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Blogs and Blogging

I’ve been thinking about what my bloggers motto might be and I’ve come up with this:

Read what you need to learn; Write what you need to say.

These words reflects how I like to operate as a blog reader and writer. I will read voraciously whatever it is that speaks to me. It might be something informative and educational, or nourishing and encouraging. What it will be depends on where I am in my life, and what’s grabbing my attention. Educational programs and reading lists are all very well, but the end of the day the reading that means the most to me is what I go and seek out for myself because its a hot topic for me.

When it comes to writing, I operate in a similar way, but in reverse. I talk about what’s going on in me, or around me. That’s the writing that seems to have the most ‘juice’. Writing thats planned ahead feels forced compared to the paragraphs that fly off the top of my head when I am working through an idea that has grabbed my attention.

Although what I am reading and what I am writing are often related, the isn’t a one to one connection. My reading and thinking will tend to be ahead of my writing, as ideas germinate and slowly take shape behind the scenes. I read a lot of blogs but don’t expect those bloggers to read mine unless I am writing something thats useful to them. I usually check out the blogs of my readers, but don’t always subscribe because there’s only so much I can keep track of. It seems more important to stay true to my own direction so that I am learning what I need to learn, and writing what I need to write.

This brings me to the internet writing phenomenon which is Bubblews. If you haven’t heard of it, Bubblews is an online writing site where the contributors of articles are paid for what they write, based on their popularity. I signed on yesterday to take a look, wrote a trial post, and got about connecting with other writers. Deja vu. I feel like I am staring down a rabbit hole…Am I about to be engulfed in something all encompassing that I didn’t see coming?

From what I have seen so far, Bubblews operates like a writers community, where contributors have two roles, firstly to write articles, and secondly to read, like and comment on other people’s articles. Advertisers pay for what seems to be user-specific  online advertising which is where the money comes from.

The best strategy for earning on Bubblews, apart from brilliant writing, is to build up a network of reciprocal relationships where you read and comment on each others work, thereby earning each other money. It reminds me of similar networks which exist within Etsy, where sellers are encouraged to connect with and market to each other. In both cases, a lot of time can be spend searching out people for the purpose of connecting with a view to selling or earning, rather than for the inherent value of their offerings.

So here I am with $1.16 of potential earnings racked up in Bubblews after only 3 hours of participation. If I can get that up to $25 I can actually redeem it for real cash. Its tempting. But it worries me. The kind of writing I feel tempted to produce to get my earnings up is fluff. Although there is some good writing on the site, a lot of the content it is not of a quality that I would seek out if it weren’t for the possibility of earning money myself. With regard to my daily reading time, I would get much better value from selected blogs or eBooks or goodness gracious, actual physical books. When it comes to writing time, I think the quality would be better if I stayed true to my own inner compass which seems to be better tuned here on my own blog.

The aspect of the Bubblews model that I would struggle with the most is the expectation within the community that connections are reciprocal. There seems to be an obligation to put in a lot of time to read and comment on the work of people you have connected with. While I enjoy a degree of mutual appreciation in the blogging community, its voluntary, and I think it needs to be that way. There seems to be a loss of freedom and spontaneity if you feel that you have to read my blog, so that I will read your blog, so that we both get paid.

My inner compass can be a real nuisance, but what its telling me is that the kind of writer I want to be is one that people read because I have something of value to say to them. I want readers to come and go freely; because thats what I want for myself. If my readers feed compelled to return to the blog, I’d like it to be because they can’t wait to see what I am going to say next. I don’t know if I can operate that way within a “paid per like” writing community.

If a writer’s work really hits the mark, then readers will choose to come. At the end of the day, its the quality and relevance of the writing that matters. The question is whether its possible to earn money from writing, while staying true to my own voice.

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I am going to try out having a regular weekly post where I share interesting books, blogs and other media that I have come across during the week. A common theme for the week has been women’s lives, and choices.

I have been attempting to read two library books, but not making much progress. Its usually a bad sign when I have two novels on the go at the same time. One book which has proven to be a challenge is the Pulitzer Prize winning ‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison. Its set after the American Civil War and concerns the impact of slavery on one particular woman. There is an air of menace throughout the book, as it gradually reveals the horrors experienced as her family try to escape the clutches of slavery. Its a well written and involving story, but I can’t distance myself from what I am reading, and I find this book creates a heavy and painful mood that is difficult to shift. I switch between wanting to continue and do honour to the story, and not wanting to experience the pain, even in the reading. Progress seems to have stopped as have wanted to stay positive for some other projects I have been working on.

