! The more of you you put in, the more touching the results
  8. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect from the start (or as some people say, “done is better than good”): I know it’s hard – especially as a marketing professional myself – to produce a website that looks amateurish. There are things on this blog I would cringe at in a work context (approximative design, plug-ins that half work, etc). But hey, we’re all here to learn, and the important thing is to improve as we go, rather than wait until everything is perfect to get started.
  9. Just keep going, a little at a time: while I’ve proudly posted something every month since last year, you might have noticed that some months have almost nothing in. That’s when I got discouraged, or tired, or generally life got in the way. Like with a diet, you won’t do yourself any favours by kicking yourself when you fail to write: just get back on as soon as you can, otherwise you’ll give up altogether. A little at a time is way better that not at all.
  10. You may need several attempts: this is actually my 3rd blog. The first one was shared with my family only in 2007; the second one had about 5 posts in 2008 before I gave up. So if your first attempt didn’t quite work, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get there.
  11. And finally the most important advice of all: HAVE FUN! you don’t know where it will lead you but so long as you enjoy the process you can be pretty sure you’re going in the right direction. 

 

Books that will change your life: “Cloud Atlas”

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I originally picked “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell as a fun holiday read, but was soon gripped to it like I hadn’t been in a long time, so I though I’d share it with you:

 

The book

“Cloud Atlas” came out in the UK in 2004 to great acclaim; it was translated worldwide and turned into a gigantic-budget film epic by the people behind “Matrix”.

(The film flopped at the box office, which is a shame, but also not surprising because the book is so ambitious in scope and depth that attempting to capture it in two hours was a bit bonkers. Still, full points for trying!)

This intriguingly-named novel defies categories and is rather hard to describe. It tells the stories of six different characters living across the world in six different periods of time – 19th century South Pacific, 1930s Belgium, 1980s California, modern-day England, 2100s “Neo-Seoul” and 2300s post-apocalyptic Hawaii.

But don’t be fooled by the word “post-apocalyptic”, it’s not science-fi; and although it can be read easily without looking for deeper meaning (unless you’re like me, in which case this never happens), it is also a fable about the human condition.

The big idea

The six stories are almost self-contained, with only a tenuous link between them as one element of each story will be found again in the next. For example the journal of the South Pacific traveller will be found in a library in Belgium; a piece of music composed in Belgium will be heard again in California; a film made in present-time England will find its way to Neo-Seoul, etc.

But these links aren’t so central to our understanding: the real genius of the book is that each story is really powerful in itself, and by putting in parallel so many of them, it hints at the similarities between the people rather then what separates them.

The six characters all live in wildly different circumstances (a pensioner in a care home, a journalist investigating a nuclear plant, a clone on the run from the police…), yet they are all ordinary people trying to live their lives in challenging circumstances. As they face the difficulties, big or small, of their daily lives, they all have similar hopes and fears, loves and doubts, and the will to make sense of their lives and do the right thing.

At some crucial point in each story, the characters have to make a choice between following blindly what society dictates to them, or risking everything to break free of rules and be themselves: escaping slavery, helping others at the risk of their lives, etc

So the book is also a tale of courage and resilience, because following what they know to be right will test all the characters to their limits.

Why it will change you life

The most amazing thing about this book is how imaginative it is – its gripping narrative across six different “worlds” that all feel incredibly real. So if you just wanted a good holiday read, you could do worse: it’s hugely entertaining.

Yet readers will probably remember it for its deeper meaning too, the questions it brings about humanity and society – what links us beyond time and place, what makes us human.

It’s not all a warm fuzzy – the similarities between those people and their situations make it obvious that neither people nor circumstances evolve much over the course of History.

Patterns and mistakes are repeated – aren’t the “savages” of the 17th century colonies much the same people as the 23rd century “survivors” after the fall of our civilisation? Isn’t modernity perpetuating the same old cruelty under different guises – the compassion-less treatment of the old age pensioner echoing that of the slaves, and the human clones?

The author certainly doesn’t shy away from showing us what is nasty about humanity – greed, deception, cruelty, corruption, the pursuit of one’s own selfish interest.

This roller coaster ride of a book forces us to look at our own circumstances in the light of the characters’, and wonder for ourselves: where we are on this continuum?

