20 November 2014

The Unexpected: On Family and Loss

I was in a hotel bathroom in Copenhagen late last year when I realised I might be pregnant. I had been hit by exhaustion about an hour earlier – but we’d just walked around ten miles so, you know: nothing too unusual there. I had become so desperate for dairy that I almost cried waiting two minutes for a hot chocolate – but I’d been surviving on wine and mushrooms (there are limited veggie options in Denmark) so, you know: not totally unreasonable. But now there was a strange pink smear in the toilet and I knew enough to wonder: implantation bleed?

On the other hand, I have endometriosis and a very irregular cycle and it was two years since Steve and I had last bothered with contraception so the chances of me being fertile seemed pretty slim. After a few minutes of panicking, I decided it must be fibroids or “something” and I put it to the back of my mind. Far enough back that I drank wine that night, ate runny eggs a few days later and didn’t stop cleaning the litter tray.

When I was still exhausted three weeks later – with added zits and frizz – I did a test. And it was positive.

Being pregnant was a shock. When talking about kids, Steve and I had always shrugged and said, “If it happens, it happens – great. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen – also great.” We had worked on the assumption that it wasn’t an option. We had never actively tried to conceive.

We had no idea how we were going to afford it.

Still, there was never any doubt about keeping the baby. It took mere minutes for us both to get excited.

For the next couple of months, it was our delightful secret. We made lists of all the things we needed to do in preparation. We whispered about names. Steve read the great big baby book NHS Scotland provides and moved us onto a super-healthy diet; I bought a box of pregnancy vitamins and… well, actually, my main contribution was sleeping every moment I was able. The exhaustion never let up. But it was worth it.

We were both a little stunned by how excited we were.

At ten weeks, every symptom except the tiredness lifted. I worried and I googled and I found loads of pregnancy forums full of women reassuring each other that symptoms do tend to ease at that point; that there was nothing to worry about; that they had all gone on to have healthy babies.

I reminded myself that all I could do was wait it out and see what happened. It was only a couple of weeks until our scan and that would put my mind at ease.

At eleven weeks, at Christmas, I started spotting. Tiny brown smears – not fresh, instantly alarming blood. The forums assured me that this was normal, too. It was one week until our scan – I didn’t want to cause a fuss by calling the midwife.

At eleven and a half weeks, on 30th December, the spotting got a little heavier and a little redder. I called the early maternity unit at the hospital and they booked me in for a scan the following morning.

But within an hour the blood was gushing. There was an ambulance ride and the worst night of Steve’s and my lives.

I lost a litre of blood in just a few hours. I was fainting; I had some sort of seizure; I was on a drip; there was talk of surgery and transfusions; there was awful, invasive scraping and great clots of purple vomiting out of me.

There were flashbacks for weeks.

Our baby was gone.

Although, throughout the pregnancy, I had worried about miscarriage, I hadn’t given much thought to what it entailed. I assumed it would be a bit like a period: a couple of days of medium-to-heavy bleeding and some cramping. After all, the articles and books all talk about how many pregnancies end before the parents have any idea they’re expecting – early miscarriages are mistaken for periods all the time, they said; I hadn’t stopped to think that later miscarriages might be that bit worse.

But mine was.

I bled very heavily for a fortnight; lightly but steadily for another two weeks. I was in pain for most of that time. My pregnancy symptoms all returned at once and took weeks to fade away. It was three months before my normal energy levels returned.

And there was the grief.

I had known that both Steve and I would be devastated to lose our baby but I had had no idea just how deep that grief could be. I could tell you how hard and how often I cried but that doesn’t come close to explaining it.

I veered wildly between needing to get pregnant again immediately and refusing to ever risk another loss – that was it, I decided: that was my one attempt.

And I didn’t know if I could get pregnant again. I didn’t know if this time had been a fluke. Every period broke my heart.

But mostly what hurt was having lost our child.

People who tell you, “There will be other chances – you can try again,” don’t get it. The pain was not that we had lost a baby; it was that we had lost that baby – that we had built up a whole new life in our heads which revolved around becoming parents in July 2014; we had reshaped our futures around having that child at that time. We had imagined it. We had dreamed it. We had become attached. And that had been torn away.

