Monday, October 29, 2012

I wish you a full life of the everyday

It's not often that I have Big Picture thoughts while I'm slicing mushrooms. Life's too short to stuff a mushroom, or so Shirley Conran would have it, but slicing them... well, that's a different story.

I was concentrating on not chopping off my finger, watching the blade slice through that springy flesh, thinking about the boring Boscaiola sauce I was making. The kitchen window was open and I could feel a light breeze stirring those bits of hair that never quite manage to stay in my ponytail arrangement. Birds were doing what they do best, with a tweet/squawk/chirp orchestra in full swing outside.

The Builder was in the garage, cleaning up the mountain of sawdust he'd created whilst making wooden tomahawks for the school fete. The boys were in another room, bickering over the Wii. Or the sofa. Or something. They could Bicker for Australia at the moment, those two.

Just a Monday evening.

Just the everyday stuff.

The stuff we tend to forget about in our memoirs. The stuff we tend to overlook in our never-ending quest for 'special'.

I think we should take the everyday stuff and hold it tight. This is the living. I know people climb mountains, swim oceans and run marathons to feel alive. But this is it. The living. The everyday stuff that constitutes 98 per cent of our lives.

I have a friend who would give a hell of a lot tonight to be doing something everyday. She would no doubt love to be at home, listening to everyday noises, thinking everyday thoughts. She is the kind of person who understands the joy of contentment. She would be willing to submerge herself in the everyday.

Instead, she is in a hospital bed, fighting an extraordinary battle.

In the dying light of the afternoon, with my mushrooms sliced and my children still bickering, I went out into my garden and took this photo. A beautiful flower bathed in golden sunlight - with a totem tennis pole in the background.

Finding the special in the everyday.

On my friend's behalf, I challenge you to do the same. Yes, children drive us mad. Yes, washing up is boring. Yes, we have too much to do and too little time.

But tomorrow, find the positives. Yes, even in the bickering (a challenge of Mt Everest proportions if ever there were one).

I wish you a full life of the everyday.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Ye Olde School Photo, warts and all

Tis the season of school photos. The boys bought home their snaps yesterday and they have been suitably admired. Mr5, who has been sporting one of those weird childhood blotches on the side of his mouth for six months, is surprisingly blotch-free, but surely they don't airbrush them... surely?

In honour of the occasion, I have dragged out my own third grade photo, taken in Katherine, NT, when I was eight. It is the first school photo in which I am actually smiling, as in previous years I'd been missing one front tooth. The front tooth I knocked out when I was 13 months old and which took SEVEN years to grow back. No wonder my smile is crooked.

Also, I'm wondering when the Prince Valiant do will make a comeback, I really am.

Do you still have your third grade school photo? I'd love to see it. Share it on my Facebook page or write your own blog post and let me know about it in the comments.

Updated: These hardy souls have been silly brave enough to take up my challenge - check out their pics:

Angels Have Red Hair
Adventures of a Subversive Reader 
Shambolic Living 
House Goes Home

Let me know if you join in and I'll add you to the list!

And, seriously, do you think they're PhotoShopping your kids' school photos? Would you want them to?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

An inconvenient truth about mothers and writing

I had one of those chance conversations today that start small and finish really big. A lovely friend and I were chatting about plants and about pools and about travel, when we got onto the subject of writing. I know that she has writing dreams, so I asked how they were going.

"Not well," she admitted, before confessing that she had trouble finding the time to write. (We have discussed before my thoughts on making time, but stay with me here - I'm branching out, I promise.)

We went through a whole range of variations of how busy life is and how hard it is to find the time to do the things we want. But there was more to it. There's always more to it.

Like many women, many mothers, she's struggling to fit the thing she wants to do in around the things she feels she has to do. The things that other people expect her to do. Writing, particularly when it's not paid, looks like a colossal waste of time to non-writers - particularly to those people who might be working long hours to keep the family afloat financially.

Writing eats up hours. It is the kind of thing that can take you far away from the dirty dishes in the sink and the unmade beds and the general detritus of daily life. Right up until the point where the family comes home and you find yourself rushing around, trying to make up for lost time.

"There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall."