Too light by comparison is ‘Plantation’ by Di Morrissey. This is romantic fiction set in Sarawak in Malaysia and Australia. It concerns Australian sisters who become involved in the life of the Plantation and its owner. The history is interesting, but its simple and accessible language lacks the interest of Toni Morrisons almost poetic words. Holiday style reading for when you want some novelty, but not too much challenge. Progress seems to have stopped on this one too.

I enjoyed a guest post on the Miss Minimalist blog’s Real Life Minimalists section from Bheng who lives in the Phillipines. Bheng tells of her ongoing project to reduce the volume of crafting supplies and craftwork that had collected while she was dreaming of opening a craft shop. I am in Australia and its great to hear from bloggers in this south eastern part of the world.

One of the blogs I enjoy reading on creating a simpler life is Slow Your Home by Nicole Avery. This week Nicole shared her personal journey to simplicity and the reasons behind it in 10 Life-Affirming Reasons to Embrace Simplicity. In this post Nicole conveys the experience of overwhelm faced by a young Mum with too much on her plate and tells how embracing a simpler life enabled her to be happier and healthier. What I appreciate about Nicole’s writing is that she is not just focussed on decluttering “stuff”. She draws out the emotional and relationship benefits from taking a simpler approach to all aspects of life.

For a chuckle check out Confessions of a Failed Retro Housewife  by Janine Fitzpatrick at Shambolic Living. She is responding to recent criticism of educated intelligent women giving up their high powered jobs to stay at home and mind the kids. I agree with Janine’s final observations that the feminist battle was intended to give women more choices, but didn’t solve the problem of conflicting demands of children and career. From what I can see many women and men are re-examining whether trying to run a family with two parents working full-time is a liberating experience for anyone, and looking for alternative models.

A good use of TV time this week has been the BBC TV drama Call the Midwife. This story, set in London’s East End during the 1950s, is narrated by an older woman recalling her life as a midwife. This weeks story centred on a woman with eight children who was devastated to learn that she was expecting a ninth. A story like this makes you appreciate how access to modern healthcare and contraception, where they are available, have revolutionalised women’s lives.

I am looking forward to starting Tammy Strobel’s course Writing in the Digital Age this week, and participating in the Facebook group with other students. Tammy is an author with a popular blog called Rowdy Kittens.

I read some wonderful books and blogs and thought I would share a few of the things that caught my attention this week.

I finished reading Natalie Goldberg’s The True Secret of Writing in which she outlines the process adopted in her True Secret Writing workshops. Natalie Goldberg has been an long term zen meditation practitioner, and uses that foundation as a basis for her workshops. Having some experience in zen retreats, I could relate to her description of how she integrates writing practice with other forms of meditation. It got me thinking about taking my own writing more seriously, and treating writing as a practice to be sunk into, rather than a task to be ticked off.

One of my favourite posts this week was on Simple and Minimal blog by Regina Wong who writes from London England. The post is called What If Money Was No Object and contains a link to an audio recording by Alan Watts. He is talking about the advice he gave to students preparing to leave university and unsure of what to do. He asked the students to imagine what they would do if money was no object, and then pursue that. I found the audio very moving.  I have a book called The Way of Zen by Alan Watts on my bookshelf. He is someone whose opinion I value, and it meant a lot to me to hear him encouraging people to pursue the things that were important to them, rather than be limited by convention. I also enjoyed Regina’s reflections on her own life journey, and whether it would have been different if she had heard this advice earlier.

The Minimalists Blog has a link to quite a long talk on How Minimalism is Changing Entrepreneurship. It features some of the leading lights of minimalism, Joshua Becker, Joshua Fields Milburn, Ryan Nicodemus and Courtney Carver. I have all their blogs in my reader and it was nice to hear their voices and interactions. The talk is a good introduction to minimalism and gives a sense of these fascinating personalities.

For light relief there was an entertaining post on The Great Jollyhoombah blog.  In Mindfully Picking Up the Slack CJ shares his thinking on how to prepare for his wife Tammy’s return after a few days away. That was relevant to me as my two weeks of alone time were drawing to an end and I also needed to think about making home comfortable and welcoming. I did an online grocery order so that we were stocked up with essentials which seemed to hit the mark.

