Whither do I wander

26/10/2013 at 14:22 (Anorexia, Personal, Writing, Writing Reality articles) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


I wasn’t going to post an entry this weekend, nor yet write for Monday Blogs. All the fierce colour has gone out of my mind recently, a prelude to something worse I fear. I wish it were only ‘flu, but it’s more likely a case of the Blues.

Emily Haines knows what I’m talking about.

“Doctor Blind, just prescribe the blue ones / If the dizzying highs don’t subside overnight / Doctor Blind, just prescribe the red ones.” The life and half-life of an addict – lights going out, one by one. Friends and family, falling away.

That has been my time. A rip-curl ride of reds – stark love, stick-tears and falling in a heap at the feet of those who had no need of me, but I gave too many ideals to bother looking for what they meant. Oh, I’m an eventuality, a cause without a rebel; ever a slave to my own passions. I believe too much in one thing, not enough in the other – truth and love so rarely go hand in hand. That summer of long heat and gold shadows and finding my feet walking unknown paths, is almost done. No, it is done; the baleful eye of the sun winks brass light at me these days, while leaves the exact same shade as the polished beech carvings on a market stall, go skirling along the pavement like ashes. The wind is not yet raw. I anticipate a bad fall. Depending on what side of the pond you sit right now, you can take that as many ways as you like.

The way I see now, is a darkening tunnel of light. I pull away from those who would care; run after those that don’t. So it’s always been – an addictive personality, forever craving what I can’t have. Blue pill, red pill, sometimes I’m skyhigh on both while burrowing down in a screaming soul’s night. I woke on Friday morning at dead on 4.15 with tears pouring down my face, mouth open on that silent cry; a wicked memory, a nightmare perhaps, though both are footloose in my mind. I can’t recall what sparked it off, what spared me the end result. So it usually is with those falling dreams; you wake, before whamming into the pavement. The city lights and skyscrapers and blue-black night fly past, your hair and fingers sing through the wind, and you watch the ground come up to swallow you whole –

Shutter out.
Let the Doctor soothe your brain, dear.

I live on snatched time and aching limbs, rum and a cheap equivalent of Red Bull. So much caffeine, so many lip-salve kisses on a glass. I raise one to the world each night, then another, with the hopes of sleeping far more than I should. Reality and fantasy, I want them both, and too often they evade me with the same chevron smiles of the geese, long gone now over the autumn sky. God, I miss their passing. The lake is a little more bare, a little more cold, each time I walk through the park. Some remain, to be fed by the mirroring gaggle of humans, with their bags full of bread and sticky rubbish. The upshot being that the poor overweight bastards (the feathered ones) can’t fly away with their healthier, wiser fellows – their wings are shot, all broken off due to disease inflicted by scooping up great mounds of their own shit with the food thrown out to them in the same patches around the water’s edge. Overcrowding, overfeeding; malnutrition and crossing of wires, as they’re stoked on the same sugar high-crashes we seem to run the gauntlet of every day, out of office and gym and carpark and pub.

Who says we’re not intrinsically linked? I beg to differ. I’d like to do more, but there’s the point of my mouth being sewn shut lately, out of weariness and a slight aversion to Self. Yes, we’re in that thin-ice spot again, where I find ribs as old friends; am frightened by my reflection and embittered by my voice. It’s getting a slight metallic rasp, like Lecter. I’m not lonely, no – far from it. Something else creeps up, a black dog with large silent paws.

It’s the time of year for it, so people tell me. I was stronger at the start of the year, and altogether more naive and unappreciative. Now I know time, its hard tug on others like a hook through the navel – I know what it means to care, to love, to shred your heart into tiny pieces and let them fly on the wind, hoping they’ll reach every poor fucker you give a damn about. Some get a surplus, while others get nothing at all, for days or months on end.
It’s a capricious wind, sorry to say.

I rarely sleep anymore. The night holds too many dreams, both bright and bitter. I want too many things at once, while my brain times itself out. Days become gluey on caffeine and thoughts of what might be; evenings are nodding off over the laptop, when I should be writing the novel I had high hopes in the year’s first blush, of editing up to scratch for an agent. It should’ve been finished by now, this draft. I’m so far behind, on this personal invisible timetable of mine – the one I’m sure you can relate to in some way, that burning desire to please yourself if not others. It’s more than half the reason I force myself to keep up the blog, the writing, when what I want to be doing is somewhere over the grass and up in the sky.