I went back to work after two weeks. I wanted to re-establish normality and that was a mistake. It was much too soon.

I cried in the toilets at work; I cried on bus journeys home; I cried myself to sleep most nights.

I found myself resenting a job I had previously enjoyed. The closer I got to what would have been my due date, the harder it became to get out of bed in the morning, get to the office and put in any sort of effort. As far as I was concerned, I was supposed to be going on maternity leave; I wasn’t supposed to be there; this wasn’t supposed to be my life.

I wanted to be at home with my child.

It affected our social life, too.

Friends with small children were hard to be around for what I think are obvious reasons.

Friends who choose to be childfree were hard to be around because all they seemed to talk about was the pointlessness of parenthood. “Every time a friend tells me she’s pregnant, I feel let down,” said one. “I know it’s going to ruin our friendship.” 

Friends who wanted children were hard to be around because I never knew when they would announce that they were pregnant. The first time I logged into Facebook after the miscarriage, I was greeted by an assortment of baby scan pictures. It seemed rude of them. It seemed selfish. So many babies were expected the same week ours had been and I struggled to greet the news with smiles.

Luckily, I did have friends I could turn to. One woman who has had five miscarriages (and two children) was fantastic throughout; she went from being someone I had coffee with maybe twice a year to someone I saw nearly every week. Another woman who was facing up to infertility was wonderful – we shared a lot of the same resentments and it made all the difference having somebody there who understood them.

I also insisted that Steve told his best friend – I was worried about him bottling up his own feelings so he could be strong for me; I believed (I still believe) we both needed somebody to talk to who wasn’t sharing our grief.

But, for the most part, we didn’t tell anyone. The people we would usually have turned to were all away for the holidays when the miscarriage happened; by the time they returned, it was too much for us to talk about.

And that made it lonelier. Our more empathic friends have seemingly limitless patience and I felt guilty not opening up to them. Others became snippy about how unsociable we were and we were too tired to address that.

Very early on, I wanted to write about this. But writing about it meant letting the world know and that meant dealing with people’s reactions. Neither of us was ready for well-intentioned tactlessness or painfully wordless sympathy; we particularly weren’t ready for anyone taking offense that they hadn’t been told.

Miscarriage is a very difficult thing to open up about.

And yet it’s incredibly common. Around 20% of all confirmed pregnancies end in miscarriage. That means that, on average, for every four babies that your social circle has managed to produce, somebody has lost one.

You almost certainly know people who have miscarried. They may be very close to you and you could never know.

This (along with infertility) clearly isn’t something that people think about. If they did, they wouldn’t go around saying things like, “You’re so lucky you’re not pregnant – it’s totally shit!” or, “You look a bit pale today. Oh ho – you must be pregnant!” or, “When he asked me to guess who was pregnant, I immediately guessed you! Isn’t that funny? I was so certain that you were!”

I came up against such a huge amount of tactlessness. And I couldn’t tell anyone why my smiles were so strained.

But, as much as I didn’t talk about my own miscarriage at the time, I did wish that everybody else would talk about theirs.

Because it’s lonely. Because I felt like we were the only people to have ever gone through this. Because I felt like Steve and I were the only ones to be so unlucky. Despite having the statistics to prove that that wasn’t true.

I’m writing about it now because I want other people to know that it’s normal. And because I want people to know that, if they’re going through this, I’m here and they can drop me an email and I get it.

And I’m writing about it now because I can.

After a couple of months of relative normality, two weeks before what would have been my due date I fell apart. I cried constantly and uncontrollably; I felt like my life was in limbo, waiting to see if I would get pregnant again, wondering whether to re-focus on my career; the loss suddenly felt unbearable.

But on the morning after the due date, I woke up feeling fine. I felt normal. I felt like me. I felt better.

I had passed that most significant of days – from now on, I could stop thinking, “If I just get pregnant now, it will be like a twelve month pregnancy instead of a nine/I’ll still have a child in 2014/at least I’ll be pregnant again before my due date.”

Passing that date made more of a difference than I could ever have imagined.

Passing that date drew a line.

And two weeks later there was another line. On another test.

Our baby is due in April next year.

I’m nineteen weeks along.