This weekend I am adjusting to having company at home which involves sharing and cooperating. Yes, they teach this on Sesame Street, but its a lesson we need to continue to learn. Much as I enjoyed my TV free fortnight, I need to let go of that for now and allow myself to enjoy the TV as a shared activity. I don’t want talk myself into thinking I can’t cope with the TV being on or I will make myself into a bedroom isolate or the grumpy TV police.

Somehow since starting this blog last year I have managed to create a situation where I have three blogs/websites, four blog readers, two Facebook pages and one Facebook group, a Linked In account, two Pinterest accounts and online selling accounts  with eBay, Gumtree, and Etsy. No wonder I don’t have time for TV.

Some of this activity has been for the purpose of exploration. Learning how to write online, to sell online, and how to make good use of my photography. I don’t do everything everyday, however it does sometimes feel a bit too complicated.

Originally I was trying to keep these activities separate from each other, but that became impossible, and I was losing the benefits of being able to direct people from one site to another. However this makes it all the more important that what I write in once place does not undermine or contradict what I say in another. If someone who wants to hire with me as a professional organiser finds their way over here to May and September, I want them to feel comfortable with the person they find here. If someone interested in my photographs finds my professional organising board on Pinterest, I want them to get an accurate impression of who I am. The posts on each site might be emphasising different themes, or taking a different tone, but overall I hope that there is some coherence between them all.

This is the blog that is easiest to write and feel like the truest voice, the closest to how I really think and feel. I am comfortable with the photography blog. It has a lighter tone, being about images rather than words. Since I started the Etsy store it has been challenging working out how stay true to my original vision for that blog while linking it in with selling greeting cards. I am still working that through. I am not really comfortable with Facebook, Linked In or Pinterest at this point, and maybe I will need to rethink those.

The most difficult blog to write has been the blog page on my professional organising site. It has been a struggle to develop a consistent tone and rhythm of postings. Recently I have realised that I have been unconsciously trying to “sound like a professional organiser” and this has me to feel the need to write about how to sort and organise stuff. I now realise that I have got things backwards. I never dreamed of being a professional organiser, I just made a change in my own life and that led to me wanting to help people lead simpler lives. I wanted to make myself available to stand with them in the mess, literal and metaphorical, and help them work out what to do about it. “Professional Organiser” turned out to be the closest name I could find for that activity, but by choosing that term to define what I was doing, I took on the risk that the label would start to define me.

Lately I have written some blog posts on the professional organising site that reflect more of my personality and world view. The turning point was What I Learned from Bedbugs which was about learning the benefits of travelling light when I had to clean every item of clothing I possessed on an overseas trip. Soon after I wrote Showing Up in which draws and analogy between Natalie Goldbergs method of showing up for writing practice in the True Secret of Writing, with showing up for a session of simplifying and organising in your own home. And today, I have posted Ordinary Beauty about appreciating the simple everyday beauty available in our own homes. By writing these posts I am setting the tone for my own business and helping potential clients understand my values and perspective.

In May I will be doing an online writing course with Tammy Strobel from Rowdy Kittens. Tammy is a writer and photographer who blogs about tiny house living and how to be happy with less material posessions. I think she does a great job of presenting an authentic voice and vision across various mediums. I am looking forward to linking up with her and other writers in the hope of deepening and focussing my own writing.

A while ago I was asked to list the support network that would be helpful to me in setting up my new business. In my list I included blogs which I had found to be a good source of information and encouragement. Someone responded “The Internet Can’t Be Your Friend”. I felt annoyed because in my reality, the internet, in the form of carefully chosen blogs, has been a tremendous help and encouragement. Of course it isn’t a replacement for real flesh and blood friends, but for me, blogs written by like-minded people have been invaluable.

As I am working from home, I find it helpful to have some input from the outside world in the form of blog posts each day. I have four blog readers, each focussed on different themes, and I turn to these as someone else might turn to a magazine or newspaper. These are a great source of information, ideas and inspiration. I think if you choose wisely, the internet can be your friend, in the same way that books, art, movies or any other form of creative expression can teach you, feed your spirit and nurture your dreams.