We forget ourselves in writing. It’s a deceptive charm. How many times have you felt guilt for actually daring to walk out the door and live your life, as a human being, as opposed to strings of words and a profile picture or four? I know I have, oh so many times this year. Truth is, we compel ourselves to feel the burning rush, the appreciation, the Win-All of accomplishment. It’s an addictive serotonin buzz.

Until the dizzying high subsides. The weariness whams back in, for me at least. Walking more than ever, realizing all too soon how complacent I was, reliant on my ex and less outgoings. Now I have a higher rent and a workload to match it. The brain is close to a whiteout, as experienced the other day at work, when I fell to the gum-tacky carpet and bruised my ego more than my arse. No one was there to see, thankfully – but it put my situation into a blender. I’ve pushed things too far again.

For those not in the know, I have experienced anorexia nervosa / athletica since age 16. My body’s a little diminished from the after-effects, and while I weigh more than a decade ago at inpatient admittance, there are less reserves to compensate for overburdening. I’ve pushed out articles, fiction, gym, all with the undercurrent-turmoil of being pushed pillar to post this whole damn year. My heart gained a lead gate.
What a cliche. Let’s try that again.

I’m burning out. Unable to heed my own advice, as per experience. It becomes too easy to lose myself in the Everyday – forgetting where I’ve come from, how it can still impact on my dreams. I can’t achieve all I want to, if I don’t back off a bit every now and then. March was the last time I took a holiday of any kind.

It’s been a case of Waiting for the Other Boot to drop, all year. Now I’m in a relatively secure place, I need to make sure my head’s in a safe one too. This means backing up. I recognized the propensity for addiction in my personality a long time ago; the responsibility comes with not only identifying but acting upon it, to reduce the car-crash. The same could be said of many I’ve spoken to this year, on and offline. If you know it’s in yourself to be triggered – to feel emotionally harmed by something someone has said, whatever the context – take yourself out of the scene. Don’t dig nails into a raw wound. If you’re tired, serotonin levels drop dramatically – you’ll feel blue, out of sorts, angsty, more likely to feel and cause pain.

I know what my own triggers are. Numbers in a competitive state; certain words related to eating disorders. I’ve seen them bandied around a few times on social media sites, and while it’s no one’s fault that they appeared, a little contextual grounding has to be put in place. I know in myself that these things will cause me pain, so take myself out of the situation. It’s not fair to expect the world to walk on eggshells; they’re only as fragile as your mindset.

If I don’t feel like talking about writing because my own flags, out of apathy or weariness, I won’t hang around those that do. Nor will I respond with a pithy comment to someone’s #Amwriting tweet; we’ve all been there, felt that burning rush to express the golden glow of triumph, that perplexing sunburst of emotion that accompanies a Really Good writing session. No one deserves it more than writers, for we put ourselves through a lifetime’s hell of loneliness (while telling ourselves we are but introverts, but come on, believe in me, I speak as one myself – we’ve all known it, that guilt for stepping out the door while a narrative bays in our ear.)

But as well as being on all sides and spots of the world, we’re all in very different emotional and mental states. As much as writing is Give and Take between creator and audience, so too is social media a format based upon tact and an alliance of good manners. If you know you’re not in the mood to respond in a decent way to someone’s joyous outpouring (of any kind, I use writing as a personal example), don’t jeopardize the friendship with a sentiment you’ll likely regret when in a better frame of mind. I know I’ve had to bite my tongue a few times.

The clouds do part. The blues fall away, the reds dwindle. The waters let us lie becalmed, to sleep, to dream without waking in the night. I know this will all pass, once I’ve given myself time to build up strength to row. Hopefully this confessional (in a recessional) will allow me to fend off the demon a bit longer. I’ll force myself to step up the defenses.

So if I seem a little strange, well that’s because I am. And tired, unable to keep up with reading others’ blogs lately; for that, I do apologise, but only because I’ve let myself get to the numb stage again. Where does the guilt halve itself and become complacency of other’s understanding?

