How Twitter stuffed my blogging brain

A couple of weeks ago I composed a little tweet along the lines of ‘I used to be quite good about updating my blog. Then I discovered Twitter.’ One of my tweeting pals replied saying I should blog about this fact. I agreed and then proceeded to fail to write said blog for a silly number of days. Why? Because Twitter really has filling up the bit of my brain that compels me to write blog posts.

twitterTwitter is like and endless supply of mini snacks. A jumbo sack of 10p bags of crisps or a pic and mix of penny chews. A tweet is almost instantaneous. You don’t have to think about it for very long before firing it off (unless you’re about to wade into a spat or tricky discourse) and it takes no time at all to type it. Sometimes it does take a number of seconds to delete it down to the appropriate number of characters, but it’s still a very small time investment.

Blogging takes a little longer. A post will sit on your site rather than disappear down a timeline and it just straight up demands a little more in the way of words – and commitment. Also, blogging doesn’t seem to have quite the same addictive quality Twitter has. These days, I can go quite a while without thinking about blogging, but I seem to check my Twitter feed an awful lot. I don’t know why I’m surprised, crisps and penny chews have always been my downfall.

And then there’s the potential for instant feedback, which is so much more likely on Twitter, and feeds into that same writerly longing for confirmation when doing something alone that takes ages. It’s like the difference between writing a flash fiction you can sub in a number of days and a novel that will take you years. Which is more tempting when you’re in need of just a teeny wee ego boost? No question for lonely, affirmation seeking writers who happen to be drinking cold coffee and wearing a blanket.

So what am I saying? Basically Twitter has shown me that what I really want is distraction, conversation, attention and crisps.

Writer’s guide to staying warm in winter

It’s cold are you’re meant to be working and there’s no one sitting in the chair next to you guilting you into getting on with it. And the ink in your pen froze and you can’t remember what your feet look like under three pairs of socks.

Quit whining, start writing. Here’s a few ways to stay warm while you do it.

  • Use the surge protector on your laptop charger as an additional source of warmth. Particularly good for soothing chilled feet or working on niggling back pain.
  • Don’t squander that envy you feel when you see other people posting their daily word count/book deal/perfect score, bank it up and let it burn bright enough to get you sweaty in your “officewear” onesie.
  • Build yourself a blanket, cushion and woollies mountain so intricate that you couldn’t extract yourself to open the door, even if you wanted to.
  • Do all of your plotting in the shower. Not only is it the only place you’ll be warm, but you won’t even have to exercise willpower to stop yourself checking the progress of your peers on Facebook et al.
  • DSC00440

  • Eat only comfort foods. It’s cold outside, dammit. on the other hand, you can spend a lot of time making soup. It won’t get words on the page but it will offer an alternative sense of achievement.
  • Cold weather gives procrastination in the form of team making a whole new level. Plus side, no one bats at eye when you make three cups and hour. Downside, you have to visit the freezing bathroom almost as frequently.
  • Get out of the house. Eek what little sunshine you can from the day and take your notes to a friendly café. Just don’t choose the seat by the door or you’ll waste all of your thinking time shooting evils at people who must have been born in a barn while blasts of cold wind ruffle your pages.
  • Stop saying you’ll work harder in summer, no one believes you. Least of all you.
  • A book that’s like coming home

    A while ago, I had a moan on Facebook about how difficult I was finding it to get hold of a book I loved when I was a kid. The Reluctant Vampire by Eric Morecambe snared my imagination when I was still young enough to try and turn my bunk beds into a coffin with the help of a spider-webbed sheet scavenged from the garage and I’ve never forgotten it since.Reluctant

    I didn’t have my own copy, I borrowed it from the library over and over again (thanks Portobello Library for letting me!). I’ve been wanting to get my hands on this book for a long time but hoping I could find it without having to pay six times its cover price. I’ve been keeping an eye open but hadn’t thought about it for quite a while when a package came through my door last week.

    My friend Jason spotted a well-loved copy of this very book and bought it for me. Then shipped it all the way from NYC without telling me what he was doing. I ripped open the envelope feeling mild curiosity that was quickly replaced by a big bubble of elation.

    I jumped up, had a little dance to myself, ran through to show Fin then sat back down and reacquainted myself with this little book that has somehow become a big part of the story of growing up. It was bloody brilliant.

    Making Friends With Ducks (Taking Writing Retreats)

    IMG_0988At home, there are always things to do. Even if those things are reorganising the drawers or picking hair up from the carpet (don’t ask). Escaping those things is tricky, unless you have the chance to run away for a little while.

