I thought it would be fun if we blog hopped

My blogging badly needs a shot in the arm, nay an intracardiac dose, of blah-blah fuel, so it is with great pleasure I’ve accepted Rob Rife’s invitation to a blog hop.

Rob Rife - Ascendant Canadian Bard

Rob Rife – Ascendant Canadian Bard in Yakima Valley

Basically, it’s a writer’s pyramid scheme, blog-based chain letter, tasteful tag-fest thing. I’m one of three writers Rob’s asked to answer four questions about writing and the writing process.

It is hoped that this will entendril the blogging writersphere ecosystem with fruitful vines of interconnection, lead readers to discover new and lovely writers and give others an insight into what makes some of us tick.

Not only because Rob’s said nice things about me in his post but also because, in my opinion, he’s “one to watch” as he climbs steadily the ladder of latter-day bards, I really hope you hop back up the vine and check out his writing. I think it speaks for itself in a unique voice and it takes a lot make me think, as I do, “when that book comes out I’m buying it” whether the author is my friend or not.

So…

1) What am I working on?
When I’m not writing for others, I’m mapping the terrain between my subconscious and conscious realities, my dreaming and waking worlds, and dredging up short stories as I go. These are broadcast semi-regularly as a podcast at Stories from the Borders of Sleep. They are stories for hearing rather than reading, so any book that may come from them in the future will be more of a spin-off than a substantial target met.

Borders of Sleep illustration by Robyn Trainer

Borders of Sleep illustration by Robyn Trainer

This is a long-term project. I intend to continue it until the twelfth of never and would be quite happy to let it be my life’s work. It provides a creative discipline through the need to continually bring out new material and is immensely satisfying as I know it goes straight to an audience that, my stats tell me, downloads on average a hundred stories a day.

Alongside that, and not a million miles removed from it, I’m working on a book that probably sits in the ‘self help’ section. Broadly, it’s about using different parts of the body as a way of connecting inner reflection with outward action. If that sounds too wooky, then it could alternatively be described as a book about anthropology and time management.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I honestly don’t know because, with perhaps one exception, I don’t really read the stuff that might be similar. The exception is that I have derived a lot from the works of George MacDonald. He occupies the high points of mythopoeic romance to which I can only aspire.

To feed myself, I study literary classics, folklore and history, watch TED talks and look for books in brooks and sermons in stones. I should probably be reading Paul Coehlo, Haruki Murakami, Susanna Clarke and Neil Gaiman, but I don’t have time.

3) Why do I write what I do?
It has always been the same motivation for me, that simple line from the screenplay of the film about CS Lewis, Shadowlands:

We read to know we are not alone.

Books have been my greatest comforters and companions in helping me make sense of this way between earth and heaven where we all have the temporary use of a body, a mind and some words. Therefore, put simply, “I write to let others know they are not alone either.”

4) How does my writing process work?
I need to work in long stretches of time so it only really happens when I have a few uninterrupted hours in the dead of night or the wee small hours. Saturday mornings are good, too.

I write standing up because I constantly need to fidget or walk away to calm down or let the kinks work out in my head.

Actually starting something is Mount Everest, everything after that is Cool Runnings (apart from editing, which is K2). Finishing something is a serious hit on my dopamine receptors.

I usually only need one or two ideas, the rest takes shape as I go along. So I might start just knowing I want to write about a couple of trees I saw with intertwined limbs. Then it’s just a case of letting my imagination play out and making sure I take notes and keep up.

That sounds easy but it takes quite a toll on me. I think I write in a trance – it’s a bit like getting drunk. I get elated, then I get hung over. Maybe a better answer to the previous question is just that I’m an addict.

And on to …

This is the bit where I tell you who to hop on to next … watch this space because I’m still recruiting. My nominees will appear here shortly, once they have agreed to participate in the Blog Hop. They will then be due to post their contribution in a fortnight … and so on.

Lest you be tempted by the dream of freelancing …

I’m not complaining for a minute; this is the life I have chosen for myself and I love it. As in any job, though, there are good days and bad days.