I’ll take some leave soon, from Everything, to the detriment of the work load and blog hits, novel-progression. Weight gain will probably occur, to terrify and nourish me by turns.
We all need to know this fear and this recovery.
Meanwhile, numb is the new High.

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Writing Reality: How Social Media influences Creativity

04/09/2013 at 20:44 (Personal, Reviews, Writing, Writing Reality articles) (, , , , , , , , )


The following points have all been inspired by the spark of creativity in others. My contemporaries, if you like. It’s through their respective ideas and opinions that I’ve come to develop an enhanced view of my writing.

We know one another. Our foibles, strengths and passions. I honestly believe that the only way to understand completely how beneficial social media is to art, is to experience it first hand. To have others of a similiar mindset reach out with anything from a useful link posted after a blog entry, to an understanding comment on a status update full of self-doubt.
These are some of the most relevant points that I’ve picked up on thus far, in my experience of art filtered through social media.

Letters to the Mind

With constant updates in technology, it would only be an eventuality that letter-writing should follow suit, in modernized formats. We practice what we learn from history, after all, with the emphasis being on discovering innovative new ways to reach out to one another. In this sense, I find the art of blogging invaluable. It’s the modern effect of letter-writing to the soul and outside world; an affirmation of self, and a desire to project thoughts and ideas onto an audience, in non-fictional terms.

It’s a life-enhancing experience to read an artist’s blog – whatever their chosen medium – as it opens the range of understanding of their work. To know the dreams, fears and hopes of my fellow creatives, is to know what makes them tick. To find where the leylines of their souls crisscross with actual output; what has inspired them, and could inspire me in turn?

Some accounts are so detailed and emphatic in emotion and sense-imagery, that I could well be wandering the world’s markets and bazaars with these people. Wholly substantial, when it comes to gaining perspective of an artist’s life in and outside of their work. A real insight into such matters I may need to know about, for my own writing output. What better way to learn what a blistering hot blacktop feels like through all the senses, than by reading about it on the blog of a traveling artist, unfiltered by fiction and in first person? You’ll generally find a more candid, raw perspective; an unraveling of thoughts and emotional reactions.

A kaleidoscope of the everyday – career, family life, the raising of a child / children – some of which I don’t have access to and perhaps never will. It gives me a real sense of empathy for those I interact with, developing them as people until they’re no longer names and taglines of a profile.

This plays out as an obvious source of inspiration for fictional writing, where characters may come alive in the minutiae, the little stories, the everyday stuff. We need to know these things, to find out who our characters are outside of the plot. We need to hear their narratives, as filtered through the mundane as well as the life-changing. I hear individual voices through their word choices, dialectical references – these have helped me to develop character dialogue and narrative in my own fiction. As with Ridley Scott’s “Alien”, it’s the lives and everyday faces of the characters that elevate the story from science fiction, to reality (with a few ugly bits thrown in) –
We know this isn’t the Enterprise, there’s not really even an implied sense of mission beyond the job. They’re space-miners, but this could be a bunch of truckers or lumberjacks or oil-rig guys in a break room.”

In this sense, plot becomes almost superfluous to needs. Background noise, in comparison to what the characters – your people – are doing, thinking, dreaming, enduring. The plot drives itself forward through their reactions to circumstances – and these will become all the more credible, when hooked on traits and habits gleaned from experience of others’ lives.

These accounts of the life and times of artists, run parallel with the great letter-writers of old; the need for discourse was just as great back then, if not more so, seeing as letters were the only means by which a debate, affair or platonic use of a Muse, might continue. These are some examples of published letters by historical figures. I can’t recommend enough the letters that Vincent Van Gogh sent to his brother, Theo, and artist contemporaries Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard. They’re a true insight into the fracturing of optimism, amid years of indifference aimed at his work; as much an affirmation to a struggling artist, as can be found on a modern blog. They’re so full of his personal inflections and inspirations, that the artist might well be narrating in your ear.

Handled well, a blog can become the present-day discourse for debate and enlightenment. They can sell an artist’s work through their undiluted perspective. I make a point of learning the background of anyone whose creative output has sparked my imagination. Who are their influences? Who completely turns them off? There’s the chance of gaining fresh perspective on cited classical works (again, invaluable for personal and professional reasons.) If a comments section exists beneath the blog, or a responsive article / blog entry is published to social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, there’s the chance for further debate and discourse.