    I used to think writing retreats were pretty self indulgent and maybe useless. I now know that even if they are a little indulgent it is in a wonderful, enriching kind of way and they are nearly always very useful. Even if you spend quite a lot of the time making friends with ducks or worrying about how close that cow is about to get.

    First of all, the guilt of being away from home and your normal life for a week tends to work wonders. Then there’s a distinct lack of distractions. You’re not as likely to pick up the hair from the carpet when it’s not your carpet – or your hair.

    And then there’s a glimmer of that great feeling you get when you’re on a proper holiday. That ‘everything is out of my hands because no one can contact me’ feeling. It’s a good one when you’re trying to work.

    IMG_0991So far, I’ve tried hiring a little flat to myself, booking a hotel room (both off season) and renting a place with other writing friends. I was also lucky enough to go to Cove Park through the Scottish Book Trust. The four experiences were really different (in the first flat I felt lonely, in the hotel I ate a lot of sneaky olives and oatcakes in my room and at Cove Park I stared at the sky a lot), but ultimately, it was the getting away that was the important thing.

    Finding the time and money to escape isn’t easy, especially when it’s to do something that ultimately only benefits you, but it’s really valuable when it comes to getting work done. Sure, it means that instead of holidays where I relax and stuff I tend to spend any break working, but it’s super satisfying when the work is done.

    There’s also a bunch of retreats you can apply to, including Cove Park and the current James Hogg residency, but if you don’t mind skimping on comfort, teeny hotels can be pretty cheap. And if it means you’ll spend some time really understanding a project or getting some words down, it’s totally worth it.

    Books: the flings and the forevers

    many books on shevles and stacked on the floor.

    A long gone bookcase

    How many times have you read a book and fallen head over heels about it, blabbed on at all your friends about what a life changing experience it is, given it a pride of place on your shelf, then gone back to it a year later to find that, actually, you’re not that in to it? I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this, and I reckon it’s the ‘lust and love’ effect.

    You know, when you’re in the mood and you want something a little special to happen, and you pick out a book that looks like just the kind of thing you’re after, and then you project all of your good feelings on to the book and turn it into something its not, just so you can have a little literary fling. And of course, lusty, hungry encounters like that, filled with your own expectations rather than the author’s, rarely last.

    These books, the ones you inevitably feel disillusioned by, it’s often that there’s not anything wrong with them, you just turned them into something they’re not. Don’t disregard them, recognise that you needed what they had to give at the time, and relegate them to a special moment in your past.

    You’ll probably find that they offered you a few wee lessons along the way, so that when you come to the books that fill you with a real, long lasting sense of satisfaction, you’re able to appreciate every sentence, luxuriate over all the right words. Because those ones might not always be the ones that look as attractive or sounds as exciting, but they might just be ones that you’ll come back to again and again and love forever.

    A little belated love for introversion

    Hiding in plain sight

    Who gets ahead? The loudest, the fastest, the best talkers, the dazzling party guests, the fearless? Well, a lot of the time, I’d have to say, yes, those are the kind of people that tend to shine. If you’ve got the gift of the gab, you’re probably more likely to find yourself being promoted, racking up invitations to parties and (I haven’t tested this one) getting laid. No wonder I’ve always been jealous of you.

    All those years, forcing myself into group situations, trying to be free and crazy and losing myself the night’s sprawl the way my extroverted friends did. Those were good nights, I enjoyed an awful lot of them, but here’s me only just now getting to grips with the idea that it’s OK not to love being in a big group.

    Actually, it’s totally cool to be the kind of person who prefers to hang out one-on-one, and even actually tends to enjoy their own company quite a lot of time. It’s taken a lot of time to get around to thinking that way and this TED talk helped.

    It gave a lot of validation to something I’d always assumed was the case but never bothered to seek evidence for – that some people simply feed off group emotions in a positive way, and others don’t.

    As it often is, it was actually one of the simplest and most obvious points that really struck a chord – that no one is a true introvert or extrovert, we’re all on a sliding scale. So it’s possible to reconcile the buzz you get from giving a reading or dancing like crazy in a club with the person who would often rather stay at home on the sofa with a book and only some words for company.

    I promise I’ll make up for lost time little, neglected inner introvert, and give you plenty of love from now on.

    A problem of solitude

    So, writing stories, it takes a lot of time, doesn’t it? Normally, a lot of time all on your own, thinking hard and scribbling away. A lot of time when you may not be actually, physically speaking to or making contact with very many people at all. When I first decided to give up my day job, I looked at all that time, and I laughed in its face.