I am often asked for advice by people who are considering going self employed in creative fields and my first line is a reality check. If I had known all this when I started three and a half years ago, I don’t think it would have changed anything, but this is my second attempt to “go it alone” after I learned some hard lessons the first time round, which was about ten years ago.

Dream

Reality

Shuffling to your PC in your pyjamas with a cup of coffee at 11am to start work Getting up at 6am and sometimes working ‘til midnight to meet a deadline.
Lunching with friends Skipping meals because you are “in the zone” and don’t want to lose the flow
Being your own boss and beholden to nobody Working for a string of “bosses” in succession and often simultaneously
Never having to fill in another job application Being on a permanent job hunt to line up the next month of work
Never having to go through another annual performance review Trying to stay on top of your game and develop your skills with virtually no guidance
Holidays when you want them No paid leave and the laptop comes on holiday with you because it’s impossible to “abandon the baby”
Extended amounts of time in your own little world Missing the banter and mutual support of a work environment
Doing what you love every day Tax returns, accounts, marketing, pitching and admin at least 30% of the time
Time to work on your “big idea” Shelving the “big idea” until things calm down a bit
Having control over your working environment Moving to the kitchen because the desk is too cluttered, tripping over the laundry pile and the dog/cat who is doing everything in its power to distract you
“My office is a coffee shop” Spending half an hour trying to get access to their unfeasibly slow WiFi, getting the shakes by lunch time (after your 4th espresso), going outside to take a phone call that you don’t want to be overheard
Practice the guitar in your “lunch break” Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Stumbleupon in your “lunch break”

8 Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Tips for Freelancers

Back in my nursing days, my right to practice was contingent upon staying up-to-date with developments in the field and being able to show evidence of continuous learning and improvement. The possibility that the NMC could call in my learning portfolio at any point was always in the back of my mind. In reality, the organisation I worked for also required, and arranged, a certain amount of mandatory training and extra courses that covered my CPD needs.

As a freelancer, nobody sends you on courses or asks for evidence that you are keeping up with changes in your area of expertise; it’s down to you.

You are your own training department.

You expertise is your stock in trade and you are responsible for keeping it fresh and for staying informed. I aim to spend at least three hours a week on CPD and, as you will see, this doesn’t have to be much more than religiously reading a few blogs or listening to a podcast. Remember, Most freelancers sell a skill they have developed plus the stuff they have stashed in their brain cells; we need to keep the stock fresh.

My field is copy editing, document support and coaching written communication across  academic, business, technical and fiction writing. As we go, I will share a few links to free resources for my fellow word-mongers, but here are a few CPD ideas to keep any freelancer on the ball.

Dedicated time

We all know where to go to download information if we need it. I use web searches several times a day to check facts or verify current practice, in the middle of my workflow. However, the CPD dimension of my work requires time that is set aside for it (out of office hours, usually soon after waking up). Decide how many hours a week you are going to spend purely investing in yourself as a professional and block out that time in your schedule.

A professional musician racks up hours of practice on a daily basis; they don’t rely on performance time to learn and improve technique. It should be no different for other freelancers.

The reading list

A shelf of books to consult on-the-fly is essential for any freelancer. However, you need as much of that stuff on the tip of your tongue as possible because you can’t take “SEO for Dummies” to a client meeting. For this reason, my books divide into “to refer to” and “to digest” categories.

Maintain a list of books to read and books read, and set yourself a target to read two or three books in your field every month. It is tempting to read more books on becoming a better freelancer or running a better business, and these should form part of your diet, but don’t neglect learning more about your actual trade – the stuff you sell.

While we are on the subject, libraries are great, too. How about using your local library once a week for a dedicated reading session.

Grab the news

As well as subscribing to the leading RSS channels in your field, it is worth setting up a couple of Google searches for key terms and having them pushed to your inbox. This makes it easy to add keeping abreast of developing news and trends into your email-reading routine.

For example, I currently have a news search on “grammar” set to send me a daily email so I don’t miss a story.