I was surprised to find that this quote was written by a man (Cyril Connolly to be precise).  To me, it is something a female writer might have come up with after the sleepless nights and interrupted thought patterns that accompany the newborn infant. Or perhaps even about the overriding sense of responsibility and selflessness that accompanies being a parent. A mother.

Writing is a selfish task. It is all about you. Most women I know find that particular concept very, very difficult to put into practice once they have children. I know that I have. My freelance writing is one thing - it's my job, it's paid, it helps with family income. But the fiction? Colossal gamble. Hours and hours and hours of my life in pursuit of a dream. Making myself sit down at 10pm at night. Getting up early (okay, once).

I know female authors who can't work in school holidays, no matter where they're at with their latest project. I know female authors who tuck their writing away from their families, hiding it from husbands who don't like the impact it has on family life. Compartmentalising.

Like a cuckoo in the nest, writing is viewed as a voracious beast that has the potential to disrupt familiar routines and interfere with family time.

Babies do not get that you have a deadline and you need them to sleep, right NOW, for at least two hours.

Children do not understand that you are in full flight, on a roll, chasing down the most glorious idea that you've ever had. They want their afternoon snack, right NOW, and it's time for swimming lessons, thanks.

Partners sometimes don't get why you'd want to give up quality tele time with them to get back to your computer and the particular juicy subplot that came to you in the shower.

Houses do not clean themselves.

I understand it. Family units work best when each family member is present. When I'm writing something, I spend a lot of time in my head. I can be reading a bedtime story to my boys while busily devising my own quite different plot point at the same time. After I walk the boys to school, I meander home in the sunshine, deep in my own thoughts. This is not always ideal in a smallish town where people wonder why you look straight through them on the street.

Most female writers I know have learnt to manage without the long stretches of writing time that is the 'ideal' for creating great work. They write in snatches, when they can. They work hard to get the writing done without inconveniencing anyone else.

But they still write.

What am I saying here?

If you're struggling, like my friend, with this notion that your writing is somehow inconvenient, that you should be spending your time doing more worthwhile things, find a way. Do it at a time when it affects no-one at all, be that 5am or midnight or during your lunch hour at work.

If you have stories to write, then write them.

You only get one crack at this life. Don't let dirty dishes and expectations stand between you and your writing dream.

To steal a catchphrase: You're worth it.

Do you find it difficult to fit writing in with family life? Any tips to share?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Crowd-source post: The Facebook Edition

A little while ago I wrote a post decided by Twitter. It was late. I was full of melted cheese. I couldn't think of a blog topic, so I turned to Twitter.

Today, it was the turn of Facebook to come to my rescue. This is how it began:

"Sitting here, trying to think of a blog topic for today. Suffering from Sunday brain. So I think I'll open up to requests.

Give me a topic people. Anyone? Anyone? Anything?

And here are the responses. And my responses to the responses in order.

Lorna Gordon suggested that John Hughes films were a great topic, confessing that she quotes Pretty in Pink to her husband and they laugh every time. She's right. John Hughes film are a great topic. Personally, I love The Breakfast Club. That thing Ally Sheedy did with her dandruff? That thing Molly Ringwald did with her lipstick? The fact that Judd Nelson managed to remain cool despite clumping about in boots that appeared to be four sizes too big for him? Loved it all.

Jenn M McLeod was trying to describe 'horseshit in a poetic way'. I admit that I can't help in this area, though I had a conversation recently about the, er, verdant nature of cow manure. Not sure I could construct an entire blog post around that one though.

Sandra Reynolds wanted to know about dealing with writer's block. So here's where I admit that I don't really suffer from writer's block. I think it's because I'm usually working on a few things at once, so if I stumble with one project, I just move to the next and wait for the obstacle to disappear. They usually do when you're busy thinking about something else. The only time I ever have a major sticking point is when I'm writing a novel and something really unexpected happens. Like a whole new character strolls across the page. Or my main character goes and does something completely out of character, which requires a bit of rethinking about her whole characters.

But these are problems that would probably would not occur if I planned my stories out more. So we won't talk about that...

