Chat · Reflection

Two years of blogging – reflections

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Happy blog day to me.

Two years ago I came home from a book event and typed up my thoughts. It seemed as good a moment as any to start that blog. It feels like minutes since I hit ‘publish’ on my first post and watched my stats until I saw activity which didn’t actually come from my Mum. 

Two years is a strange mark in blogging. In one way I have learned so much, but I also have so much still to learn. Last year I was determined to make the move to self-hosting, but now I am glad I waited. Free WordPress may not be glamorous but it has given me space to test out content from different niches and work on different skills before making the jump. 

So what have I been up to in my second year of blogging? 

Over the last year, I have been lucky enough to attend several bookish events, listen to established authors and meet other bloggers. I am already booked in for the NYA Literary Festival this March and can’t wait to see you all again. Twitter chats are brilliant, but there is nothing like meeting in person. 

I was particularly motivated by Abi Elphinstone at the Edinburgh Book Festival, who spoke about using her own strengths to plot stories and sticking out rejection to reach success. 

It was also a pleasure to meet Robin Stevens in December. The Murder Most Unladylike series is one of my favourite middle-grade mystery series, and Robin Stevens gave some brilliant advice about creating believable characters.

Over the past twelve months, I have written a novel manuscript. I had attempted this before and it had ended in ‘Frankenstein’s monsters’ (did I steal that? It is the perfect description of those early projects. The ones which had some good stuff in them. The odd scene or character or brilliant bit of dialogue. A couple even had a soul, but they just didn’t hold together as a story. Calling them nothing belies the effort which went into them, but calling them novel manuscripts would be like calling Frankenstein’s monster human.) 

This year I finished a 40,000-word middle-grade mystery. With the average number of manuscripts ahead of publication stated as four, I am looking ahead to my next plots, but it is encouraging to finally have something in the drawer . I know blogging played a big part in getting me to this stage. Networking with writers at all stages of their career has been invaluable, and I have friends who have cheered me on through every scrap of writing over the past two years. Thanks to you all. 

If you are thinking about starting a book blog, do it.  Take time to find out what sort of book-blogger you are. There are promoters and there are people who want to build a network of bookish friends and there are people looking to develop their reading as part of a professional goal (eg teachers looking to improve the way they use texts in the classroom). Some bloggers are social-bunnies while others are introverts. Some bloggers want to create dazzling content while others slip it into a very hectic timetable. Everyone’s approach is valid and that variety makes the blogosphere a more interesting place. 

In my first two years, I have tried content from different niches. I have tried sticking to schedule and I have tried going with the flow. I almost expanded to include literary fiction, then dropped that in favour of picture books and illustrated non-fiction. I have dabbled with lifestyle content as a way of expanding my audience. There can be immense pressure when everything is quantified in likes and stats. My advice? Enjoy playing.

What do I want to take forward over the coming year? 

If I want to keep anything from my first two years, it is my commitment to be kind. Social media can be exhausting, and nothing depresses me more than when new bloggers join in a chat or an event and get totally overlooked. If I keep anything from my earliest years of blogging, I want to remember to be the person who says ‘hi’. The person who likes a post even though the photograph is wonky. Remember always that there are real people behind those posts. 

Reviewing picture books and younger middle-grade has not only helped me to find books which I love promoting, it has also helped me to find whole different networks. The people who talk about these formats on Twitter are some of the most dedicated and insightful readers I have had the pleasure of engaging with. From librarians and teachers to parents and content-creators and aspiring authors and illustrators, their approaches to these texts may be different but they share a dedication and interest. 

Reviewing picture books has also shown me how much I love considering theme and ways of using books to promote empathy. Maybe that is partly to do with the climate we are currently living in, but I don’t think there has ever been a better time for reading deeper. Look out for more in the coming year. 

I would also love to do more collaborations with lifestyle bloggers. Doing these really pushes me out of my ‘comfort’ niches and makes for a more rounded and interesting blog. 

Finally, I want to hear from you all. Share your thoughts, post your blog links and tell me what you are loving. My readers are the reason I keep typing. 

Thank you to everyone who has supported BookMurmuration over the past two years. Here’s to the next two. 

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Announcements · Chat

Chat: About my second blog and why I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.