But beyond the dark side, what I chose to get out of it is that although greed and cruelty may be omnipresent, there is always an option to do what we believe is right, even when it is not easy.

Each and everyone of us may be insignificant on the scale of History, yet the choices we make everyday – between crime and kindness, acceptance or fighting back, have the power to influence our collective future.

Our lives are shaped by events that begin long before we are born and will continue long after our death. Yet everything is connected – the future, past and present; the universal and the intimate.

As I said, a pretty gripping read…

 

Minimalist March: Almost epic fail

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You might have guessed from the fact that I’m reporting in May on my March “everyday challenge” that something went a bit wrong. Here is what happened:

The plan:

I keep accumulating stuff, but I hate tidying and house cleaning. So when I came across the Becoming Minimalist website earlier this year, what it said made a lot of sense. I’d also been listening with envy as some friends embarked on “100 things” challenges (giving or selling their belongings until they only had 100), and kept thinking how much nicer life would be if only I didn’t have so much clutter.

I had somewhat of an epiphany, the same kind Liz Gilbert has in her bathroom when she prays for an answer to her life dilemmas and a calm voice in her head tells her to “Go back to bed”. Well, the voice in my head said “Tidy your room”.

So I started doing just that around February, giving a few unused things away (how good that felt!) and when March came I though I’d keep the momentum going with a three-pronged approach:

  1. Give stuff away: Unworn clothes, unloved gifts, uncomfortable shoes, uninspiring books, and all sorts that fill 75% of my cupboards
  2. Use what I’ve already bought: apart from the bedroom there’s also clutter in the kitchen (8 jams, 4 soy sauces, uncounted near-empty pasta bags); in the bathroom (cosmetics abandoned after I bought shinier ones); on every shelf where books gather dust while I buy more
  3. Buy only what I need: Only buy stuff that I haven’t already got (see above), and that I either really need, or will makes me really, really happy

What actually happened:

Folks, I’m sorry to say but life took over (at least some kind of life). I had a humongous project at work which meant head-down on the computer all day and many evenings, thus guaranteeing more untidy mess, unsorted cupboards and dust gathering on my belongings.

But the actual worst was the constant buying of take-away cappuccinos, crisps, biscuits and whatever junk snacks would see me through the day : the ultimate unnecessary purchase, which not only empties your wallet and but actually makes you feel sick.

Of course I didn’t get round to donating anything, not even sorting piles of stuff to donate.

On the upside, I didn’t have time to buy anything much other than comfort foods, and the odd Kindle book (which is also cheating, but at least they don’t take much space).

What I’ve learnt:

I DID realise exactly how much stuff I own that I don’t need: that I bought for the wrong reasons, or was given and kept for the wrong reasons; including items no-one remembers buying but just somehow got itself into the house.

As I considered what to part with and what to keep “later when I have time”, I became increasingly uncomfortable with not only how much space, but ultimately time, money, and worry all these redundant things accumulated to.

It also became increasingly clear while accumulating stuff doesn’t make me happy, some things in particular do. Some of my belongings actually make me smile or feel comforted and using them feel indulgent and luxurious every single time – a stylish handbag, a pretty cup, a lovely hand-cream. T

So while I will be happy to have fewer things, I will also be more mindful in the future of buying only the sort of things that tickle me with happiness every time I look at them.

I was also interested to notice that the reasons I keep clutter in my house reflect, in some sort of annoying metaphor, those that account for the “emotional clutter” in my life:

  • Analysis Paralysis (do I keep this? do I not?)
  • Imaginary obligations (towards keeping gifts, or expensive purchases)
  • Fear (of letting go, of not having enough)
  • Procrastination (I’ll take that pile to the charity shop… tomorrow)

So, in fact, getting rid of house clutter may open a whole new life for me. In fact maybe a failed monthly challenge will be a first step towards my new “less is more” life…

Top tip for those who might give it a go:

De-cluttering is ultimately about honesty with yourself and learning to distinguish what you really need from what you’re holding on to for the wrong reasons.

As you clear the physical mess in your house you get to reflect on your choices and values, what you want to leave behind, and what more of in the future.

A chance to go off auto-pilot, and take responsibility for own your choices.