Bri King asked: "As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?" For most of my early years, I wanted to be an actress. You can read all about it here. When I was 15 or 16, I decided that I'd like to be a journalist. So I organised to do work experience at the Sydney Morning Herald. One week's work experience was enough to convince me that I didn't want to be a journalist. I didn't realise at that age that you didn't necessarily have to be a news journalist to be a journalist. I thought you had to stick microphones in the faces of bereaved parents and ask dishonest businessmen probing questions to be a journalist. Fortunately for me, I found another route into journalism and ended up in features. But I am still not a movie star. In case you hadn't noticed.

Fi Robinson's son Jay wants to know why all toilets use fluorescent tubes. Well, Jay, if the fluoro lights are blue, it's to make it harder to find a vein (if you need to know more about this, ask your mother). If the fluoro lights are normal fluoro light colour, it's because fluoro lights have a much longer 'life' than incandescent bulbs (this means they last longer between changes) and so are the most efficient form of lighting for public spaces. If you need to know more about this, ask Mr Google.

Allison Rushby would like to know more about my shy friend Allison Dobell, whose first erotic novel Alice's Wonderland will be published on November 6. I can tell you the following:

• She has a cat. Even though part of her is allergic to cats.
• She can be very two-faced.
• She has four children.
• She is tall, but in a short way.

Lisa McLean asked for a letter to my ex. Given that my last 'ex' vacated my life more than 15 years ago, I'm unable to complete this task. Nothing to say except 'thanks for the memories'.

Bill Harper wanted to know what I'd be doing if I had a normal job. Good grief. No idea. Every once in a while I toy with the idea of finding a job with regular hours and a regular pay cheque. The Builder and I discuss it. He says, 'well, what do you want to do?'. I say 'no idea, I like what I do'. He says, 'well, there you go'. And I go back to doing what I do. Which pretty much says it all, I think.

Lisa Heidke had several suggestions, all requiring at least 1000 words each. So I will choose her first:  "Finish this sentence: I'm at a pay phone..."

"I'm at a pay phone. It's 1991 and I am 21 years old. Today. The booth stinks of cigarettes and booze and urine. There's a tattered phone book chained to the wall, most of the pages torn out. The phone in my hand is black and heavy and wet with my tears. I am 21 today and my boyfriend is breaking my heart."

Fact or fiction? You be the judge.

Okay, so that's tonight's crowd-sourced post. Thanks to everyone who participated. The image was taken today at The Old Girl. When in doubt, add lemons

All that's left is to ask you some questions. So:
1. What is your favourite John Hughes film?
2. When was the last time you were at a pay phone?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

If the shoes fit

Daylight savings has given the boys another lease on life. An extra, other lease on life. Like their little boy energy has stepped up yet another gear into over-overdrive. Every time I turn around, there is a new activity underway.

Ninja rolls and throws on the trampoline. Check.

Tennis on the back lawn (thanks to Totem tennis and half-sized racquets). Check.

Viking rescue boat/raid on small, imaginary village. Check.

Soccer game on modified backyard field. Check.

Rugby passing next to the compost bins. Check.

General rampaging around the house. Check.

And all before 6pm.

Most of these activities seem to require an outfit change. One can simply not kick a soccer ball, for instance, unless one is wearing the correct footwear. And one can simply not put said footwear away immediately after said kick because one is busy slipping into one's Ninja outfit.

The pile of shoes beside the back door is mounting. An untidy mess of laces and wellies, sandals and sneakers.

I should do something about it. But one is too busy being in awe of the energy levels of children.

Right up until the moment when they hit the wall, meltdown, are thrown into bed and crash out as soon as their heads hit the pillow. Only to begin again at the crack of dawn the next day.

Ah yes, daylight savings. Don't you just love it?

Are your kids throwing themselves into the opportunities offered by daylight savings?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Use your blog to find paid writing work: 5 tips from Problogger panel

Blogging conferences are crazy places. So much energy, so much information, so many bloggers in one place. For me, the pure joy of attending one is simply being with so many people who understand immediately when I start talking about posts and wordpress and pings (okay, I don't even understand pings, but you get what I mean...).

Speaking on a panel with Valerie Khoo and Kerri Sackville was a real privilege for me. Both are professional, sensible women who really know their stuff. When we set out to work out the content for our session - 'How to use your blog to get paid writing opportunities' - we were all on the same page and we were all doing our darnedest to give as much value, as much information, as possible to the people who attended our talk as we could.

