10 Things I’ve Learnt From 10 Years on Social Media

Thanks to my Timehop app I realised the other day that I have been on social media for ten years. It was ten years ago that I first joined Facebook and from there, went on to start a blog, share my writing, join Twitter and Instagram and the rest of it. Like anything new to us, navigating social media in the early days is tricky. I can look back now and see that I have learned a lot about how to use it, how positive and how destructive it can be. Here are ten things I’ve learned from ten years on social media.

  1. Some people use social media like a sort of online diary. I think I used to do this a bit myself until my Timehop app memories shamed me into stopping! But I try not to judge others who like to share their dinner, their bad day, their little triumphs, their new haircut, their kid losing their first tooth or what the weather is like. I think it shows that people want to communicate with each other and there is something sort of sweet and sad about that.
  2. I wouldn’t sell any books without it. True story. For an indie author on a very limited budget, I am constantly amazed that I sell any books at all. I definitely wouldn’t sell any without social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and this blog have helped me shape my author platform over the years and allowed me to engage with potential readers and showcase my writing. I don’t know how I would reach any of these people without social media!
  3. It can be a real force for good. I am forever surprised and humbled by the kindness I see on social media. From people starting petitions to help others, people signing and sharing, people starting fundraisers and people donating what they can. The words of support and empathy that are shared with those who are struggling. The fact that people can post on social media that they are having a hard time and get a loving response. Even the small things, like people asking for recommendations, asking for general advice, people helping people out. I love watching videos on Facebook of animals being rescued by people who go out of their way to do it. Always restores my faith in humanity! There are some lovely feel-good stories out there that the TV news just doesn’t tell us about anymore.
  4. It can be a force for bad. Undoubtedly, there is a destructive side to social media. Online bullying, stalking and harassment. Dick pics, racism, sexism, homophobia and animal abuse. All of these things thrive on social media but I guess it’s inevitable. People are good and people are bad. People are kind and people are destructive, so you are always going to get both sides on social media platforms. It can bring you down. Sometimes my feed is full of bad news and horror stories, and if I ever make the mistake of reading comments under political posts…ugh. Sometimes it hurts my heart to see and read how some people think and feel about others. It can also be used for spreading fear, propaganda and lies. Something we need to be increasingly wary of.
  5. People follow you so that you will follow them back and then they unfollow you. It took me a while to realise this as an author. I don’t tend to like or follow other accounts unless I am really interested, and at the moment I’m trying to pare down what I do see and follow. But over the years, if someone, usually other authors, have made the point of liking my page or following my Instagram, I would nearly always return the favour. Sometimes authors ask for this, which I do find a bit rude! Nevertheless, I started out returning the favour only to realise further down the line that person had unliked or unfollowed me. I now see this is a thing people do. Follow you on Instagram, for example, so you follow back, and then they almost instantly unfollow you. They were never interested in following you in the first place. They just wanted to prompt you to follow them to boost their numbers. Now that I know this, I only ever follow back if I am really interested in their content and every now and then I go through my lists and have a purge.
  6. Likes for Likes posts are counterproductive. I have to admit doing these ‘like for like’ things is probably how I got my author Facebook page rolling in the very early days. There were various groups and sites where you could post your page and if people followed you, you were obliged to follow back. I actually met some good online writer friends this way and read some awesome books. But I’m jaded by it now and have vowed not to do it anymore. As tempting as it is, to paste your page link under a ‘let’s follow each other’ post, I don’t see the point. If people want to follow your page because they like your writing, that’s fine. No one should be swapping likes for the sake of it. Chances are you end up with 2,000 likes on your page, most of whom are other authors in other genres who have no intention of ever reading your work and vice versa. I’d rather have less likes but they be from people who have found me themselves and stayed because they like what I post.
  7. You will never change someone’s mind with political posts. Well, I exaggerate slightly, because over the years I have posted the odd thing that someone has responded to, saying it made them think or question something or even change their mind. I could probably count the amount of times this has happened on one hand though. Mostly what happens is the people who think the same as you agree with it and share it. The people who disagree with it, let you know and an argument commences. And the people who don’t give a shit about politics continue to not give a shit about politics. I try really hard not to post too much political stuff these days, but it is very hard! I do realise when I post them though that I am largely wasting my time. Everyone believes what they want to believe and they will find the evidence and data to back it up to suit themselves and yes I am guilty of this too.
  8. A lot of activity on social media is attention seeking. But can you blame us? We live in a crazy, mess-up, potentially doomed world. We have horror at our fingertips any time we want it. We don’t know what to believe anymore, we don’t know what is true and what is fake news. We are all overworked and underpaid. There are no jobs for life and the safety net is being eroded. We are all insecure about our looks and we all have anxiety and depression and repressed rage. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to feel. We are disconnected from each other, with no time to catch our breath. It’s an effort to make contact with real friends in real life, so we use social media instead and let’s be honest, most of us do it for attention. Just a Like. A smiley face, a laughing face, a comment, a share. Some recognition, some validation, some sympathy and empathy, or just something to laugh about together. Sometimes that small connection with someone else will help you get through the day.
  9. Sometimes strangers on social media are more supportive than your own friends and family. Another true story! A weird one. Strangers on the internet can become friends, good friends! People who check in with you, message you, chat with you at weird times, support you and share your news. I’ve always found that strangers online are more receptive to and interested in my writing than my actual friends and family. If I post something about my writing to my personal page, it will mostly be ignored. If I post something to my author page, I can usually guarantee a response and some engagement, which is absolutely lovely and keeps me going!
  10. It’s capable of changing the world and it’s not going away. Scary but true. There’s that whole herd mentality thing. Public opinion can be swayed greatly by whatever is going viral and sweeping the internet. You just have to hope it’s something that will work in your favour! I think the thing I have realised though is that social media is here to stay and you are far better off embracing it and trying to understand it, than shunning it and fearing it. This is particularly important if you have kids who are almost certainly going to end up on it at some point. It would be nice, wouldn’t it? To wrap them up in a bubble and shield them from the awful, cruel world and the awful, cruel things that pop up on social media. But knowledge is power and I think parents are better off joining in and getting to understand social media so that they can help their kids navigate it when the time comes. There’s a real risk in allowing your kids to join a site you have no clue about, or even trying to keep them away from it all for as long as possible. It is still going to be there and eventually they will find it. Maybe they will decide it’s not for them, but I think parents are far better able to help kids understand it and use it safely if they have that understanding and experience themselves!

