Ch-ch-changes Revisited

Amongst today’s emails – just the usual hundred or so – was the regular Monday one from Bernadette announcing this week’s Senior Salon. It was a little different from the norm, however: Bernadette was giving us the sad news that it was to be the last Senior Salon. Looking back, I would guess that at least half of the blogs I read most often and, in particular, comment on, are those to which I was introduced by Bernadette. I understand perfectly why she feels the need to call a halt, and wish that I had the time and commitment to take it on for her – but, as you will have long-since recognised, I’m not the most organised or regular of bloggers! But I will always cherish those bloggers who, through our Senior Salon introduction, I now regard as friends – some have even joined me on Facebook, which is great!

This got me thinking to a post I wrote a couple of years ago. It  seemed a fitting way to mark Bernadette’s final edition of the Salon by sharing it again: it does, after all, talk about how important blogging communities can be for us. So, Bernadette, thank you for all your hard work and commitment, and I’m glad that I’ll still be seeing all your new blog posts and what you share on Facebook (and thanks for the Instagram follow, too!).

This is that post:

Ch-ch-changes

Has it ever struck you how much we can become creatures of habit? Although we may live varied lives, and have many things to occupy our time, at the core of this is likely to be a foundation of what for each of us is our ‘norm.’ Wherever we may be, and whatever we may be doing on any given day, we will most likely be framing that activity in the context of a routine of some kind. At its simplest level, this can be something mundane, such as what time we get up in the morning, whether we have breakfast or not, and if so whether we have it before or after our morning ablutions, that kind of thing. However free-spirited we may believe ourselves to be, we all have our own behaviour patterns, whether or not we recognise them as such. Since I retired nearly three years ago my routine has changed – I don’t have to worry about being up and ready in time to catch the train to work, and I don’t have to compress the things I would rather be doing with my life into evenings, weekends or holiday time. But there is still a routine there, it has just adapted to the change in my circumstances.

So, what happens when something knocks that norm? How do we adjust to it? If something big happens to us – a major family event, perhaps – we tend to take it on, challenge it and manage the required change. Births, marriages, deaths and other events in the family have a massive impact, but we try our best to deal with them, to cope, and to move forward with our lives. I have recently had such a change with one of my children (who are both adults, but still children to me!), who has needed help and support, both in the practical sense and also in a more spiritual way. For me, the realisation that this has made a difference to my life has manifested in several ways, a very simple example being that I have seen and spoken to my ex-wife more often in the past few months than in the whole preceding eight years since we were divorced. I’m not presenting that as either a good or bad thing – our divorce was perfectly amicable and we are both content with our outcomes – but it brought home to me the sense of family changes and the impact they can have. But I don’t intend to say any more about that: it is too personal, particularly for my daughter, and isn’t for publication.

Let me instead give you a much less important example – less important in the great scheme of life, that is, but it has nevertheless made me think. I’ve mentioned before that I have been invited to become part of the Senior Salon, run by Bernadette of the Haddon Musings blog. Since Bernadette started this six months ago it has developed into a vibrant community of bloggers of a certain age, with a wide range of interests, and it has become a part of my routine to take part in it. I enjoy the range of interests that fellow bloggers share, and it has got me into the habit of posting at least once a week so that I have something new to offer. Yes, I still have my hiatuses but they are fewer. And if I want to think of myself as a blogger, regular posting is kind of important, right? The Salon starts each Wednesday, with an email notification that the new link up has gone live. This email usually arrives around 7am UK time and my Wednesday norm has become a morning trip to see my lovely nurses for my regular bandage change, followed by a return home, breakfast and my thoughts turning to converting the ideas that have been stumbling around in my brain into a post. Or, like today, I sit at the keyboard and pray for inspiration – you can tell, can’t you! Ah, but I can see you thinking, today isn’t Wednesday. Correct! Have a prize! I didn’t get the email yesterday, and so I spent the day watching the Euro 2016 football instead. Tough job, but someone has to do it. Nor did I get the notification today, and I began to wonder if perhaps Bernadette was ill, and unable to set up the Salon this week. But there it was on her blog, so all was clearly well with her. From our interactions on our respective posts I thought it highly unlikely that I had been banned, so I checked my WordPress settings for the blogs I follow. Have any of you ever seen this message:

“You have blocked all notifications for blogs that you follow”

I certainly hadn’t come across it before, as it seems to me to be a very strange thing to do. What is the point of following blogs if you don’t want to see what people are saying? To be honest, I didn’t even realise that the setting existed. Fortunately, WordPress also kindly told me how to change it, which required no more than one box to be unchecked, and normal service has been resumed. But it left me with a few thoughts. How could I have changed such a setting when I didn’t know it was there? Do I have a maleficent alter ego who creeps into my blog when I’m asleep and changes everything? Are WordPress operating some kind of practical joke to see how alert we are? (in my case, not very alert, apparently!). Why did this matter to me anyway?

There were two main reasons as to why it mattered. The first was that it made me realise how unobservant I am. I probably get around 30-40 emails each day announcing new blog posts, and I hadn’t realised that I saw none of these yesterday and, so far, today. I pride myself on being intelligent, aware and alert, but clearly I’m not as good as I thought! The second was the change in my routine. In six months my Wednesday has shaped up as I described it earlier, but yesterday was different. Every time I checked my emails I looked for the one telling me that this week’s Salon link was live, but to no avail. Yet still I didn’t spot that something was amiss. A change, albeit a small one, had taken place, and it was a little disconcerting. I had been taken out of my Wednesday routine and it just didn’t feel right. My regular habit had been broken. I’ve found both the problem and the solution, and will be enjoying my usual participation in the Salon, although I am coming ‘fashionably late’ to the party this week.