For those who couldn't make it to Melbourne this time, I thought I'd summarise our five key points. Some ideas to mull over if you're interested in finding writing work beyond your blog.

1. Be clear on who you want to be. Take some time to work out what kind of writing work you'd like to do and then position your blog to reflect it. Make sure your bio outlines any experience you have, and says that you are a writer and that you're looking for opportunities. If your bio says 'loves drinking tea and eating cupcakes', chances are people will pop by and enjoy a warm read with you. If it says 'writer', people may go looking further for other examples of your work. Sometimes the most difficult part of beginning a writing career is accepting that you are allowed to call yourself a writer.

2. Realise that just starting a blog is not enough. A blog is a great place to highlight your writing skills - but you have to get beyond the blog to sell those skills. Use your blog to build networks to help you find work. Make connections on Twitter. Follow other writers, look for editors and publishers. Ask questions. Put your name and your blog in front of people who might have opportunities for you.

3. Ideas matter. If you read my guest post at Styling You, you'll know that book publishers are looking at blogs, looking for book ideas and people to write them - particularly in the non-fiction area. But you still need to let them know you're there, and your blog must have a 'high concept' - an overarching journey that will drive a reader through several hundred pages of narrative.

Magazine editors, on the whole, are not, however, cruising around looking for nice writing on blogs. What they want is a strong idea, pitched directly to them, in a language and format they can understand. If they like your pitch, they will probably visit your blog to see what you're about (see point one about making sure your blog reflects your 'brand'). Ensure you're presenting a professional 'face'.

4. Be prepared to learn. Look to expanding your craft. Most magazine features, for instance, are not written in first person, they are not subjective and they are not intimate. In other words, they're different from a blog post. It's a great idea to do a course in structuring magazine features if you've never written one before. Ditto, writing press releases and other corporate writing if that's the kind of work you're after. At the very least, consider a proofreading/editing course to ensure that any work you do present is as clean as possible.

5. Paid work takes many guises. In our content-driven information age, there are writing opportunities across a lot of different areas, and they're not always where you expect them to be. With an established profile as a blogger, you might transition to speaking work, for instance, which requires you to have a strong 'point of difference' - a clear identity, clear recurring subjects, a clear 'voice'. Start working out your 'elevator pitch'.

Corporate-style work (press releases, websites, annual reports, newsletters) can come from a range of different sources - most of which will begin within your personal network. Ask your local gym if they need a newsletter. Let the mums at school know you can help small businesses with press releases and websites. A lot of people are looking for writers and don't know where to find them. If you don't tell them you write, they'll never find you.

So there you have it. A snapshot of our session. Obviously there was a whole lot more to it, but I hope this gives you food for thought.

To get you started, why not give me your elevator pitch? What makes your blog different to the next blog? In 25 words or less...

[image: from a strip at the Photobooth at the Problogger networking event...]

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How do you like me so far?

With my bag all packed for the Problogger Training Event, I thought now was a brilliant time to show you my new headshot. Actually, it's also a great time simply because I got it today and couldn't wait another minute to show you the wonderful work of Sophie Turner at Kisschasey Photography.

Extended Fam. Fibro - meaning Mum and Dad, sisters B and C, brother TICH, and the various other halves and offspring (19 of us in all) - recently submitted to enjoyed a family photo session in honour of A Big Birthday. It was surprisingly painless - even fun, I must admit - and the results were so amazingly lovely that we are all just thrilled.

Before the shoot, I said to Sister B, "She makes people look really good." To which she replied: "Maybe they looked good in the first place, did you think of that? She hasn't met us yet..."

Well, she has met us now and she made us look good. And to make my life even more complete, we even managed to wedge in a little headshot, allowing me to update the one I've been using for years. As I said to my Mum, "I don't want to be one of those writerly types who uses the soft focus pic that's 10 years out of date." To which she replied: "Nobody starts out that way. Let's talk again in 10 years."

So, if I'm still using this one in 10 years, feel free to call me on it.

And yes, I confess to asking for a little bit of 'work' around the eyes. Just so I was happy with the fact that my crowies couldn't be seen from the other side of the room. At least I'm honest, right?

If we meet at Problogger this week, squint a little and I'll look just like this. Promise.