Read a blog, or two

This is not difficult for most of us. In fact, the challenge is to restrain a tendency to disappear down the rabbit hole on a fairly boring “clickathon”, only to emerge a few hours later either choking on information reflux or wondering how we ended up looking at LOLcats … again.

Choose two leading blogs in your field and read them, religiously. Separate them out from all the other channels. My online RSS reader aggregates lots of fluff for me to read in my spare time, but these come to my mailbox.

For me, these are Daily Writing Tips (absolutely leading the field from my point of view) and Copyblogger (slightly off-topic for my speciality but often useful).

Podcasts

If you have a commute, these are ideal for the train or car – you can get edumacated on your way to work.

Since my journey to work tends to be down the stairs and through the living room, I still make time to listen to podcasts every week. As with the blogs, pick one (two at the most) and block out time to listen. Think of it in the same light as learning a language: you are going to spend a certain amount of time with the headphones on … learning.

If you listen at home or in an office, you may even want to treat it like a classroom and take notes.

Quite apart from the fact that Mignon Fogarty taught me most of what I know and is still my “go-to guru”, the 15 minutes I spend listening to her Grammar Girl podcast two or three times a week often gives me the edge.

Find a coach

There is no substitute for the walking, talking expertise of someone who is further along the road than you.

I’m extremely lucky to have worked for and with Hannah Juby of Express Language in the last few years. This has included informal mentoring and feedback that has corrected a lot of my worst habits and pushed me to improve.

Finding a mentor who is prepared to share their knowledge with you for free could be tricky, especially if you are a potential competitor. However, scroll through your phonebook now and you will surely spot someone, perhaps in a parallel or overlapping sphere, with whom you are friendly enough to be allowed to draw on their brilliance.

Online (and other) courses

Finally, I have a few thoughts on courses, because I’ve thrown money at them and I know people who have thrown money at them.

Be cautious: there is an industry that plays on your ambitions by reselling stuff you could find out quite easily for yourself. Having said that, they are not all scams. Some will offer certification of some sort and, at the very least, someone has usually put a lot of time into making the information structured and digestible. You may also find that paying for something means you are more likely to follow through on it – so courses do work for some people.

In my experience, people who have completed courses don’t necessarily have more expertise than the folk who rig up their own CPD program as recommended in this post.

Use it reflectively

Reflect on learning before moving on to the next chunk of information.

In my nursing portfolio, I used to have blank copies of a form I would fill in every time I read an article. I forced me to think about how what I had read would affect my practice in the future. It asked me to respond to a few questions (if I recall correctly):

  • Do you agree with this?
  • What are the problems with this article?
  • How will you apply what you have learned?
  • Has it raised any further areas of enquiry to direct future learning?

Put what you learn into practice at the earliest opportunity.

In summary …

  • DO take your continuing professional development seriously and block out time in your schedule to train yourself.
  • DON’T flood yourself with information or lose yourself on the web, find a few good resources and digest them thoroughly on a routine basis.
  • DO draw on your personal network.
  • DON’T sign up and shell out for courses on a whim.
  • DO see it as a journey and enjoy every minute of it.

The Leibster Award

Gillian at Skybluepinkish nominated me for a Liebster Award. The Leibster highlights up-and-coming blogs and helps to feed the content dragon. How kind! Responding to this nomination involves a lot of work, but its also rather fun. As exemplified in Gillian’s post, the lucky blogger shares 11 random facts about themselves from the endearing …

I used to make tar lollipops in the summer when the tar melted and seeped into the gutter.

… to the historic …

I have sat on John Lennon’s and Yoko Ono’s knees.

… and then answers 11 questions from the nominatorator, wherein we may discover some surprising facts:

We have 5 cats, 3 dogs, 1 parrot, 2 goldfish, 2 geese and assorted chickens.

Finally the nominee poses 11 unique questions and nominates 11 other bloggers for the award – simples!