Love literature? Love stationery and bullet journaling? Check out my new blog.

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The secret is out. 

As secrets go, it wasn’t very well kept. I hinted several times during Twitter chats that I was involved in a project with a literary heritage group. I shared pictures with two of my very closest blogging friends. 

The blog was up in the webosphere from June 2018.

Nevertheless, it was my project but now it is out in the big wide word. I’m so pleased to finally share Grasmere Bullet Journal with you. This is my new blog which I am going to run along with BookMurmuration.

Grasmere Bullet Journal began, as all good projects do, with a conversation. I was having a cup of tea with a friend, and pouring over her books when I told her something which had been on my mind.

If Dorothy Wordsworth was alive today, she would make a killer blogger. 

Dorothy Wordsworth was a journaler, pioneering walker and sister of the Romantic poet William. She kept journals throughout her life, most famously the Grasmere Journal which she kept during her time at Dove Cottage from 1800 – 1803. 

Her journal wasn’t a private diary. It was a place where she recorded her observations as well as tracking her daily activities. As I wrote here, this is very much the same thing people do in their bullet journals today. If Dorothy Wordsworth was alive today, I said during that conversation in March 2018, she would be a bullet journaler. 

An idea was born. An idea which I’d had all along without recognising it until I said it out loud. 

One bullet journal and a set of brush pens later and I set to work. 

GrasmereBulletJournal is two things. Firstly, and at its heart, it showcases my creative project – to present information from the Grasmere Journal in bullet journal form. 

Secondly, it is a blog which covers stationary, bullet journaling, and literature. Inspired by the exhibition as Dorothy Wordsworth as a walker, and proud of my own muddy walking boots, I would like to branch out and include posts about walking and nature. 

I would *love* to hear from you over on Grasmere Bullet Journal, as well as right here on BookMurmuration. There are people who comment regularly on my blog who talked to me when I had ten views per post. I value your feedback as much as I did then. As much as always. 

Here’s to our creative pursuits, to blogging adventures and to online friends. 

 

Do you keep a bullet journal? Are you currently working on any creative projects? Let me know in the comments below.

Chat · Reflection

Four Things I’ve Learned This September

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Fresh fruit and nature – September 2018

August ranks as the third most disappointing month of the year after February and January respectively. Which used to seem strange, given how much I love September. Then I figured it out.

September is supposed to be autumnal.

Nobody expects sunshine and beaches and ice-lollies. If I have to get a raincoat out in September, I’ll go with the flow. In August, that’s a disappointing summer. These days I’ve learned to embrace the cycle of nature a little more but I still notice the darkness creeping in every August.

My month has been about editing. Editing a 42,000 word (give or take) manuscript. It’s a strange old time – a triumph because I am putting in so much hard work and learning heaps about chapter and scene. In reality, many authors write three or four manuscripts before they are published (I’ve heard everything between 2 and 9). This perspective is important – too many people think novel-writing is a one-shot game – but it is also daunting. I will have to face the blank page many times over if I want to make this a reality.

What have you been up to this month? Is August your favourite time of year? Chat to me in the comments below and I promise to reply. Here are some of the things I’ve learned this August.

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Old proofs are THERE to cut up

One of the highlights of book-blogging is getting to read books ahead of publication. Sometimes this happens in the form of a digital file. Sometimes a finished copy is sent weeks ahead of publication. Sometimes bloggers are set proof-copies.

A proof is essentially an unfinished copy of the text. That’s not to say the story isn’t finished, but details are allowed to change between the proof and the final version. Selling proof copies is blogger-sin No1 (Don’t. Just don’t.)

What do you do with a proof copy you don’t want to keep? Throwing away or burning them goes against everything I have ever been taught about respecting people’s hard work.

This month I found a solution – use them for craft.

Hang on a second – I won’t burn them but I’ll cut them up?

Craft is about creation over destruction. I think this act of creation means I’m treating the used proof with respect. The publishers don’t want those texts in circulation so using them for craft seems like a great answer. I’m partway through a Christmas decoration and can’t wait to share pictures online.

 

Collaborations = creativity.

This month I wrote a post in collaboration with the wonderful HelloBexa.

