Time for reflection

I sat down yesterday to write this post and stopped. I needed time to reflect on the myriad of thoughts and feelings that were swirling around inside me. The past few days have been quite different to the life I normally lead. Different in a mostly good way but with a few challenges, my reaction to which I needed time to process. Yesterday I was running on very little sleep and I needed to know that it wasn’t this that was clouding my vision.

I had set myself a number of goals early last week, some of which included submitting a few pieces of writing to various sites. With my other commitments I ended up on Friday needing to either abandon these plans or sit down quietly for several hours to catch up. I chose the latter.

I am not normally so disciplined when writing but I enjoyed the exercise and submitted the pieces as planned. I then had to step away from my computer to rearrange our house for a party my daughter was hosting on Saturday night. She did most of the cleaning and tidying herself but I needed to move some furniture around and get ahead of the family tasks that I would not have the chance to accomplish over the weekend.

Our family room and kitchen provided the main party space.

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Our lounge was turned into a massive bed with mattresses, duvets and blankets covering as much of the floor as we could manage.

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It was a fabulous party. Seventeen teenagers attended meaning that we had twenty in the house. It was loud but happy and all seemed to have a lot of fun. My daughter had billed it an All Night Marvel Movie Marathon and little sleep was had by any of us. Between films (they watched five in total) they played pool, listened to music and had those serious discussions that intelligent teenagers excel at. In the background I was producing as much food as I could get through my oven, plating it and clearing debris.

To protect the innocent I will not be posting any of the during or after photos. Suffice to say there was no damage but a lot of mess to clear up. My husband took over kitchen duties in the morning to produce a late breakfast fry up and by the afternoon we were able to cut the enormous cake that my younger son and I had made the previous day.

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All in all, a successful twenty-four hours and one very happy daughter.

Now, as anyone who follows my blog regularly will know, I have grown very uncomfortable with social situations in the past few years. I was therefore particularly pleased that I got through this weekend without any panic attacks, and I surprised myself by enjoying the whole event. I physically hurt yesterday evening from lack of sleep but it was worth it.

Having delivered the last of the party goers to the train station late afternoon I was glad to put my feet up and see how my submitted stories had been received. I was aware that there was a discussion brewing on one of the sites but had not had time to consider a response to this as carefully as I would have liked. On another site my story was receiving very mixed reviews.

As a writer it is hard for me to critique my own work. In my head I will have all the background to each character along with the reasoning behind their behaviour. Getting this down using only necessary words can be tricky, it is the skill of the trade. Often my reader’s interpretations will be unexpected.

One of the stories I submitted received some very positive feedback. It also bombed in the voting; it was on this site that the discussion brewed. Other writers noted that the number of reads their story clocked up was around a quarter of the total votes cast. Clearly not all voters read every story as instructed. There was speculation that followers voted for those whose writing they knew and liked without reading the other submissions. It was pointed out that the rules were the same for everyone so, whilst this may not be ideal, it was not unfair.

I hope that the increased interest in this weekly challenge does not wane and that the relaxed and friendly atmosphere on the site can be maintained. I understand why the discussion happened. It can be disheartening to submit a story and have it ignored by so many. However, the quality of the writing is high and all feedback is useful. I do wonder about entering each week but I enjoy writing the stories and welcome the readers I get.

On the second site I discovered a different state of affairs. The story I had submitted was receiving lots of views and trending. It was also generating a lot of negative comments. Some readers liked it but quite a few considered it poorly written, sloppily punctuated and one even described it as incoherent.

Naturally I feel happier with positive feedback than negative. However, all feedback is useful and I was grateful that readers had taken the time to explain the aspects of my writing that they felt were weak. I will take all of their comments on board. I smiled wryly to myself though that the apparently badly written story ranked better than the supposedly well written one in the challenges to which they were submitted.

I will never make it as a writer if I allow myself to become too sensitive to criticism. To improve I need to keep practising and to work on the shortcomings highlighted by readers. I will try to produce another couple of stories this week, I will not give up just because I submitted a story that was not well received by all.

As a novice writer it feels as though I have reached another milestone on my journey. Now I need to get my house in order. Fun though the party was, I may take some time to fully recover.

Blowing my own trumpet

Last year I completed the NaNoWriMo challenge, an exercise that not only gave me a (very) rough draft of a novel that I was rather pleased with but also gave me more confidence in my ability to write fiction. Despite having spent much of my life making up stories in my head, even going so far as to write a few down, I had never been willing to talk much about my creations, nor to let anyone else read those that I committed to paper or hard drive.

The main lessons that I learnt from taking part in NaNoWriMo were that I find writing fiction great fun, a welcome escape and a stress release. When I came to the end of my draft novel I wanted to set it aside for a time before I returned for the first rewrite, but I knew for sure that I didn’t want to stop writing. It was at around this time that I came across Tipsy Lit and their Prompted challenges.

Not only does this reader’s and writer’s community publish a wide variety of fiction and non fiction pieces, run an online book club and host discussions on everything from books to booze; it also invites entries for a weekly competition. It was these Prompted challenges that drew me to get involved.

Each Monday a prompt is released and writers are invited to create a work of flash fiction (a story of around 500 words) which they link to a Prompted post on the following Friday. All entries are then included in a poll set up on the following day and readers have 24 hours to vote for their favourite entry. The story that attracts the largest number of votes will be published on the front page of the site on Sunday.