Formatting

In its pared-down state, Twitter is the micro equivalent of these letters. Though bound by the limitation (some might say the freedom) of 140 characters, the tweets that continuously shuttle a timeline along suggest that the world always has something to say, invoke, pass on. I find this particularly handy where writing memes like #MondayBlogs are concerned. A great way to meet fellow writers and bloggers, the posted links offer insight into just about every aspect of creativity going, as well as tough aspects of marketing, publishing and editing. There’s a real sense of camaraderie, for we all understand the real need to keep inspiration flowing, and the inherent voices of self-doubt that exist damped down. As writing is, for the most part, a solitary endeavor, these memes act like online seminars and gallery openings – a continuous ream of work from all over the world, for artists to read, view, review and pass on.

The same goes for Facebook, on a slightly less organized scale (at least on my timeline) and without character limitations. However, an interesting aspect I’ve noticed between these two most popular platforms, is the editing of voice. Where a personal memory / reference might be applicable on Facebook when surrounded by family and friends in the right contextual setting, these might drop flat when placed in Twitter’s wider arena. Certainly it’s been a learning curve for me. There’s an inherent need to keep certain personal aspects of my life, and those I care about, in one arena and not the other. This isn’t only a security or privacy measure; often times, I’ve made casual reference to something indigenous of my country / region, and been met with confusion. As such, I’ve learned to filter my language as much as possible, to accommodate a global audience as opposed to one generally bound within the confines of my locality. This doesn’t mean that I don’t drop in references to my personal life from time to time; only that I do so, with the realization that I may need to explain myself, and act accordingly. Since this tends to break up a conversation slightly, it’s made an impact on how I view my audience with regards to writing.

There’s the crucial need for context. It’s no good dropping a reference from this world and present time-frame, into a story that doesn’t have need of it. This only shatters the fourth wall, throwing the reader out of their suspension of disbelief. Rather, an edited form of the reference to acknowledge the fictional surroundings, is necessary. By all means, make a point of including music in a sci-fi novel, but at least try to anticipate the audience’s expectations of something fresh, otherworldly. If your protagonist is going to warble a few lines by The Smiths, make sure that it’s set in context; that they have at least had access to Earth, whether first-hand or by the passing on of an “artifact” vinyl. It’s these little nuances which make the reading experience all the more pleasurable and interactive, so long as they’re gathered within context.

Also brought to my attention, is the need for clarification when communicating across social media. In general, there’s a lack of body language and tonal inflection involved. Poor grammar, bad choice of words, can instantly alter the meaning of an update or tweet, and bring anything from confusion to irritation among followers if the point is misinterpreted. Subtext is a critical part of discourse too, whether narration through a blog or as part of an online conversation. Emoticons only go so far to add depth of inflection, and they certainly can’t be used in artistic output. Since subtext often travels parallel with dominant meaning, like underground trains heading in the same direction via separate lines before diverging, it’s essential to make the audience aware of those individual destinations. I’ve learned to sharpen up my editing skills, through experiences on social media. It’s as small a thing as pausing before pressing Send, to inspect what has just been written and how it might affect others. Will my words be misinterpreted? Did I make it clear enough that I’m only joking through subtext, or are my words a little too harsh? This isn’t about censoring oneself to be a people-pleaser. It’s about audience awareness.

Shouting into the Void

This is a reference that pops up time and again across social media outlets. With our ever-widening access to other’s minds and lives, there’s a real need to be more user-friendly; to set up personal boundaries too, for there’s no real way to avoid misinterpreting at least one element.

For example, if I know what I’m posting to my blog has a particularly “heavy” content – with references to suicide, eating disorders, violence etc – I make a point of prefacing the entry with a trigger warning. These imply to the audience that the content has something of a watershed-boundary on it. How many times have you been made to feel vulnerable, or at least uncomfortable, when stumbling across something online that was not earmarked for its weighty content? It’s unfair on the audience. This holds especially true of subjects which I blog regularly about. Mental health disorders tend to be rife with trigger aspects, and I’d be doing myself a real disservice, as well as the audience I’m writing to reach, by not acknowledging them with warnings.