So here goes:

11 facts about me

1. When I was 12, I wanted to be a “tree surgeon” because I thought that was someone who cares for sick trees.
2. My first bicycle was called “Froggie Moore”, after a tune by Jelly Roll Morton; my next bike was called “Amiahaz”, after a runner in the Bible; and my first car was called “Lucy”, after an early fossil hominid.
3. My grandfather played rugby for South Africa but I took up sailing in order to get out of playing rugby at school.
4. According to my media player stats, J.S. Bach wrote about 30% of what I listen to.
5. I don’t like long sleeves; they make my arms feel inhibited and I always think I’d have the advantage without them – in a fight.
6. My favourite scent is sandalwood.
7. People struggle to get my name right: I have been called Selwyn, Secombe, Semen, Simon and Sigfried in my time.
8. I prefer brandy over whiskey.
9. I didn’t like kindergarten: much to my mother’s chagrin, I upped and walked home at break time – twice.
10. There are gaps in my cultural education: I have never read ‘Harry Potter’, watched ‘Jaws’ or played ‘Angry Birds’.
11. I have a nasty scar on my right knee from tripping over a dog and landing on barbed wire when I was 12.

Questions

1. Have you ever had a dream come true? How?  … I once dreamed that I was roller-blading; it was fun so I bought some roller blades the next day.
2. What was your most serious misdemeanour at school? Were you caught?  … I wore dark glasses in a school photo; it was difficult not to be caught.
3. Do you snore? Have you ever voluntarily or involuntarily tried any cures?  … Yes, but a neti pot helps.
4. What was the last song that stuck in your head?  … The Derry Hornpipe; my brain has an internal juke box of traditional airs.
5. Tulips or daffodils? Why? …  Tulips – they seem more exotic and remind me of a happy holiday in the Netherlands.
6. Do you prefer to cook or to eat? …  On balance, I prefer to cook; I enjoy it and I like to have control over what goes in my food.
7. Are you a Townie or a Country bumpkin? Not in reality but in your heart.  … Definitely a country bumpkin – I long for the chalk downs of the South on a daily basis.
8. What is in your handbag/briefcase/rucksack/pockets right now? Chose one or more.  … At this very moment, my man-bag contains a small Moleskine notebook, a pencil case full of whiteboard markers and an egg timer; I have not unpacked it since the last workshop I gave.
9. Do you think beauty is in the eye of the beholder or are some things inherently ugly?  … The effects of violence are inherently ugly.
10. Do you have a party trick? (And what is it?)  … Cossack dancing
11. What do you do when faced with a big spider staring back at you from the bath?  … I calmly fetch a glass and a piece of card and relocate the creature to the garden.

My Questions

1. Tattoo? (Yes, no, maybe one day)
2. Have you ever collected anything a bit odd? (What was it?)
3. If you had the time and money to further your education, what would you study?
4. In the Hollywood feature film of your life, who would you like to play the title role?
5. What was the last song or piece of music you listened to?
6. If you were stuck in a lift for an hour, which historical figure would you most like to have for company?
7. What is the next book you hope to read?
8. In a house fire,which of your possessions would you most like to save (apart from the house)?
9. What would be your ultimate comfort food?
10. Where do you stand on politicians, from “I don’t vote” to “they are our only hope”?
11. Could you summarise how you see your mission in life in a single sentence? (What would it be?)

My Nominations

  1. Jess at thefilthycomma
  2. Ben at These Thoughts of Mine
  3. Emily at throughthelattice
  4. Eugene at 27th Street
  5. Tom at The Blog
  6. Aliya at Three Magical
  7. Dr J at Heart Soul Mind and Strength
  8. Matt at Confessions of an Undercover Theologian
  9. Jon at Mish-mashed Mind
  10. Kat at Pondering Pancakes
  11. John at Not Built With Hands

The Next Big Thing: My Work In Progress?

So Gillian over at skybluepinkish tagged me in a desperate bid to get me to blog something.

Thank you, Gillian, you have done me a favour!

This tag is part of a global blogfest encouraging writers to let everyone in to their current work in progress. I’m not sure mine is “the next big thing” but I would like to have it done by the end of this year.

Cue the tape … here goes:

What is the working title of your book?