Up until this point the only writing that I had published were the posts on my own blog. I wrote a post inspired by a Tipsy Lit weekly prompt before realising that they were looking for works of fiction (note to self, read the instructions before you start). Undeterred I decided that I would write a short story as well, and what fun I had doing so. I knew that I had discovered a style of writing that I wished to explore further.

Why do people follow blogs? I can see no reason other than they like the writing style and content of what is published. Having gained a following for this blog I did not, therefore, wish to radically change it by starting to include the short works of  fiction that I now wished to offer for others to read. I decided to set up a second blog for my stories, thereby creating Dreams and Demons.

I have yet to win a Prompted challenge, not least because on each week I have entered I have been up against an author named Duncan Swallow from nobodysreadingme (if ever a blog name did not reflect the content then this is it). Week after week he just keeps attracting more votes than anyone else. Read some of his stories to find out why (he also publishes on ReadWave and Wattpad, as do I, but to keep up with his work it is best to follow him on Twitter where his handle is @duncanswallow1).

As well as Duncan though, I have also been up against quite a number of other impressive entries and normally manage to gain a few votes which is pleasing. More importantly, I am offered useful feedback and am enjoying the creative process and practice.

As a result of entering my work I was invited by the welcoming and friendly lady who envisaged and created Tipsy Lit, Ericka Clay, to submit a story that I had not published elsewhere for consideration. I was quite delighted when it was accepted for publication and thus, today, one of my short stories has been published on the Tipsy Lit front page.

Do go across to read Repercussions and let me know what you think. While you are there, check out the rest of the site, there is a lot of good content.

I know that I have a long way to go in my writing adventure so to have someone else believe that I am worth publishing is delightful. I still feel something of an imposter describing myself as a writer. The encouragement that I have received from this inclusive and friendly community gives me hope that, if I keep practising, perhaps one day I will get there.

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Self improvement

I very much enjoy receiving feedback on my posts and welcome all of  the comments that readers have kindly taken the time to submit. Some of these come from people who do not know me and have found this site by chance. If they are also bloggers then I will try to visit their sites; I now follow several of them and enjoy considering their posts immensely. There is only so much that I can manage to read in a day but I welcome the chance to gain a perspective on their lives and on the thoughts and issues that they discuss.

Other comments come from people who know me outside of the internet. Often these are posted on my Facebook page, where I always include links to the posts that I publish. As these people know me personally, and have often done so for many years, their comments can be more of a challenge to deal with. They are not just basing their reactions on the words that I write but on the person that they know. It takes more courage to share thoughts and feelings with friends than with strangers. If things go badly then I have more to lose.

If I were not happy to receive such feedback then I should not write about personal or controversial topics. That, however, is one of the aspects of blog writing that I enjoy. I like to put down what I am thinking; I find that it helps to clarify in my own mind what are sometimes fairly woolly thoughts. It also helps me to see where I have done my own thinking and where I have simply believed what others have told me. Much of our knowledge is obtained in this way but, when I choose to disseminate an argument, I am taking it as my own. I am well aware that I have valued friends who will strongly disagree with many of my views.

What has been particularly interesting for me has been the general feedback that I have received on the methods that I appear to employ when considering a subject. I have been told that, whilst I claim to encourage reasoned debate, I do not always come across as accepting of others point of view when they disagree with me. I state that I respect the right of others to think differently to me yet display an exasperated manner and speak impatiently of their choices. It would seem that others do not see me in the way that I see myself. When I think about this honestly, I believe that they are right.

I find it easier to clarify my thoughts in writing rather than face to face as I need time to consider what I wish to say. I am not good at debates; my mind is not quick enough and I cannot recall the detail of enough factual knowledge to make it sound as if I know my subject; I do not have a good memory for detail. At school I was better at the subjects which required problems to be worked through rather than a regurgitation of memorized information. I failed miserably at languages as I just could not recall enough words. When faced with a friend who possesses a memory to rival Google I feel bumbling and foolish; I need time to consider new information and to work through my thoughts on this new information as I would a mathematical puzzle.

When I am considering a subject I will try to read around it, but even this can be fraught with difficulty. I cannot help but have preconceptions and it is so easy to read opinion pieces that agree with how I already think. When a writer, well qualified in his subject, creates a cognizant argument with well researched facts, figures and references to back up my point of view it feels so satisfying; it is as if I am being proved right despite others not agreeing with me. Much harder is to read a similar document that is equally well put together but carefully argues that I am wrong in my thinking. This makes uncomfortable reading. I am working hard to make myself seek out these difficult pieces and grant them proper consideration.

In my head I find myself thinking that those who disagree with me cannot be reading and considering the information that has encouraged me to think the way I do, but that is disingenuous and beside the point. This is not about me changing others – I have no right to attempt to do that – it is about improving myself. Effecting change in the way I think is a challenge.

If I wish to become the person that I have claimed to be then it will require effort but I truly do not wish to be closed to new thinking, neither do I wish to be accepting of flawed arguments. Living with ourselves can be difficult enough at times; by promoting myself as this open and reasonable, accepting and respectful individual I have been outed as a hypocrite. Now I need to do something about it.

Please continue to comment on the subjects that I write on. I am going to try to read more of those disagreeable but well argued opinion pieces and to give more consideration to why I have accepted a certain point of view. It will be interesting to see how my own thinking changes, if at all. I doubt that I will be able to debate any more effectively, but I hope that I will grow closer to being the person that I have claimed to be.

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One step at a time