As an addendum to this post, I will point you in the direction of this lovely piece by the extremely well-named Allison Slater Tate. If you are never in family photos, you need to read it. I wish I'd thought of it first.

Read it and book yourselves a family photo shoot. It's worth it.

Have you ever had a professional family photo shoot? How did it turn out?

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. The family photo shoot was fully funded by Fam Fibro. I'm just so pleased by the results (and I'm NEVER pleased with photos of myself as a general rule) that I'm more than willing to spread the word. Visit Kisschasey Photography for examples of Sophie's excellent work.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Writing tips: How to write a better blog

I've got writing on my mind this week. I'm doing one last read-over of the new, revised and fabulous manuscript for my novel. I've been reading Marian Keyes, who always makes my writing heart quicken a little. And I have the new book by Monica McInerney sitting pristine in a Dymocks bag, awaiting my attention - I love a good story.

But I'm also thinking about blogging. This Thursday I fly to Melbourne for the Problogger Training Event, where I'll be speaking on a panel with the awe-inspiring Valerie Khoo and the amazing Kerri Sackville, all about how to use your blog to create paid writing opportunities. I. Cannot. Wait.

While I'm in this writing/blogging frame of mind, however, I thought I'd take the time to put together some writing tips for bloggers. Not what to write, but how to write it. These are things that I've learnt over the (nearly) three years that I've been here at the Fibro, and I hope they'll be of use to you.

Get closer. I've written about this before, but intimacy is the key to good blogging. I'm not talking about revealing every detail of your life (though feel free to do this if you so desire). More to strip back your writing 'voice' to its bare basics. The easiest way to do this, I find, is to try stream-of-consciousness blogging. Write it all down exactly as it first appears in your mind. Every word. Don't try to edit it as you go - you can do that later. Don't try to make it sound 'writerly'. What you're looking for is the essence of you. Blog the way you talk. It's that simple.

Go closer again. The biggest mistake that many bloggers make, from my perspective, is trying to tell the whole story. Nobody needs the whole story. What they need is the one moment that tells the whole story. The angle is important. If you find that your posts are rambling (and, really, short is usually better on a blog), hone in on the best bits. Just tell those.

Think about your audience. While most bloggers say they blog for themselves, the truth is that there is a contract in place in a blog - you write, someone (hopefully) reads. If that weren't the case, you'd be writing in a diary with a combination lock on the front. With that in mind, you need to allow room for those readers. Leave some space in your posts to allow your readers to find the universal heart of what you're writing and to share their experiences.

Proofread your work. I know the temptation is strong to simply put the full stop on that last sentence and hit Publish. But try to resist. Check the spelling. Make sure the last sentence has a full stop. Ensure you have no extraneous words (as I often do) where you've changed your mind halfway through a sentence and haven't quite deleted the earlier version. A good blog is a clean blog. It really does matter.

What do you think is the secret to great blog writing? Which blogs do it best as far as you're concerned? 

PS: You'll find more tips on writing a better blog, from the Problogger himself, here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

About that Pinterest thing...

Being the late adopter that I am, I have recently joined Pinterest. I know. Only two years behind the Cool Kids who have now moved on to some other new thing that I've never heard of and will probably laugh derisively about when it's explained to me. Like I did with Pinterest.

I confess I still don't really get Pinterest. I think you can tell that merely by looking at the names of some of my 'boards':

•Things I Love But Will Never Do

•People Who Don't Have Red Hair Don't Know What Trouble Is

•Actually Useful If Not All That Pretty

•Food I Would Like To Make One Day

You see what I'm saying here? I think I'm missing the Pinterest vibe.

Having said that, I found myself in there on Friday night gleefully pinning photos of bathrooms. Mostly because Fam Fibro fell prey to a virulent vomiting virus, which took care of most of last week, and I wanted soothing pictures of bathrooms in which people never puke.

I'm not sure if this is the intended purpose of Pinterest, but yes, it did help, thank you for asking.

If you would like to share my images of bathrooms, or in fact those actually useful things, feel free to come on over and say hi. I'm here. I'll be waiting. Gaily pinning pictures of bunting while I wait.

Are you on Pinterest? Can you explain it to me?

[image: from here via Pinterest, of course]
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