It’s called “The Coat and Ring”, which, in the great tradition of Grimm’s fairy tales, does what it says on the tin – a coat and a ring being major players in the life of the protagonist. Theologians may notice a tenuous reference to the return of the prodigal son in the title, too:

“Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.”

This wouldn’t be entirely coincidental.

Where did the idea for your book come from?

The whole thing was mapped out in essence in a dream I had while resting on my bed one afternoon about six years ago. I often take a nap in the afternoon and this is a good time for dreaming. Soon after that I used it as a tale to tell friends on long walks. When I came to writing it down (intending a short story) it sort of grew beyond control.

What genre does your book fall under?

Romantic Faerie Phantasy (not romance, fairy or fantasy)

Which actors would you choose to play characters in a movie rendition?

The protagonist is told from the first person. He’s in his 20s and grappling with the transition into adulthood. He’s just a kid, really, who finds himself boxing way above his weight. His origins are a bit mysterious. He needs blue eyes. He is James Mcavoy!

James McAvoy

Photo by gdcgraphics via flickr

Then there’s the avuncular “Terrence”, an epicurian patriarch who presides over a year-long banquet in his mansions, which are built over an oasis. He is Donald Sutherland.

Donald Sutherland

Photo by Alan Light

There’s a merchant turned adventurer called Selwyn.

“His eyes were set deep in a wrinkled, nut-brown face, glowing out at me with a couple of pinpoints of reflected light that nevertheless seemed to come from inside him. The edges of his ragged moustache concealed the corners of his mouth which, by the laughter in his eyes, must have been turned up in a friendly grin – although it was difficult to be sure. Like a man who has been in the sun all day and who through the night gives off the radiance of what he has absorbed, I felt a strong glow from him. It was impossible to tell his age for his skin was well weathered by the elements rather than age and he gave off an air of rude health”.

I’m thinking … Daniel Day Lewis.

English: Actor Daniel Day-Lewis in New York on...

Finally there’s the girl. She’s descended from a family that made its living from the sea and she is rumoured to have a dash of mermaid blood in her veins. I need someone suitably ethereal, oddly otherworldly. This was tricky but I’m casting Lily Cole:

Lily Cole 5

Photo Credit GabboT via flickr

Next question …

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

An inheritance was a blessing, and then a curse, and a blessing once again.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

For me the arguments weigh in favour of going the indy route.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’m a year in but I don’t think I could call it a first draft just yet.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

It is strongly influenced by George MacDonald and falls somewhere between The Phantastes and Donal Grant. I also would place it on the shelf alongside some of Paul Gallico‘s wonderful tales like The Man Who Was Magic and The Snow Goose. There’s also a touch of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and The Little Prince about it. I guess them’s my influences.

Who or what inspired you to write this book (story)?

The authors mentioned above but probably George MacDonald more than anyone else. I spent the best part of 2010 immersed in his work and still feel as if I have only just scratched the surface. He had a comprehensive understanding of the thin veil between our waking reality and the mythopeic unseen that is mediated through our imaginations.

The story has also become a receptacle for a lot of observations and thoughts garnered from my surroundings while I have been out walking the dog so it boils down to GM and my dog, really.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? 

If you have ever felt like a doormat, become resentful that others have taken advantage of your generosity and grown fat upon your labours, then this story is for you. If you have gone through life burdened by the magnificence of your family’s good name or the perceived expectations of your parents and forbears then this story is also for you. If you long to throw everything to the wind and start afresh, then it is for you, too. If you have a colourful imagination and can let yourself go into a strange world, then you’ll be ready to read “The Coat and Ring” – just as soon as I finish writing it ;-)

….

_

This screen …

Dear friends,

It kills me that we can’t hang out together in real life.  I’m tired of reading your blogs; I want to spend these long summer days being where you are and talking to your faces. Offline life is quite absorbing at the moment and I feel as if some subtle re-consecrating and rearranging is going on that is really hard to articulate in pithy 500-word posts. In a roundabout way, I’m trying to say that I miss my blogospheric community and apologise for my recent lack of participation; you know who you are and I think of you often. I reckon I’ll find my groove again in the near future and look forward to picking up some trailing threads …

 

 

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