So, how about you? How long have you been using social media? Which are your favourite sites and why? What do you think are the pros and cons of social media? What has it taught you?

The Spirit Of Christmas For Non-Believers

Quite a few years back when my eldest daughter was around 8 or 9 years old, she came home from school upset and cross because her teacher had told her that people who don’t believe in God or Jesus should not celebrate Christmas. I was pretty pissed at the time, not least because it’s a rather cruel thing to tell a young child, who had no say at that age over her families choice of religion or lack of.

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I’ve never been religious. I was not raised with a religion, and neither was my mother or her mother before her. Like everyone else, I learned about the different religions at school and I understood that the predominant religion in England was Christianity. This meant that we had to sing hymns in school assemblies and say prayers.

I often wondered if God was real at that age, and I used to say the odd awkwardly hopeful prayer when I wanted something, but that was about it. Of course, as I grew older I thought about religion in more depth and like the rest of the family, I concluded happily that there probably was not a God. I won’t go into the ins and outs of this thought process, as this isn’t a post about atheism or religion. I’m perfectly happy with the idea of no God or Heaven, and though I am also prepared to keep an open mind about anything and everything, I can’t say any religion or indeed any religious person has ever been able to convince me otherwise.

This is a post about Christmas. For Christians, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, as we see played out in every school nativity across the country at this time of year. (Even though I don’t buy the story, I do get tearful every time I watch small children in a nativity!) But if you’re not Christian, or indeed religious at all, then why celebrate Christmas? What’s the point? What’s it all about?