As much as I love my blog, there are times when I worry it gets a bit same-old. Those are the times to reach out to other people.  When I suggested the collaboration, I wanted something which would suit both our blogs. By looking at Bexa’s niches, I brought something new to my blog.

The Scrapbook Memory Jar may be one of my favourite blog posts this year. I would love to collaborate with other bloggers, especially bloggers outside the bookish-sphere.

 

Heritage open days are my new hobby

Late in August, I was asked by a member of my poetry group to help with the heritage open day at the local church. I was happy to help … but little did I know how much I would LOVE it.

Seriously. Next year I am signing up for every single slot.

What’s so great about leading people up and down a church tower?

Firstly, I met people from all over. A group of cyclists from Amsterdam on their way to the Irish Sea. People from the local area who I’ve never met before. People from other parts of the country with interesting jobs and life-experience. As an aspiring author, the best thing I can do is get out and *listen*. Heritage open day offered people to listen to in abundance.

Secondly, I learned so much history. Our guides were incredibly knowledgeable about the local area as well as the church and one of our visitors talked about local sites of interest from different time-periods.

Dare you to sign up for something different. Netflix is fun but talking to people is better.

 

Fruit tastes better when it is fresh from the trees

I learn this every autumn and relearn it with every mouthful. There’s no denying it. Food is supposed to be fresh.

We picked apples and plums from the trees on the village green and were sent apples and pears by different neighbours. Now everybody has taken their first crop there are buckets of apples all around the village looking for good homes.

As well as eating some fresh, we freeze lots of apples to keep a stock for apple-pie.

 

What have you learned this September? Do you love autumn? Let me know in the comments below.

 

blogging advice

Chat: Scroll-Free September

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Scroll-Free September: Are you downing your devices this September? 

The Royal Public Health Society is targeting users of social media, asking them to put their devices down this September. And I’m backing them.

Wait a second. A blogger telling people to switch off? Isn’t that kinda like a writer standing up in the middle of a conference and suggesting everyone puts their pens down?

Yes and no.

I’m not suggesting all bloggers will suddenly pick up their guitars and skip around the Alps like Maria Von Trapp to live a happier and more wholesome life. The question isn’t whether you support Scroll-Free September. The question is to what extent will you apply the principle.

Hear me out.

I use Twitter in two different ways. Sometimes there is a purpose – to attend a chat, to advertise a blog-post or to actively engage with the blogging community. I might make a window of 20 minutes to respond to other people’s tweets. During that time, although I am on Social Media, there is some purpose. Interaction is part of being a blogger. I not only need to engage with my audience. I love talking to people online. 

Links between social media and stress. 

Then there are the times I’m just … scrolling through. You know. Liking random stuff. Adding my voice to conversations when in reality I don’t have much to say. Those times when I look at the clock and realise precious life, precious writing and editing time has been spent doing nothing much at all.

On Friday evenings I make dedicated blog time. Most weeks, this is when I get the bulk of my blog-writing done. This system works well. It would work even better if I didn’t flick on to Twitter and Instagram every six minutes. Have you been there? Have you turned the computer on to do a job and found yourself mid-conversation talking about cat pictures or who your wingman would be during a zombie apocalypse, or whether custard-creams are better than bourbons? (The answer, folks, is no. No, they are not.) Cutting down social media makes our work more efficient. I see the difference in my writing. I know when my mind was wholly engaged in the blog post and when it was 80% taken-up with the Twittersphere.

There is another reason to cut down on social media usage. A better reason.

Social media is essentially a stream of opinions, adverts, causes, and information. Imagine six-hundred people shouting their opinions and feelings at you, all at the same time. It’s a lot of information to take in a short space. 

Is this an anti-social media thread? Not at all. I have formed friendships online and learned things I didn’t know and empathised with people from all over the world. There is a lot of good in social media. That’s why I won’t be going Scroll-Free this September. However, I am thinking about the principle.

This September I will: 

  • Not use social media when I am doing other jobs. This includes blogging.
  • Only scroll for set periods of time, and use that time to engage with people in my network.
  • Mute conversations when I need some head-space. We need to listen to other voices, but in real life we have the option to enter or leave a conversation. It is OK to use the mute-button to manage anxiety.
  • Turn off my social media for one day every weekend.