All it takes is one poorly-researched opinion spun out as fact, to have an audience member – say, another Twitter user – flag it up as inappropriate and / or inaccurate. I know I’ve been caught out like this a handful of times, and nowadays check every link, every reference that I’m about to post. It makes all the difference, where establishing credibility and authority are concerned. It helps build trust between artist and audience.

I’ve learned to be far sharper when it comes to editing my written work. A clinical eye, used for filing down superfluous details, lazy references without factual backup, opinions not strong enough to stand up as part of debate. I’ve been made all the more aware of who I’m projecting to.

Learning to modify language used, opinions stated, need not be inhibiting. Rather, it should be a refining of your voice, to help others understand where you are coming from, without resorting to baseless and ineffectual means. This can be made applicable to everything, from characterization to construction of plot, and narrative threads.

Non-linear narrative

We’ve all experienced it at some point. A conversation free-flowing, before one or more of the respondents suddenly pulls out, vanishing into the ether. Whether you’re distressed by this or not is irrelevant; real life will continue to exist outside the somewhat gluey time-frame of social media. The best part is that, unlike the real world where things must be paid attention to immediately or be lost, the online world can hold messages in stasis. When the reply does come, some reflective time may have passed and a perspective changed.

In this sense, I rather enjoy the way some topics go off-kilter. Problems may be tackled side-on. Others can chip in, if the conversation is live and active on a general thread. There’s a wealth of opinions and ideas to choose from. People may send links of inspirational help. In this sense, social media outdoes itself on the interactive scale; I’ve had writers’ block kicked into touch a few times, with a well-placed comment that struck sparks. A range of minds can be picked, help offered.

That being said, there’s often a need to loop back around to the original topic, or the point becomes lost. Twitter monkey-thoughts are notorious for this, and I try to keep them in mind when writing from several tangents, as with Iain Banks The Crow Road. Narrative threads run through a handful of characters, along several time frames; from the childhood past of Kenneth McHoan, to the present POV of his youngest son, Prentice, the novel’s core voice. To enhance the plot, Banks often swung between said time-frames in his chapters, even between paragraphs. Often a theme will act as a conduit, to link the content of the past to the present, as though the experience of said theme had sparked a memory – as with Kenneth, and the rain:

“Prentice turned and waved to his dad with his free hand. “Bye, daddy,” the wee voice said. Then he was pulled out of the room.
“Bye, son,” McHoan said, and smiled. Then he turned back to the window and the rain.

* It’s at this point that the chapter breaks linearity to send Kenneth back through his own memories, to a childhood experience with his friends.*

“It’s a bit damp still.”
“Ach, yer no afraid of a bit a wet, ur ye? Yer no a girrul ur ye?”
… The castle stood on the side of the hill. The tall trees around it were still dripping, and its rough, uneven stones were dark and wet from the rain that not long stopped.
– pgs. 84/85, The Crow Road, Iain Banks.

Each section of this chapter holds a point key to the plot, with clues dropped that will be later referenced in Prentice’s present time-frame. So the points stay relative to one another, Banks cunningly used rain as a conduit, to keep the audience looped in; the following passage takes place later in Kenneth’s life, as a young adult:

“Mrs Urvill looked at her husband, still squatting in front of the opened machine, with an expression Kenneth thought might have been scorn.
‘What’s that, my dear?’ Fergus asked, looking over at his wife, an open, innocent expression on his face.
‘Nothing,’ his wife said brightly, voice oddly high.
‘Hmm,’ Fergus adjusted something inside the dishwasher, scratched above his ear with his pipe again. ‘Jolly good.’
Kenneth looked away then, to the windows, where the rain spattered and ran”
– pg. 96, The Crow Road, Iain Banks

These themes behave in the same way as a few key words would when dropped into social media conversation, to refer back to topic while using several outlets / voices to gain a wider perspective.