It’s scary, being pregnant again after a miscarriage. I’m intensely aware of how much could go wrong – with the foetus; with the pregnancy; with the birth; after the child is born. I’ve been putting off blogging about this (and telling many people the news) until we reached this significant stage in the pregnancy – no, this one – no, actually, that one – as though, at some point, there’s a guarantee that I won’t then have to tell you I was overly optimistic.

But the odds are good now. The odds are very good. And, the more people we tell the more real it becomes, the more excited I feel.

So I’m telling you now.

And I’m thrilled.

15 November 2014

What I've Been Reading Recently

Fallout by Sadie Jones
Following the (love) lives of a handful of young playwrights, actors, producers and stage managers in the 1970s, this was more nakedly sentimental than I would usually opt for. In a more cynical mood, I might have rolled my eyes at all the angst and the unavoidable outcomes, but on a cold, wet, autumnal week when both Steve and I were rundown and tucked under blankets, it was exactly right.

A Field Guide To Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
A gorgeous collection of essays based loosely on the theme of loss - in all senses of the word. There are essays about the importance of exploring the wilderness, about the loss of loved ones, about relationships and some of the lesser known aspects of American history. I took my time reading this because I didn't want to rush from essay to essay without pausing to consider each; I also found the writing was so dreamy that I kept losing the thread of what was being said and having to go back over great chunks of writing! It's not often non-fiction holds my interest all the way through but this book absolutely did.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Half blog posts and half new material, this is a collection of writings-with-cartoons exploring Brosh's childhood, depression and life with two not very bright dogs. She's a bit hard on herself but very tolerant of the dogs. Sometimes moving and often very, very funny - I read this in about two hours and enjoyed it a lot.

The Generation Game by Sophie Duffy
This is the story of Philippa - born to a young, unmarried mother; having her own child just as her husband leaves her. Big plot points are hurried through; emotions are explained in emotionless tones; whoever proofread it has no idea how to use apostrophes. Sadly, not one I'm going to recommend.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler
I loved this book. It's a big mixture of essays and lists and pictures covering loads of topics important to Amy Poehler: friends; family; career; strength; shame. Her writings about her first pregnancy and children in particular made me feel teary. What shines through this is great kindness - she never attacks the other people in her life (mostly she gushes with love for them); even when mentioning her divorce, she points no fingers and talks about the marriage with affection. She writes at one point that she doesn't like humour which relies on humiliating others and the same seems to have held true when writing this book. I can see myself going back and reading this one again. (Oh, and the cover's kind of velvety and pleasant to hold.)

*These are all Amazon affiliate links. They don't tell me who clicks on what but it earns me some pennies when you do. I promise to spend at least some of them on postage stamps.

12 November 2014

On Comfort

At the start of the year, I decided my theme for 2014 was going to be COMFORT. 2013 had been a hectic, eventful, exciting year. It had also been extremely tiring and I was in need of some squishy new pillows, a mug of hot chocolate and an awful lot of downtime.

And I've very much stuck to that plan.

There have been a lot less hangovers this year and, instead, more time spent in coffee shops enjoying one-to-one time with close friends. There have been many, many books read from the comfort of the sofa. Weekends away have been less about carefully planned adventures and more about relaxing with my loved ones.

As ever, I haven't spent a lot. What I have bought this year are very comfy trainers*, a memory foam mattress topper* and two T-shirts which do a good job of summarising my take on free time right now:

Stay Home Club Recluse tee
Sleeping in Today top

The first is from Stay Home Club (I bought mine via Hannah Zakari in Edinburgh for speed/avoidance of customs issues) and the second is from BHS's current "sleepwear" section (ha! Too apt to hide under a duvet).

My plans for the rest of the year are similarly sedate. There won't be any wild, crazy parties for either Steve's or my birthdays; Christmas will be spent at home (possibly in the company of friends as we know some folk likely to be on their lonesome and at a loose end); New Year... well, I haven't thought that far ahead...

...but I am starting to give some thought to 2015. Because one year of hiding indoors is probably enough. Next year's theme is not going to be about bedding.

*affiliate links

06 November 2014

Tales from the Rooftops Residence

The Rooftops Residence has a new roof. A very, very, very expensive new roof.

Luckily, the cost of the very, very, very expensive new roof is shared equally with the flat downstairs. Unluckily, the flat downstairs is currently empty so we've spent several months dealing with some (very nice) solicitors and their unbudgeable red tape.