    Ha, I said. I love spending time on my own. Books and words will fill the gap fine, and when I’m not chained to my desk writing freelance articles or editing the same sentence over and over again, I’ll head out to spend time with the people I really care about. Perfect, I said, you won’t catch me complaining.

    So now that I’m starting to question just how easy it is to deal with daily solitude, I can’t help thinking it serves me right, really.

    On a day by day basis, it’s totally fine. I get loads more work done than I did when I was in an office or working at a cinema and I generally seem to be able to tick along fine. But on Sunday I was reading at the lovely Illicit Ink, one of my favourite spoken word events, and I noticed something – I was super nervous.

    I mean, I always feel a bit sick before a reading, that’s not unusual. But I was at least three times as nervous as the last time I read, which was less than a month ago, and way more nervous than I was at the end of last year, where I was pretty much raring to get up on stage.

    After worrying a little about the Rescue Remedy I was squirting into my mouth, I started to wonder if it wasn’t just the reading I was fractious about – but the fact there would be OTHER PEOPLE there. More people than I’ve spoken to in ages, seeing as most days, the only person I actually physically speak to is my OH.

    I hadn’t considered this as a potential problem with my suddenly rather solitary existence, but it’s probably one worth working on. Unless I can just start doing readings remotely, via Skype or something.

    You mean I can’t check my emails on holiday?

    In recent years, Fin and I have noticed how difficult it is to have an actual holiday. You know, the kind where you just kick back and relax. We’re always thinking about, well, stuff. Emails to answer, stories to plot, articles to write, people to worry about: all those things, all the time. I’m especially guilty, I check messages on my phone compulsively, as though I could find an email there that will end the world if I don’t answer it immediately. Ridiculous.

    So with this habit in mind, I wondered how well I would get on during our short holiday on the coast, staying in a fabulous cottage from The Creative Retreat folks that not only had no net connection, but also no mobile reception or even a landline. Surprisingly well, it turned out.

    The cottage was lovely, the village beautiful, the weather rough but forgiving and the peace very welcome. Putting myself on call constantly doesn’t normally feel as though it’s bothering me, but I have this feeling that, maybe if I didn’t, I might just be a little bit happier and get a hell of a lot more writing done.

    I can’t wait for our next holiday.

    Where does your imagination reside?

    This year, I am making a conscious effort to reawaken a sense of curiosity and do things that spark my imagination. It’s something I suppose I have been putting off for some time, because I guess I liked to think that I already possessed these qualities.

    But now that I have more time to ponder and daydream, I’ve been forced to admit that they are not as strong as they once were and that I am more naturally inclined to think about, well, boring stuff when given half the chance.

    Is this a symptom of getting older or does it have something to do with letting myself live a life that is ruled by deadlines and making enough money? I also wonder how much of it is just plain old laziness. Why imagine things when someone else could do it for me? (I do love it when someone else does it for me.)

    As part of this project, I’m trying to work out exactly what it is that is most likely to persuade my imagination into a flight of fancy. I’m reading loads, going to exhibitions, restricting the watching of TV shows and generally trying to not check the emails on my phone every five minutes.

    Me as a wee 'un

    But am I missing something here? Is there anything you do to shake your mind out of the mundane?

    I recently wrote a guest post for the lovely Kirsty Logan for her Thievery series – posts about the inspiration behind stories – and I enjoyed the process a lot, mainly because it encouraged me to recall some childhood holidays I hadn’t thought about for a long while.

    What was I meant to be doing again?

    Oh yeah, I was meant to be, like, you know, writing stuff. Except I haven’t been, even though I did my desk up all nice and everything.

    Well, that’s not true, I have, it’s just been of the copy variety. That’s the thing about freelance isn’t it, you always want to say yes to every job, just in case it’s the last one that’s ever offered. Never fear though, I have lovely friend who already tuts and tells me off when I accept too many briefs and, get this, the other week I turned down a job for what was, I think, the first time ever.

    So I’ve not been getting as much done as I wanted, but I did do some successful Christmas shopping today. Spying a million things I never realised I wanted along the way, of course – the dangers of going to the shops, something I don’t normally do.

    And last week was grand, because we had the launch of the latest issue of the Edinburgh Review, with its lovely cover image from Fin, and the fabulous Gwendoline Riley and Ewan Morrison treated us to some top quality readings. Happy times. I also enjoyed the wine, maybe a little too much.

    Overall, I’m pretty good and people even keep telling me I look refreshed. I think working from home (and sleeping for more than six hours a night) totally suits me.