This week I have been struggling with how difficult it can sometimes be to feel that I am making progress. I had a disappointment when I learned that a lovely casserole pot I had sold had smashed in the post. I was disappointed for the man who bought it, disappointed that a delightful object was broken, and discouraged that what had been a modest financial gain was now a loss.

Smashed in the Post!

Smashed in the Post!

I have also been grappling with the best way to establish relationships with shops that might buy my greeting cards, and how to maintain those relationships moving forward. Its a common theme among quality gift shops that they want their stock to be unique, which I can appreciate. However I can see it leading to a situation where my customers are dotted around the city, far apart from each other, so that I have to cover a lot of ground to keep in touch with them in person. Thats tricky without a car, and would be fairly inefficient even with a car, given the low profit margins involved.

The reality is that the transaction of selling greeting cards is of much greater significance to me than it is for any particular shop owner on any particular day. I keep remembering the movie Happyness, with the main character running around the city trying to sell machines than nobody wants. My cards are more popular than those obsolete bone density scanners were, but its still a matter of time and logistics to find the right customer at the right time and maintain that relationship.

While I was feeling some discouragement, one of my internet friends came to the rescue. I don’t know Leo Babauta, and he doesn’t know me, but we think alike on the matter of goal setting and planning. His recent post The Not Knowing Path of Being an Entrepreneur was exactly what I needed to read. In this post he describes how people who start businesses try to control things by setting a vision, laying out goals, trying to be productive, and trying to hit targets each day. However as Leo points out the ability to control outcomes is an illusion and we really can’t know how things are going to turn out.

Leo advises embracing the not knowing, which means not being overly attached to any particular outcomes. This made a lot of sense to me, because when I tried to make myself get goal oriented about sales, I became anxious and started pushing myself in ways that weren’t really helpful. Nobody wants to buy pretty cards from a hot, tired, grumpy person.

The alternative Leo puts forward is to act out of guiding principles, rather than specific goals and targets. This allows for a less anxious and more open approach to the work. I can really see how this will help me with my Etsy store, as I am inclined to want to keep checking every few hours for sales and worry whether the effort in setting it up will be justified. I think a better approach would be to enjoy the role of being a person who is setting up a store and interacting with other store owners and allow the sales to look after themselves.

Giving up control can lead to some interesting surprises, as you can’t predict what will appeal to other people, or what they will pick up on.  Of all the images in my shop, one of the least typical was chosen to be highlighted in a Treasury on Greenery. Good work Cactus!

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So you see, the internet can be your friend. If you pick your internet friends wisely, they can whisper just the right word in your ear, at just the right time, and even strangers can give you an unexpected boost when you need it most.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I feel like I have been cheating on you. I have been over on the Etsy website looking at a lot of the other shops and “Favouriting” items, following Shops, and having Convos with other shopkeepers. While doing this I have been spending less time reading (and writing) my favourite blogs.

When I started this blog I was not particularly concerned with being strategic about attracting readers, and just let it grow naturally. Now that I have been in the blogosphere for a little while, I am a bit more savvy about methods of attracting and connecting with other people, and having opened my own Etsy Store I am inclined to become a little more purposeful about drawing attention to what I am doing. I hope that doesn’t affect our relationship!

Etsy is a site that hosts shops for handmade and vintage items. It has a system where you can put little hearts on things that you like which flags them as favourites. You can also “favourite” or follow a whole store. If you want to chat with a store owner, you can send them a private message which is called a “Convo”.

Etsy has a lot of great educational resources for people opening and operating a shop which explain various aspects of the business. One thing that was very helpful was the explanation of how keywords in titles and the keywords are are used for searches. After learning about that I changed a lot of my product titles to be more diverse to attract people on a wider range of keywords.

Once I had a few products in place, I started searching on the keywords that I was using and bringing up other products that used that word. I then scrolled through the list and put a heart on anything that grabbed my attention. These were not necessarily products like mine, for example I searched on words like Paris, butterfly, umbrella and found lots of beautiful and interesting items. This approach was strategic to the extent that I was thinking that people who sell things using the same keywords might have an interest in that theme, and therefore like my cards. For example I have a Corgi dog in one of my cards, so I looked up Corgi and liked a few things that came up.