My husband finds it hard to justify. He also grew up in a non-religious household and he finds it hard to understand the yearly fuss and stress that comes with Christmas. He sees it as consumerism and materialism gone mad, and he’s probably right. Our poor planet could do without the extra plastic and packaging that goes on at this time of year. So, if we want to reject all that, and we’re not religious either, then why celebrate Christmas?

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Well, my reasons are personal and I’m going to list them below. Not because I feel I have to justify anything to anyone, but because I think it’s an interesting subject and because it’s what sprang to mind when I thought about writing a Christmas related blog post!

  1. All my favourite parts of Christmas stem from the Winter Solstice …  The way various cultures have celebrated the Winter Solstice led to so many of our Christmas traditions. Pagans, for example, would mark the shortest day of the year by slaughtering cattle so that they would not not have to feed them over the hard winter months, and at this time the wine and beer were fully fermented, hence the traditional feasting we know so well. The Feast of Juul was a pre-Christian tradition from Scandinavia, and is where we get the word yule from. Fires were lit and a log was dropped into the hearth as a tribute to the Norse God Thor. Saturnalia was the ancient Romans way of celebrating the Winter solstice, and involved banquets, gift-giving and a party atmosphere. So many of the traditions we associate with Christmas are pagan in origin or have evolved from ancient cultures marking the shortest day. The Christmas Tree, wreath, holly and ivy, fires, candles, feasting, and giving to charity to name but a few. I wish I’d known this when I was younger, but I was able to explain this to my daughter when she was upset. I suppose technically if you’re going to celebrate the Winter Solstice in this way then you ought to do the whole thing on the shortest day of the year and not on the 25th. My son wanted to do this last year, but instead, we decided to mark the shortest day with pagan inspired ideas and save our gift-giving for the 25th. So this Winter Solstice we will be making bird feeders and hanging out for the birds, bringing in holly, ivy and fir cones to decorate the house, making a chocolate yule log, lighting a fire and putting together our Winter Solstice altar.
  2. Christmas is a time for nostaligia and I love a bit of that… It’s the end of the year. We all slow down a bit. The kids are off school, there are days off work, and more time than usual to sit and reflect. There is something so nostalgic about this time of year and I think it affects us all. We can’t help but look back on Christmases of the past, the good and the bad. I always think back to my childhood Christmases, and of course, over the years I have copied some of the family traditions we had then with my own kids. I talk to my kids about Christmases that stick in my mind and I smile sadly and think about the food we ate back then, the relatives no longer with us, the things we watched on Tv. It;’s no wonder I get a bit emotional this time of year!
  3. Christmas is a time for giving… My eldest daughter has just turned 16 and for the first time this year she went out shopping without us and bought us all a present using her own money. we have no idea what she got us, and I and my husband were so surprised an touched by her thoughtfulness. This is the first time one of the kids has used their own money to buy something for the family and I think it’s lovely. What’s even more lovely is how excited she was about it! I think she’s now at the age where she realises that choosing thoughtful gifts for your loved ones is actually way more exciting than receiving them. This is something that comes with age and maturity. When you’re a little kid you just want the presents! As you get older, you begin to find true joy in choosing gifts for the people you love, things that will mean something to them and let them know how you feel about them.
  4. Christmas is a time for hope… It is an optimistic time of year. People tend to be more forgiving, thoughtful and reflective. As the year draws to an end, we look forward to the next one and think about how we want it to be. Perhaps we want to make changes, try new things, make amends, and even do our bit to make the world a better place.
  5. Christmas is a crazy, often tacky, quite bizarre, exciting, nostalgic, reflective chaos and if you’ve got kids it’s even more so… Christmas changes. It doesn’t stay the same. When you’re a little kid it’s all excitement and jumping up and down and hanging out your stocking and writing to Father Christmas…Then when you grow up a bit and enter your teens and early adulthood it becomes less about family and more about friends. I remember some great Christmases around that age, hitting the pubs and clubs, all dressed up and sparkly, and swapping silly joke presents with my friends! It becomes about drinking and hangovers. Then you have kids of your own and it changes again. You bring back traditions you loved as a kid, and you create your own. You spend all year picking up things you know they will love. You thrive on their excitement as the big day gets closer. You happily feed the frenzy of Santa’s sleigh bells and reindeer and leaving out milk and cookies, and watching Elf and Home Alone. You get to do it all again! And then I imagine, as they get older and grow up and leave home, it changes again. I quite look forward that sometimes, as much as I adore the current crazy we have at this time of year. I sometimes imagine me and my husband as old people, slowing down, enjoying time together, drinking some home-made cider and wine and falling asleep in front of the TV.