Remarketing, Rebranding

With the continuous stream of articles and links posted on my Twitter and Facebook feeds, I’m never short of inspiration or advice. Being surrounded by like-minded people adds a marketing perspective to my world; I keep an eye on news reports, on opinions and debates over a trending topic, or a longstanding issue which I have an interest in, perhaps wish to write/blog about. While it’s important to be aware of what an audience wishes to see, it’s also important to balance your own needs and preferences against what has already come before. In this sense, social media is a great insight to what does well, what bombs and – most importantly – how an innovative twist may be set to something interesting but in need of a rebrand. This in turn opens up a whole new niche market for your exploration, with the social media platform acting as a soundboard. It’s field research, with the body static and the mind openly active.

Pick-Me-Up

I know for a fact that my own life is one of solitude, based on preference and need. Writing has a habit of cutting ties to the outside world, even while we work to portray it. Online socializing with fellow writers has not only opened a variety of creative outlets to me; it’s been a wealth of supportive input. There’s nothing quite like having the empathy of those who know what it means to shut the world out. Fellow artists will have been to those dark places too, for the sake of an essential piece of creativity, a message that would change public opinions. It’s to these people I turn, when feeling down on myself. Let’s face it, we’ve all felt unappreciated, overworked, uninspired. Flatlining. The fellow creative will know the words to say, how to be the virtual pick-me-up. They’re beneficial for the soul, as well as the writing technique.

Switching Off

But of course, the most relevant point of all is moderation. Keeping in mind that your original point is creativity – output as well as input. The only real way to sustain this, is to switch off the social media platforms, all of them, and get back into your own personal groove. No one but you can make this happen.

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My lessons learned in Twittiquette

14/08/2013 at 13:01 (Reviews, Writing) (, , , , , , , )


This is not intended to be a snarky rant, nor yet a preaching-to-the-choir. I have been guilty, recipient and a part of every one of the following facets of Twitter usage, encountered in the brief spell of months I’ve been an active user. This is merely a post highlighting what I have observed and learned; an exploration of online social mores, as it were. All views are my own; nothing is based upon proven fact – except the universal aggravation of spam. That’s undeniable as a black hole, sorry.

I’d had a Twitter account hanging around for a year or so, limping behind my Facebook account full of safe local friends and family. But there’s only so much they can be hit with links to personal work, as though my daily status updates weren’t enough. I had no idea of the marketing potential of Twitter at the time, nor yet the wealth of literary information and like-minded artists, waiting to be discovered.

Sprucing up my profile, I set out to achieve something approximating a media circuit. I longed for objective criticism, creative minds, shameless geek-outs to various genres and mediums. And above all, some recognition of the effort I’d invested in my work. Don’t we all? Isn’t that one of the fail-safe reasons we set up these tweets, with their hashtag handles and punchy lines, to grab the interest of our prospective audience?

I was only vaguely aware of how to pitch an idea within the character limitation. But it all seemed simple enough. The little bar at the top of the screen winked invitingly. The words writer and Nintendo were the first to slide out from my fingertips, into the constant cycling stream of Twitter.

What an eye-opener.

Twitter is a bit like London’s Portobello road, or Camden market; if you think of something, it’s likely going to be there. This isn’t always a good thing, and as with all aspects of life, this social media platform has its really low points. But I personally feel the benefits far outweigh the costs; particularly for an indie writer like myself.

These are a few of the aspects I’ve learned about thus far, through trial and error:

* Volume of followers does not equate to social impact, or quality. There are plenty of sycophants and spambots out there, not to mention real life people who choose to use their profiles as a means of suckerpunching a feed with links to exclusively their work. The best way to sniff these unsavouries out – and avoid adding back, to keep your feed clear of mulch – is to first check back through theirs. If identical links keep popping up, whether as a plug for their own work or simply as photo/video memes, it’s a safe bet that their conversation isn’t going to be scintillating. Move yourself on. They’re not likely to give you the time of day, and there’s a heightened risk of a letterbomb DM arriving …

* DM’s are tricky things. Used correctly, they can enhance Twitter interaction between two people, insofar as character limit permits. The privacy this mode of conversation affords can help establish a more exclusive trust and kinship between users; if requested, links to personal work may be exchanged, without the risk of the conversation being hijacked by other users, no matter how well-meaning. Equally, a long-running conversation need not clog up everyone else’s feed.