Am I being stupid to think this way about it? Am I building it up beyond its importance? You might think so, but I don’t. Our routines and habits are important to us, however trivial they may seem to others. The sum of all our little pleasures – like reading other people’s blogs – adds up to the whole of our enjoyment of life. Every little part has its place and its importance. A wise man once said:

So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same

But in its own little way, yesterday didn’t feel the same. Strange thing isn’t it, this life and the way we live it.

Writing, For More Than Fun

Last week, I wrote about why I write and what I and, I imagine, other bloggers aim to get out of doing this. The post generated a fair degree of interest, and has today been featured in the Blogging and Tech section of the Post-40 Bloggers website. I guess I must have said a few things that others recognised! The responses and subsequent conversations have got me thinking about my longstanding ambitions to do more with my writing. Blogging is great, don’t get me wrong, but being told that you write well – by someone who knows what they are talking about – is a huge encouragement to take it to the next level, to take some tentative bigger steps. For some time I have had an idea for something I want to do, and have been thinking about it much more in the last week.

Thank you!

Thank you!

In that previous post I mentioned the undeniable buzz that I get from seeing my words on screen, and from knowing that anyone in the world with internet access could potentially see them too. I’m sufficiently grounded not to get carried away with this, but I do want to see if I have it in me to publish something. When I retired, my boss – a man I respect and admire hugely – gave me a personal present in addition to the general gifts that I received. It was a beautiful fountain pen, and he told me it was ‘for your first book signing!’ I’d worked for him for nearly 10 years, and he knew me well! I’m not going to give any details of my plan just yet, largely because I’ll look a complete idiot if it comes to nothing, but I have already started work on what I hope will be a piece of published work. And I’m hoping that it will be my first, rather than only, piece.

What I have in mind is very much a vanity project, and I know that it is likely to be appreciated more by me than by any potential readers. But I have a slowly burning desire to see if I can actually do it and hopefully find a wider audience. The traditional route into publishing was always to find a publishing company prepared to invest in bringing your work to life in a physical book, which would then be available in bookshops, supermarkets, charity shops, remainders bins etc. The huge growth in electronic publishing over the past 10-15 years has made it much easier to get work into ‘print,’ though I imagine a great many ‘books’ never see the light of day now as tangible copies. Looking through the websites which offer these, it is obvious that the absence of a publisher’s critical, commercial eye has lowered the bar considerably. Any old rubbish can now be self-published, so why not my rubbish too? Joking aside, there are also a huge number of authors who can now publish excellent work that they might have previously been unable to do, though, and I’m a firm believer in the freedom of writers to be enabled to offer their work as widely as possible.

Knowing absolutely nothing about the process I thought it best to do a little research. I’m nowhere near completing my masterpiece, but I wanted to know what I was letting myself in for. The two formats I know best are Kindle and iBooks, so I started with them. Well, that was the plan. I ventured onto Amazon’s website and started to work my way through the copious pages of advice on how to get my writing onto every Kindle in the world. To say there’s a lot of it would be an understatement! The first potential stumbling block was that I would have to choose a price and royalty rate. But I’m not sufficiently deluded to think that anyone would ever want to pay to read anything I’ve written, so the two royalty options of 35% and 70% would amount to the same thing for me: nothing. I couldn’t see how the system coped with that, so I gave up for now and didn’t even bother looking at the corresponding Apple pages. Words like ‘cart’ and ‘horse’ were looming in my brain, anyway.

Looking ahead, I have a huge task ahead of me to get my work into a state that I regard as fit to publish. But at least when I’ve done that I can just sit back and wait for the readership figures to explode, can’t I? Er, possibly not! I follow and am followed by a number of authors on Twitter, and now have a growing band of Facebook friends who are authors. The majority of these only publish electronically, and it has been an eye-opening experience for me to see how hard they have to work to promote their books. Electronic publishing may make it easier to get your work out there, but you lose the visible, tangible route to sales in shops and need to find other promotional routes. Working on tiny budgets, paid-for advertising is usually a no-no, so how do they do it? Is this something I really want to commit myself to? I guess the big difference is that I am doing this for fun and to satisfy my ego and ambitions. Plenty of others are doing this to earn a living, with the ever-present threat of having to get a ‘real’ job if the writing doesn’t work. Clearly, the use of social media plays an important part in marketing e-published books: it is, after all, complementary. If you are aiming to sell your work online, market it online in whatever way is available to you! We’ve all seen the ‘sponsored links’ on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram et al, and virtual ‘word of mouth’ can be very advantageous. And you can try other ways too. One of my Facebook friends has recently added a YouTube video to the marketing armoury for her latest book. I think this is stunning in its use of images, music and the spoken word:

And the book is very good too!

Do I want to do this? I’m probably many months away from the time for it, but it’s an exciting prospect. Why not feed my vanity as much as I can, although I doubt I’d ever get myself onto YouTube! I’ll revisit this post as a reminder to us both if I ever get there. Wish me luck!