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So, there we have it. Reasons I love Christmas and have always loved it despite not being remotely religious. I think this is a special, sparkly time of the year for anyone who enjoys it. I think the trick is to think about what it means to you and go with that. It can be a weird and stressful time of year, but it really doesn’t need to be. At the end of the day, all you really need are your friends, family, some good food and a drink or two! I absolutely love this time of year, although I’ve had my fair share of horrible Christmases and many moments of wondering what the point is. I don’t stress about it at all now. I do it exactly the way I want to do it and love every moment. Merry Christmas folks!! Have a good one!!

A Writer’s Confession To Her Family…

Dear Family,

There’s not a day goes by that I don’t feel the guilt for one reason or another. I love what I do and I will never stop doing it, but it does make me feel bad at times, to the extent I feel I need to apologise to you all. I also feel the need to make several confessions, so here goes…

 

  • A lot of the time, I’d rather be writing… I’m so sorry, this makes me sound like a monster and maybe I am one! This doesn’t mean I don’t love and treasure our moments together. Whether it’s mucking about down at the river, cuddling up for storytime, watching a DVD together or simply laughing. I do treasure those times, and I do savour and soak up every single precious moment whenever I can…But some of the other stuff? You know, helping with homework, doing the washing, making the dinner, playing certain tedious games, answering endless questions, going to the park…well, some of the time, but not all of the time, you understand, I sort of wish I was writing. I can’t really help it, so please don’t misunderstand. It’s not that I don’t love you all and adore being with you, it’s just that the writing has somewhat possessed me and taken over my mind.
  • A lot of the time, I can’t concentrate on this family stuff…Ugh, it’s true, and today was a fine example, forgetting my son’s sports day entirely until it was too late! But I did sit through two hours of clapping at Achievement evening for one of you last night and that will occur again for another next week…But I admit it is true, my head is not always where it should be. I know you all get fed up of me drifting off, not listening to you, forgetting things, being a bit dreamy and out of it. Truth, is I’ve always been that way! Now I’ve got to muddle along with the whole parenting thing as well, and sometimes it gets messy! I try my best. I’ve got my to-do lists and my calendar and my little notes scrawled on paper and stuck to the wall! I try and stay on top of things and most of the time I do pretty well! It’s not easy though. These stories and characters are living in my brain, demanding of me and I suppose it’s a bit like they hold me hostage, sometimes?drink-coffee-meme

 