By which I mean: we absolutely 100% had to get at least three quotes before we could instruct the work.

Now, I know three getting three quotes is standard recommended practice. But much of Aberdeen was built in one big excited swoop 120 years ago and it has all started leaking at once. Roofers are in great demand around here. It took weeks and weeks of unreturned phone calls before we had the necessary three sheets of paper.

And then we used the firm we'd had in mind from the start.

And they were great. They got the job done in two and a half weeks (which the internet tells me is fast) and then apologised profusely because the rain had "slowed them down". They swept up their crap, the tatty, blistered old slates have been replaced by neat, shiny new ones and the two flues which weren't attached to anything and seemed to exist only to allow gallons of rainwater into the attic are gone. They even fixed the TV aerial.

So this is all good.

Although their timing couldn't have been much worse. Poor Steve had an operation on the first day the roofers were here and had to spend the next two weeks lying around in pain, listening to them clatter and bang above him. Also feeling slightly self-conscious because he was in no fit state to lever himself upright and offer them the traditional cups of tea.

Our friends have been awesome throughout this. Not that that came as a surprise. People took it in turns to come round and feed and water Steve while I was at work (they even did the dishes) and, on one night when I was feeling particularly wiped out, our friend Laura appeared at the door unexpectedly with flowers and bags of groceries and insisted on cooking us dinner.

We know some awesome people.


And he's pretty much mended now. His GP and his work's occupational therapy people have both said he's fit to do his IT job. Not so much the hour long commute on jiggly double decker buses, though, so he's working from our dining room this week.

And let me tell you: that calm, capable, I-can-fix-whatever-problem-you're-having voice he uses with clients, it needs to get used at home more often. It's an instant tension defuser.

Next time I find myself facing a huge pile of ironing, I'm phoning him up. Even if he's in the next room. "It's the dress with all the fiddly bits! Isn't there some sort of patch?"

* * * * *

In other news (because this is basically just a brain splurge while I wait for dinner to cook): I'm still looking for people to take part in Two Days the Same in January and February. I can pretty much guarantee that it won't lead to fame and/or fortune for you, but if you're thinking about starting a 365 photography project in the new year (or am I the only one getting excited about 2015 already?), it's a good motivator.

And I love opening up people's emails and seeing what they've decided to photograph.

01 November 2014

A Quietly Creepy Halloween

Skull paperchain decoration

Oh, Halloween! An excuse to light candles, watch creepy films and eat bright orange cakes. And that's exactly what Steve and I did.

Last year, we had a much bigger Halloween. We had just spent a few days in Copenhagen, oohed and aahed at the pumpkin-bedecked Tivoli and flown home in a hurricane; back in Aberdeen, we fitted red lightbulbs, stuck a flock of bats all up the stairwell walls and invited our friends round to party.

Skull goblet

This year, both a bit under the weather and with a howling wind blowing outside, we were happy to curl up at home - just us and our two black cats. We watched Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (which was not as bad as expected) and Odd Thomas (which was a lot like a TV pilot), and we ate homemade pumpkin soup and crisps shaped like scorpions.

Carving a pumpkin
Glowing pumpkin lantern

Of course, we decorated a little bit. And we made our first pumpkin lantern (I know, I know: we're in Scotland; it should be a turnip; my decisions are based on taste and appearance not stubbornness, though).

I wore my black cat necklace to work (it was from my pal, Sheena's, shop many years ago) and, at home, changed into a T-shirt dress which is supposed to be skeleton hands forming a heart but, in reality, looks more like they're copping a feel; Steve donned an amazing vampire cape dressing gown my mum got him for Christmas a couple of years ago.

The cats made no effort at all.

Halloween clothes

Did you get up to much?

31 October 2014

Ooh! Some Random Links!

Cor, I haven't done one of these lists in... well, roughly forever... But there's been a ton of stuff recently which has resonated with me. So here it is:

My digital photo storage is a mess. Totally agree with the sentiments here. My digital photos are a tiny bit more organised - I have folders for specific events plus a (huge) miscellaneous folder for each year - but once they've been uploaded/printed/bunged in a book, I rarely look at the files again.