I hope this doesn’t seem like a cynical exercise. I am still getting the hang of how to make myself known and connect with others without resorting to insincere gestures and corny tricks. When it comes to the items I am giving a heart, I only do that if I do find it appealing, and in sympathy with my own tastes and interests. I have resolved the problem of differentiating what I like in general from what I really like by putting hearts on a lot of individual items to express a general appreciation, but only putting a heart on a whole shop if that product range is a very strong personal favourite.

A by-product of this exercise is that I have learned a lot about my own taste, and what appeals to me. Its like a psychological test where I am presented with multiple images in quick successions, and have to make an intuitive response that I like something. This has built up a “taste library” of objects which reflect my aesthetic sense. I learned that I like bright colour in general, particularly turquoise and any other blue, green or purple. I like interesting shapes and objects, like umbrellas, merry-go-rounds and butterflies. I like some retro graphics and vintage objects, especially Art Deco and Art Nouveau. A big surprise was that I like quirky illustrations of whispy girls with big eyes. I did not know that before!

The hardest thing for me to look at is other photography, because there is so much excellent work on Etsy that I feel rather overwhelmed. I don’t go out of my way to look at other photography as I am afraid I will crawl into a hole and stay there. However I decided not to exclude photography items from my random likes and have made a few nice connections with other photographers. I think I just need to be brave and stand my ground on my own work.

I regret that until the income starts to overtake the outgoings I can’t buy anything on Etsy. I wish that I could show other shop owners some support by purchasing their products, but spending on pretty things is not on the budget just now. I also feel a tension between the minimalist direction I have been heading in, and this new connection with the world of beautiful handmade items, and the desire to support small scale artists and creatives. It will be interesting to see how that ends up being resolved in the long term. Maybe I am not as minimalist as I thought I was.

Hi,

This is the first of my monthly updates. I might be the last. You know I hate to be tied down! I thought I would give a quick rundown on progress in various areas that I have written about in the last month or so.

Weight Loss Progress

Since declaring I wanted to lose weight I have adopted the following strategy:

Start walking regularly > Start eating chocolate regularly > Get sick from too much sugar > Stop walking regularly > Stop trying to limit calorie intake > Start being strict about diet for health reasons > Lose weight. I have lost about 4lbs in 6 weeks which is OK as I am not very big anyway.

This might seem like a roundabout method of losing weight, but its typical of how things go with me. Big pronouncements often get derailed, but something more important crops up. I am being very strict about avoiding foods that I believe I am intolerant to, and as a result I feel fitter and lost some weight anyway. My weight has been fairly stable since I started avoiding foods that don’t agree with me, and that seems to be the best approach for me. I may have a bit more fat than you might expect, but since I don’t have much sugar, it seems to work out. Since I can’t eliminate everything, hot chips are allowed.

Focus Days

The system of having focus days to do specific activities is going well. Its holding its own for housework tasks, as it means jobs get done on a fairly regular basis and I think the place looks better for it. Its nice to clean a shower that isn’t in desperate need. The system was thrown out last week for my work-related projects because I went out two days in a row. (How dare I!). This meant I was doing things on the “wrong” days to catch up. But it really doesn’t matter, after all its MY system. Swapping days is allowed. Thanks to the system I did get some little jobs that I had been avoiding done on the relevant focus day, such as reconciling a complex account for some newspaper advertising that had become very confusing due to credits and part-payments. I felt bathed in excellent office feng shui after doing that.

Social Action Email

The politics and social action email account is up and running and I am checking it a least daily. I am gradually switching things over to that account. I feel happy about that decision as maybe I can go back on some mailing lists that I abandoned because of excessive communication clogging up regular email.

Greeting Cards

The Cornish Fishing Boats greeting cards were well received, so the are now in a couple of shops. Thanks to blog readers for your initial positive feedback, which emboldened me to go on. I have started updating my ImageChest Photography website with background stories on the greeting cards as I release them. I recently wrote a short piece on Exploring Traditional Cornwall at Mousehole on that site. I am now working on setting up an online store for greeting cards.

Thumbnail

I am enjoying my new online thumbnail image. It makes me happy to see the colourful tulips when I make a comment. Its not possible to have 100% compliance with the new look name over all online activities, but I am happy that it is more consistent.

Dreaming

Lately my dreams are inhabited by colour images of Paris like the one below, which is one of my favourites. If you are going to dream about your work, this is the way to do it. Certainly beats Student IDs, spreadsheets and decision trees.

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