At the start of this piece, I asked whether turning off social media was any different to asking other people to down their hobbies. I think the difference is the constant stream of information we are subjected to online. Imagine trying to write a novel with 600 voices vying for your attention. That’s the difference.

Since I started blogging, social media has had a special place in my life and I don’t think it is going anywhere. However, the Scroll-Free September campaign has raised some valid points and I want to apply the principle to benefit my mental health and get the most out of my social media time.

 

Will you change the way you use social media? What do you find hardest about life online? What are the high points? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Chat

Five Things I Learned In July

July is an odd month. Summer has barely started and yet it isn’t so long until autumn. At home, we are coming to the end of a three-week heatwave. I have been working in the summer house with the windows wide open and the birds singing in the trees. 

The format of this post was inspired by Anne from the wonderful Modern Mrs Darcy. Anyone who hasn’t found this blog needs to get on board ASAP. It is the epitome of all things bookish and it is one of my major blog-crushes. Anne proves that bookish posts can sit alongside lifestyle content. 

I want to bring more chatty content to my blog. To tell you what I’ve been up to and to hear from my readers. We learn so much over the course of a month – we learn about ourselves. We learn big, life-changing philosophies. We also learn small things like our latest favourite dessert and book-gossip from the publishing world. What have you learned this month? Let me know in the comments below. I love hearing from you. 

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Still here reading 

Posing is a misleading word

 

Regular followers might have noticed there are very few pictures of me on either my blog or my social media. While I believe in maintaining a level of privacy, I would love to include more photographs of myself. There is only one problem: I have never found it easy to pose for a photograph. With ambitions to grow my blog, I decided this was something I wanted to overcome.

Several hundred awkward selfies later and I have realised that posing is a misleading word. Tell me to pose and that’s exactly what I’ll do – pull my face into an overdramatic expression. A parody of a smile. Instead of posing for the camera we need to simply be. Be as if the camera isn’t there. How would you smile for your friend? How would you look at a book?

This journey is going to be long-haul but I’ve figured out what’s putting me off.

 

Kids need reading role models

For the first time in a thousand years, I watched football. 

 My interest in football is limited to major tournaments, on the occasions when England reach a stage worth talking about. And that’s fine. I have my hobbies, you have yours and we can all get along together. 

What’s not fine is sporting personalities bashing readers. Not when the audience includes millions of children. Sporting figures seem happy to put their names to ghost-written fiction. Perhaps they could tell children about the place reading has in their lives.  It doesn’t seem too much to ask. 

During the World Cup quarter-finals, Martin Keown, former Arsenal defender and BBC co-commentator, told anyone reading a book to ‘get a life’. It’s a sad precedent and the exact opposite of what children need to hear. No, I’m not suggesting we interrupt the football with book trailers, but casual comments like that affirm negative beliefs children hold about literacy. Kids need role models to promote the joys of reading.

 

Finishing a draft is only the start

I am about to write the immortal words the end under a 40,000-word draft. More than that, this one is worth editing. I already have a list of changes I want to make and I am looking forward to developing the characters. At the moment they are more like sock-puppets. They need fleshing out with characteristics. 

The rough draft is finished. Now the hard work begins. 

 

In with the old 

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Time to catch up 

New releases are a delight. The biggest change my blog has brought to my reading habits is my reading calendar. I often promote books several months ahead of their release. By the time their release date falls I have heard a lot about the title in question. It’s amazing … but it sometimes comes at the expense of other books on my shelves.

No longer. I have vowed to work in other books even if my blog schedule falls a little behind. This month I have been catching up on Robin Stevens’s Murder Most Unladylike series and I have a mental list of books which I have been staring at for the past eighteen months. It’s time to catch up on my unread novels. My blog will be better for it.

 

Evanesco money

Evanesco is the vanishing spell in Harry Potter. The Lego Company are, once again, about to perform a vanishing spell upon my life savings. Aside from the new Harry Potter sets, a new series of minifigures is set to focus on characters from the Harry Potter universe. The lineup includes figures never before seen in Lego such as Cedric Diggory and Cho Chang. There are also six figures from the Fantastic Beasts franchise, which, as you will find out later this year, rules my world. 

My skills as a blind-bag feeler will once again be put to the test. 

blogging advice

Blogging Reflections: Find what works for you

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Here is some advice for bloggers. New and not so new.  