Lattes have a lot to answer for. Well, I'm not sure they do. But this is an interesting look at why they have gained aspirational middle class connotations and whether or not those connotations are accurate. Or indeed helpful.

Politics and the Facebook bubble. How social media filters out the [political] views we disagree with and why this is a bad thing. 100% agree with that.

The British public is wrong about just about everything. Benefits scrounging, teen pregnancy, immigration, crime statistics - all those things the gutter press likes to get us worked up about? Not as bad as the general public thinks. Useful stats for when you're on a rant.

A beginner's guide to minimalism. I like to think I'm a natural minimalist but I enjoy reading about it nonetheless (it reinforces my opinions, you know). This is a good explanation of why minimalism isn't about owning as little as possible; it's about prioritising good things over bad.

Getting on board the Baby Gravy Train. One single 30-something woman considers her options after discovering she's about to hit menopause.

Finally, if you're not already following my friend Steff's new blog, click through for a (genuinely) really great read.

30 October 2014

On Accepting That My Teens are Trendy Again

Every so often, I see my teens come back into fashion.

I was an alternative kid in the 90s. I turned twelve in 1990, twenty-two in the year 2000. I was there, clad in my DMs, my plaid shirts, oversized T-shirts and babydoll dresses and toting my discman as it whirred and skipped its way through Siamese Dream.

The first time I noticed a nineties revival, I wailed, "I'm not old enough to be retro! And they're doing it wrong! Their lipstick's not smudged and their clothes fit them properly!"

But I've come to accept it now. I remember walking around Topshop sometime last year (whilst remembering walking around Top Shop in the late 90s when it was the place to go for suit jackets, pencil skirts and self-coloured T-shirts), marvelling because it was like being inside my adolescent wardrobe. There were the same washed-soft tartan babydoll dresses, the biker boots and, for heaven's sake, the exact same band T-shirts but crisp and clean and without any cracks in the logos.

"I wish I'd kept all my 90s clothes," I texted Steff. "I could have made a fortune on eBay."

But I didn't mind. I didn't mind that I was retro. Because at least it meant that kids these days had temporarily excellent taste.

(Yes, yes, I just used the phrase "kids these days"; I've long since accepted that I'm no longer one of the "young people".)

But recently something alarming occured to me.

It occured to me that, back in the 90s, I happily pillaged 70s fashions and styles. I wore maxi skirts and garish florals; I listened to Joni Mitchell on my dad's old record player and I read a lot about zen. The 70s were retro to me and I pictured them in a romanticised and slightly patronising way based on photos of my mum and her friends wearing headscarves; the 70s were all about babysitting circles in handmade dresses sitting around sunny gardens on stripy deckchairs. Everything was over-saturated and tinted orange.

The 70s had happened twenty years earlier and that made them The Good Old Days When People Were More Innocent.

Well, the 90s happened twenty years ago.

Which, for the kids donning their plaid shirts and listening to Nirvana now, might make them The Good Old Days When People Were More Innocent.

Me in the 90s celebrating National Leo Day
Those kids may picture my adolesence in a romanticised and slightly patronising way based on album sleeve photos of riot grrrls wearing velvet jackets; the 90s to them may be all about screenprinted flyers and Simpsons stickers and smoky clubs and furniture dragged up six flights of stairs from the skip. Everything may be bleached out and tinted blue.

And, while I can handle the fashions being retro, it unsettles me to realise that my formative years are, too. That the actions and lives and habits of my teens are sentimentally seen as quaint.

But what I think disturbed me most was the realisation that my own view of the 90s is seen through a pair of rose-tinted John Lennon glasses, too. It's long enough ago that none of the drama hurts or particularly embarrasses me any more; it's long enough ago that my social circle has almost entirely changed and when I run into people I knew back then I struggle to recognise them or to reconcile their careers and offspring with the unambitious stoners they used to be; it's long enough ago that I can talk about it in clichés (DMs; Siamese Dream; smoky clubs) without defensively listing the ways in which the stereotypes were not me.

So perhaps that's why it no longer bothers me each time my teens become trendy. Because they were long enough ago that they're not me any more; the fashions are a pastiche of another girl, another time in my life - they don't feel like a stylised twist on me.