* The flipside to this account feature, are the ever-irritating presence of DM spam-links. Why anyone would think these are a handy way to plug their work is beyond me, since it denotes a lack of willingness to go the extra mile in terms of social interaction. This kills the whole point of the platform. Worse, a dodgy link may well be sent via DM, from an accredited user who has been hacked – whatever you do, don’t fly off the handle at the user, until you know for sure it was not their fault that your account got spiked.
Delete the message immediately, and also from your notifications account (Hotmail, Gmail etc) and pass the information on to Twitter’s admin. DO NOT open an unrequested link, unless it comes with a personally-worded verification note from the sender.

* As a writer, I like to know who my target audience is. Social networking need not be so different from the real world; you wouldn’t walk into a bar and hold up your business card by way of introduction, unless you were begging for looks-to-kill. Oscillate among like-minded people. Hashtags are a godsend in this case, particularly for creative types seeking advice or to pass on their output. For me personally, the #writing #amwriting #writetip and #writingadvice hashes have introduced me to some quite brilliant minds, fellow geeks, book fiends, indie authors and above all, friends. They each have their own take on the world, and are very much a part of it, from all areas of the globe. Their ideas and personalities make for a friendlier aspect in what can be a critical and cut-throat market.

* Above are some of the general hashes, to be used on any given day. #mondayblogs, #writerwednesday and #fridayreads, speak for themselves – highly engaging, and useful for cycling through interesting and informative pieces to read about your favourite subjects; not to mention a great way of passing your work along.

* Keep an eye on when your followers are, across the board, most active. Some may be en route to work in the morning commute, while others will be on their lunch breaks, or heading home. Pitch your work towards these “golden hours” for a heightened reception, but don’t overdo it. One personal link per block of hours is more than enough to get your name across. And don’t forget the essential getting-to-know-you chats in between.

* Manners are applicable, on as offline. I cannot emphasize this enough. A simple “good morning” / “good night”, can mean far more than its sum of characters. Behind each tweet, there’s (usually) a real person with feelings, and the bit of world they make their presence known in. Small courtesy gestures, such as a “thank you” or a tit-for-tat retweet, can be the equivalent of a handshake with the person who has taken time to consider your output and decided to comment, favourite or pass it along. It certainly brightens my day to receive merit for my work, and I’ll try wherever possible to either tweet /DM appreciation to the relevant users.

* It takes only seconds to press the Favourite and/or Retweet button. ALWAYS carefully analyse the content of what you are sending on to followers. One dodgy link could affect many users adversely. A link you didn’t bother to check as safe, an ethos you don’t actually subscribe to but thought would sound cute/funny; these work to bring down your carefully constructed platform, not to mention possibly ruining someone’s day or night with their virus potential or bad taste. Also, when sending out links, do take care to disperse them evenly. https://hootsuite.com/ is but one nifty means of doing so.

* It takes a little more thought to retweet someone with either a personal opinion of your own, or a quote from the link source. I personally get a kick out of going to the original source of a friend’s work, using whichever Share buttons are applicable (or good old Copy/Paste) and attaching a quote that really caught me. It’s a neat way of highlighting a person’s work to the wider Twitter world, as well as emphasising the point you’re making in your tweet. When reciprocating a retweet or comment on your own work, this strategy of tit-for-tat can be a lovely – and practical – way of repaying the favour. But don’t feel pressured to do so. Some people just love to pass things on, while others may have motive in mind for reciprocation. Either way, be tactful about it. A simple “thank you” tweet and/or Favourite can be enough too.

* This simple act of share-share alike shouldn’t be uncommon in social media outlets. In the playground, a child is taught to share games, sweets and toys; in the workplace, a favour-task may be rewarded with a drink at the pub later. These Twitter boost-ups help promote everyone’s work, and keep a constant circulation of inspiration going for those who seek it. It also offers followers a wider perspective, rather than a ream of your own thoughts and links.

* If you are willing to give time and energy to reading, editing and/or reviewing another’s work, do make sure you actually have time set aside to do so. Balance it around your real life – work, family, leisure etc – as well as your own output. There need not be a sense of frustration between users, when a promise doesn’t pay up.