Eighteen months ago I started a book blog. I expected to review and analyse books. Maybe ten or twelve people would follow me but mainly I was in it to talk about something I loved. Almost 400 followers later, here we are. Blogging is a hobby which has become a large part of my life. It is a hobby which I am getting better at. A hobby which I am still learning about. 

If I have discovered one thing in eighteen months it is this – you can’t do it all. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and Snapchat. Not to mention all the other websites and platforms you could engage with. There are bookish Twitter chats nearly every night of the week, and that is without readathons and challenges and one-off events.

Here’s the big question most bloggers ask themselves – how do you find out what works best?

Blogging is a journey. New bloggers are like explorers standing on the edge of uncharted territory. Sure, they have cobbled together a map from advice posts and videos and things they have picked up in conversation. That doesn’t mean you know what to do. Until you have checked out those platforms and spent some time creating content you don’t know what works. Here’s the secret all new bloggers need – every one of those platforms is about communication, but every one requires a slightly different approach.

I love Twitter. It is about summarising key information, catching people’s attention and building a like-minded Network. Aside from my blog, Twitter is my social media home. I’m enjoying figuring out Instagram although I’m finding it a challenge. Thankfully I am past the point of just snapping a wonky shot of the book cover but it has taken time for me to use my books to create something visually attractive. There’s a long way to go, but I’m enjoying the process. Facebook isn’t for me.

Eighteen months on I know which platforms I like best, That’s not to say I regret the earlier stages of my blogging when I juggled too much and tried a bit of everything. I learned so much along the way and I know that made me a better blogger in the long-run.

New bloggers are like explorers on the edge of uncharted territory. Find the lay of the land, then figure out which route works best for you. Your answer will be different from mine will be different from someone else’s. In short:

Find out how things work before you discount them.

Once you have learned about a platform, figure out to what extent you want to use it. If at all.

What works best is what works for you. You can’t do it all, but you need to know what is out there. In a constantly shifting landscape, you need to remain open to new ideas and new methods of communication. So long as you are open to learning and friendly to everyone you meet along the way, you will do fine.

 

Louise Nettleton

Do you use multiple platforms? What works best for you?

 

 

 

Chat

Chat: Introverts Make Great Bloggers

 

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You don’t have to be a social butterfly to blog. 

Introverts. The dictionary definition of ‘introvert’ is a shy and reticent person. In my opinion, this is a narrow definition. Anybody who enjoys their own company and unwinds by being alone is an introvert.

When I figured there were other introverts, I realised being one wasn’t a bad thing. 

Blogs – especially lifestyle blogs – can give the impression that everybody in the blogosphere is confident and sociable. From blogging squads to pictures of beautiful people at parties, it can be easy for introverts to think that blogging is not something they would be successful at.

This impression is misleading. Blogging has plenty to offer introverts, and introverts have plenty to bring to blogging. 

Blogging starts with a computer. That makes a difference. To be successful at blogging, you need to network.  With online networking, there is less instant judgment, and we are screened from people’s reactions. Although I am an awkward conversationalist, I find online conversations easier. Networks are built on shared interest. This makes it easier for introspective people to share their thoughts. 

The second thing which helps is the chance to edit. Before I post this, I will read this over and think about what I have said. I have a chance to change my thoughts. Even in a fast-paced Twitter chat, I take a moment to scan over what I have said before I press ‘send’.  Every picture I take goes through my quality-control before it reaches my audience. Unlike in face-to-face situations, blogging and social-media allow us to edit our thoughts before we share. 

Blogging helped me to find like-minded people. Bookish people. Kidlitters. Aspiring writers. It is not that I dislike company, but I am so happy in the company of a book that I sometimes forget to seek out other people. It turns out we can be bookish together. Literary festivals have become popular on this principle, that we can make a party of reading, and book-buying and talking about our favourite books. My blogging friends have added value to my life, and their conversation has added value to my reading. 

Reading blogs might give you the impression that bloggers are outgoing party-people, but creating one teaches you that blogging is about hard work and editing. Introverts can thrive in a world where self-motivation and reflective feedback are key.

 

Louise Nettleton

Would you describe yourself as an introvert? Do you think introverts make great bloggers? Let me know in the comments below.