24 October 2014

Small Joys: My Very Own Bed

Cushion on a wooden chair in a room lit only by light around a window blind

Mmmmm... waking up on a stormy morning, spread across a double bed, with no little cats moseying back and forth across my chest.

Last weekend, I was visiting friends in Edinburgh. Lots of friends, as it happens. I met Sarah for the first time, caught up with someone I hadn't seen in almost six years, and had lunch with my mum and my sister. And I spent two lovely, lazy evenings hanging out with the two friends I was staying with.

Steve was in Aberdeen.

Steve and I sleep well in the same bed. We're not one of those couples who bicker about which of us hogs the duvet or starfishes across the mattress. So, actually, it's not Steve I enjoyed a break from.

It's Polly.

Polly, the absolute tiniest of cats.

She wedges herself in between us every night, curls up and kips the night away. She looks so hurt if we move around and disturb her that Steve and I have long since trained ourselves to sleep curled about her, absolutely motionless.

I wake with stiff shoulders and achey hips. And a cat demanding her breakfast.

So two nights of wriggling around as much as I liked was absolutely wonderful.

22 October 2014

10 Blogging Rules You Can Break

There are loads of people out there happy to tell you how to write a better blog, but have you ever stopped to ask yourself how relevant their advice actually is to you?

Those blogging "rules" are all aimed at aspiring professionals. They tell you that if you want to attract advertisers, you have to knuckle down and make a lot of effort. You can't get away with sporadic publication schedules, meandering blog posts and poorly lit images. And that's largely true.

But if, on the other hand, you're blogging for the fun of it, you're free. If you're in this for the joy of writing or the warmth of the blog community, you can ditch the rules and focus on having some fun.

Specifically, you can consider scrapping all of the following advice:

Find Your Niche

Are you a beauty blogger, a baking blogger or a book blogger? If you're trying to earn the big bucks it helps to know - if you're writing about, say, environmental ethics you want to be approached by vegan shoe distributors not disposable fashion brands. But if you're writing for fun, it doesn't matter. Just as chats with your in-person friends can meander from films to fashion, careers to cakes, so can chats with your blog friends. With so many people bemoaning how samey and sterile a lot of blogs have become, there's something very refreshing about some old school streams of consciousness.

Use Lots of Pictures

Not all readers can be bothered with huge chunks of text. I'll admit: I sometimes find myself skimming enormous blog posts and skipping to the end. Pictures break those posts up and make them easier to digest. They also make your listing look prettier in people's blog feeds. But if you're all about the writing, be all about the writing. Don't stress yourself out trying to find relevant copyright free images or master an excessively expensive camera. Just skip the pictures. I do it all the time and, in fact, my wordy posts are invariably my most popular. Conversely, my photo-heavy posts usually tank - I publish them for my own satisfaction, fully aware that they're going to get little response.

Have a Blogging Schedule

Conventional wisdom states that you should pick set times of day/days of the week and post a little something, regardless of its value or your mood. If people don't know when you're going to post, it is said, they will eventually get bored, give up and stop checking your blog. Only, very few people check blogs these days - most people bung their favourite blogs in a feed reader (Bloglovin, Feedly etc) and rely on that to keep them up to date. If you don't post for a month, most people aren't even going to notice. So, unless you're positioning yourself as a quality alternative to a regular magazine, cut yourself some slack - there's no need to churn out substandard content when you're not in the mood to write.

Keep it Upbeat

If you're trying to sell - actually sell - a lifestyle, you may want to show an idealised version of it. Pretend everything will be rosy in the world if your readers just buy your new screenprint. But if you're writing a personal blog, don't be afraid to write a personal blog. Life can be tough and talking about the hard times can not only be cathartic for you but can allow people in similar situations to feel a little less alone.

Stop Taking Mirror Selfies

Professional fashion bloggers may need tripods, complicated lighting set ups and well practised poses, but somebody who is simply showing off their new shoes does not. Your photography is not the focus here - the shoes are. If you can't be bothered setting up and processing magazine style photos, then don't. There's no point stripping the fun out of your new possessions by turning them into a chore.