  • Sometimes when you’re talking to me, I’m not really listening… Shameful to admit, but true! I think you guys are good at recognising the signs by now. My eyes glaze over. I get a dreamy look on my face. Sometimes you get cross and accuse me of not listening. Sometimes you make the most of it and get your revenge by administering your evil jump scares. I’m so easy to scare and scream like a baby which you all find hilarious, but the reason I’m so easy to startle is how far away I have drifted…It’s not deliberate, please believe me. It’s just some part of a plot or a character’s personality has clicked into place at the very moment I should be paying attention to you! I’m sorry!
  • Sometimes I use you in my writing and my books… Eek, sorry. Again,  not deliberate! A lot of the time it’s accidental and subconscious! I don’t always notice it until later. But I feel I can get away with this somewhat, as hardly any of you read my books!
  • You inspire me in ways you will never know… True. Two of you have inspired a new novel idea I really didn’t want! Thanks for that. But you will never know. Some of you have been weaved into my characters personalities, some of the things you’ve done or said over the years, some of the complex relationships and insecurities have helped shape characters. Sometimes one of you will tell me something or sing a song, or play some music, and bam. I’ve got an idea.
  • I wish I could talk to you more about my writing… Some of you are quite good at listening. Some of you even ask! Some of you try really hard not to sigh or roll your eyes when I’m repeating something about a storyline or a rewrite that I’ve probably bored you with a million times…Some of you never ask about any of it…Some of you hear way more than your fair share, but the thing is, I love talking about writing, which is one of the reasons I set up my writing group. I can at least offload on them and vice versa! Writers may be quiet folk but they love talking about writing!
  • Sometimes I count the minutes down to bedtime… Not every day, mind you! Just some of them! Confession, sometimes I start looking forward to bedtime in the morning! Usually, when there is a lot going on, I’ve started a shiny new project, or I’m dashing towards the finish line of novel writing, or I’m launching a book and it’s occupying my every thought…
  • Sometimes I wish you would leave me alone when I’m trying to write… Ugh, one time I even stuck a sign on the door; do not disturb! But none of you seem to get it. Writing time is precious to me and hard-won. Often it’s just the evenings, me trying to squeeze as many words in as I can before exhaustion wins. And then the tapping at the door starts. You traipse in and out constantly with various demands. Other relatives are just as bad at other times. I have one precious day a week when I can write almost all day, and I really, really don’t like to be disturbed!
  • I couldn’t do it without you… It’s true. I love you all really. Wouldn’t be without you in a million years. And with you all growing and changing so fast, becoming so grown up and independent, I’m reminded daily how ridiculously fast this life goes by. So I’ll hang onto you as hard and as long as I can…Just hope you can forgive me when my mind wanders away from you, or when the characters drown you out, or when the urge to write is like an itch I just need to scratch. I hide in my room and I tap away at the keyboard, feeding my addiction. I just hope I make it up to you the rest of the times!

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Character Interview; Flora from ‘Letters To Eloise’

Welcome to another character interview! Today I’m chatting to the lovely Flora, from Letter To Eloise by Emily Williams.

Enjoy!

1) Do you have any negative character traits, and if so what would you say they are?

I have many! I’m an over-thinker and this makes me a daydreamer and over emotional. You’ll read this in Letters to Eloise and understand! I get irritable and short-tempered when I know I’m in the wrong and I struggle to find the words sometimes to apologise. I turn to food (not a bad thing!) when I need comfort, especially biscuits and cheeses!

2) What are your most positive traits?

Hopefully, others will think that I’m a kind and loyal friend. I am fun loving and up for trying most things, which is a useful trait when starting university as there is many social activities and events to participate in. I am hardworking and dedicated to my studies and always down the library, but for those who have read Letters to Eloise, you’ll know that sometimes studying wasn’t on the agenda when I was there! Tut tut!

3) What are your current ambitions or dreams?

I’m hoping to finish university and take up a teaching place after my maternity leave. My ambitions have been slightly put on hold, but fear not, I will get back there and complete my childhood ambition of teaching children. I do dream that one day I’ll make amends with River, but we’ll see…

4) What are you scared of?

Absolutely everything, but mainly of missing opportunities. You’ll see in Letters to Eloise why I was scared of the future and being pregnant and alone at University. I wasn’t afraid of the pregnancy and of little Eloise, the rest of the future terrified me!

5) Who is your best friend and why?

I’d have to say Brooke (otherwise she’d kill me!) but it’s a close toss up between Brian and Brooke. Brooke is loyal and there for me one hundred percent but her ways of going about things sometimes leave me stifled. Brian struggles with communicating his feelings, except in a jokey way, but he is a true friend and is always there for me.

6) What do you think true love feels like?

Like jumping between big puffy clouds. Light and effortless.

7) Do you have any secrets?

That would be telling! I’m not good at keeping secrets unless they are really important to me.

8) Do you have any regrets?

I regret the way things have been left between myself and River. I wish more than anything I’d worked harder to make it work. I’m not sure, even if I had of, whether it would have made much of a difference but I regret not trying.

9) Where would you like to be 5 years from now?

Settled, happy and with a healthy and beautiful daughter. Anything else fades into insignificance.

10) How would you like to be remembered?

For my strength and for never giving in