* Blogging is as essential a field of writing as any fictional output or article. Your blog can turn you into a business mogul, if you’ll only take time to amplify it properly. Your blog allows a general audience to find out who you are in greater detail than is available on Twitter. That being said, the latter is a great place to broadcast your writing aptitude – most blog platforms have applicable Share buttons. Make full use of them, but don’t be tempted to reveal every insight you’ve had to date. Don’t lay all your cards on the table at once. Keep an audience willing to return, and if something really isn’t for universal distribution – there’s always the Private entry setting. In this way, your blog can still be relevant to your emotional and intellectual state, as well as a regular pitch for your creativity.

* Journalists are not the thoughtless monsters some would have us believe. They are human too, with feelings and lives, and a code of conduct I find intriguing. When passing on information of any kind, they will remember to reference back to the original source. Woe betide the journalist who doesn’t. I find this to be fascinating as it is inspirational, a must-have habit for all Twitter users, and especially artists. If you’re going to pull a photograph / quote / buzz word from either the internet at large or from a fellow Twitter user, remember to post a referring link back to source. It’s not only a good way to avoid plagiarism claims; it’s just good manners.

* And lastly, though by no means least – do not forget the outside world. Your real time, the air you breathe and the people you know. Take time to move around, to absorb the world – it’ll emphasize your output, whatever the medium. No amount of internet and feed trawling is going to turn up as much inspiration as the sensory triggers, relationships and random moments of the real world. Today for example, a man stopped me in the street to hand me a purple daisy; he told me to weave it in my hair, and travel to San Francisco. He made my day. And he’ll find his way into a blog entry, if not a story at some point.

The outside world holds the key to your potential, as well as your feelings. There’s only so much that online interaction can generate, though believe me I have grown as a person since beginning my Twitter career. And I do see it as a career, insofar as I’m constantly sharing and interacting with fellow artists and like-minded people, passing on information and some downright fantastic work (plus no end of humour), absorbing what is offered. I have gained some truly inspirational, engaging friends; their support and compassion for both my personal wellbeing and literary output, is inestimable in value.

But I have also made the mistake of leaning too heavily on this virtual sphere at times, to the detriment of my actual employment, as well as real-time interaction.

Striking the balance on and offline, is key. Distance in mileage will always be a factor, but it need not be an inhibitor – and it’s vital to never forget the faces and feelings behind the screens, as well as in our local circuits.

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To my Country, a letter

08/04/2013 at 20:45 (Personal, Reviews) (, , , )


Today, an elderly woman died.

From Glasgow City Council (Twitter): Street party applications are now open for groups wanting to host a “So long, Milk-Snatcher Thatcher” party. Please form an orderly queue.

She died from a stroke, a common cause of death among many people’s grandparents.

(Twitter): You mustn’t be beastly about an old woman dying. She was someone’s mother.” Yes. Have you seen the fucking state of her kids?

Revered by some, loathed by many more, this lady was the bearer of capitalism and the credit cards so many people max out these days, who even now are verbally dancing on her grave. Armchair socialists rejoice, because Margaret Thatcher, our Tory PM of the 80’s, is now finally gone. Out of your hair. Her milk-snatching, mine-closing days are done.

Oh wait. They’ve been done for the past thirty-odd years. Yet somehow, kids in the National Union of Students (NUS) couldn’t contain their cheering when the news broke of their hated foes’ demise, despite the fact they’d all been born during/after the main events of her regime. But a Che Guevara poster on the wall and a few Manics’ albums, gives everyone the freedom of speech to gloat, right?

City-slickers and Southerners, Northern families of the old coal-mining towns, Unionists and fashionistas – everyone’s had their say. Twitter and Facebook are creaking under the weight of tasteless, tacky jokes at the expense of a woman who, though undeniably harsh in her time, was elderly and frail on her day of death. The tweets and retweets have swamped all regular news / posts, and if I see one more petition for a street party or to undermine her funeral with egg-throwing, I will puke.

I am grossly ashamed of my country today. The lack of dignity displayed, has thrown mawkish new light on the sheer power of social networking, and if any champagne is to be popped, I hope the cork takes out someone’s eye, as this woman’s death is poached like an egg.

I personally raise a solemn salute to that woman, a worthy foe, whose politics, ideals and regime I didn’t care for one bit – but a fiercely proud woman none the less, who in a time of men and power-suits, knew when not to be turned.

RIP Margaret Thatcher.

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