Sell to the Day and the Night Crowds

You know when you see a blogger promoting the exact same blog post over and over again at all times of day and across the space of three or four weeks? You know how you seethe for a few months and then unfollow them completely? Don't be that blogger. That blogger is all about having as many links to their site as possible so that Google thinks it's great quality so that advertisers find them so that they can earn more money. You just want to find a few friends and you can do that by chatting to people, not by spamming them with self-promotion. Sharing your blog posts is absolutely fine; ramming them down people's Twitter feeds is not.

You Need Social Media

I love chatting to other bloggers on Twitter. You might like interacting on Facebook or [even] Google+. You might hate social media entirely. That is fine. You do not need to be highly visible unless you want to be very widely recognised. You do not need to have a Facebook page or a Google+ page or a specific Twitter handle for your blog unless it brings you pleasure. You can promote your blog on as many or as few different platforms as you feel like. They can be added bonuses; they are not an obligation.

500 Words is Enough

Or 300 or 800 or 1000 - the exact figure varies. The point is: not everyone will read long blog posts so, if you're blogging for popularity, keep your posts short. If, on the other hand, you're blogging because you love writing, don't set yourself arbitrary limits. I said earlier that I sometimes skim very long blog posts - but I also sometimes enjoy getting absorbed in a well written essay. Your audience may be smaller if your posts are bigger, but it's better to have a handful of readers who love your style than thousands who can't be bothered reading about the things which really matter to you.

Write for Search Engines

If you want to earn money, you need to get Google to like your site. There are various tricks for doing this and they include writing in such a way that your blog is easily and frequently found. This used to mean stuffing your text with key phrases ("There are lots of blog rules. If you want to know about blog rules read this list of blog rules..."); these days it's a little trickier. And I'm not going to explain it to you because, if you care, you should be doing some serious reading up on the subject; if you're writing for fun, you don't need to try tricking the search engines. Connect with new people directly instead of attempting to lure them in.

Brand Your Site

Nicely designed sites are pleasant to visit. Big blogs benefit from having a recognisable look and style. Writers benefit from getting their name widely known. But if you're happy enough having anybody read your blog, you don't need to spend too much time or any money at all designing logos and downloading special fonts and making everything pretty. Left align your text, use dark writing against a plain, pale background and that will do. Most people are going to be reading your blog through a feed reader, anyway, and that strips out all of the painstakingly chosen design elements. So don't stress yourself selecting the perfect palette of colours - just get writing. For fun.

17 October 2014

Small Joys: A Week of Doing Nothing

Monster bowls

Last week, I was off work. There were various reasons for booking that week off and all of those reasons fell through - long stories.

Anyway, that left me with nine gloriously empty days to fill.

This never happens. My weeks off always centre around something which needs to be done. Sometimes a fun thing; usually a great big, boring, practical thing.

I never have nine days of nothing.

But this time I did. And, as I was a bit run down (another long story - I'll get to that soon), I felt not the slightest bit of guilt about taking those nine days easy.

So here's what I ended up doing (with annotations to show what met my "under a fiver" Small Joys criteria):
  • Lunch in a beachfront cafe. (Did this cost less than £5? Well... no... But it was a treat...)
  • A cinema trip. (Did this cost less than £5? YES! Steve got vouchers through work.)
  • Snuggling up on the sofa with a good(-ish) book in the middle of a storm. (Did this cost less than £5? YES! It was free!)
  • A cake date with Laura. (Did this cost less than £5? YES! Cheap, enormous cake!)
  • Going for pizza with Steve. (Did this cost less than £5? YES! Nectar card bonus!)
  • Watching a preview of The Imitation Game. (Did this cost less than £5? YES! It was free through ShowFilmFirst)
  • Walking in the park with Laura. (Did this cost less than £5? YES! It was free!)
  • Uh... taking a load of stuff to the dump... (Did this cost less than £5? YES! It was free! And therapeutic!)
  • Birthday dinner and drinks with Steve's best mate. (Did this cost less than £5? YES! Hurrah Wetherspoon's meal deals!)
  • Shredding and assorted bits of DIY. (Did this cost less than £5? YES! It was free!)
  • Spending a huge chunk of Sunday watching crap films at home with friends. (Did this cost less than £5? YES! All it cost was a couple of bags of crisps!)
All in all, I consider that a big success. The week may have cost more than a fiver but very few individual days did. And I don't think I've felt so consistently relaxed in... well... possibly several years.

Pink flowers