On my Blip with Twitter and Access to your Contacts

Photo by Liquidnight

Photo by Liquidnight

A few weeks ago I asked my husband if he would take a picture of me. I wanted to update my website. The old avatar was tired, a headshot cropped from a family photo. J was happy to help, and I posed awkwardly. It has always seemed a bit narcissistic to me, individual pictures, apart from if you are memorialising special moments like graduation or a pregnant belly. Later I uploaded the photos onto the website and my social media accounts.

Then something strange happened. I noticed that my new avatar had followed me on Twitter. Strange, I thought. Had there been a glitch? Had I somehow managed to open another account? I checked the timeline of the new follower. I found that not only had my avi had been used by a stranger, but that s/he was offering sexual favours. Compared to what others have had to deal with on Twitter, take for example Turkish journalist Amberin Zaman or feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez, this was small fry. It still wasn’t nice.

First step: block that moron
Second step: report account for impersonation
Third step: shake off feelings of disgust

I was asked by Twitter to send them a scan of my passport or driving licence so they could verify the image was me. Then I pushed the incident to the back of my head and forgot about it. That was until yesterday, when I got an update saying that the account had been suspended.

My bad, here. I replied thanking Twitter. Then I checked said account and saw that it was still active. I wrote to Twitter again asking whether there was a delay before the suspension took effect. No response. Then I realised MY account had in fact been suspended. Both my follower and following lists were showing a big fat zero. Cue many tears, an appeal to Twitter and a pleading email begging them to reinstate my account. This, on the day that an internal memo was leaked, in which the Twitter CEO took personal responsibility for the company’s failings on tackling abuse and vowed to make it his top priority.

I reached out to a few Twitter friends on email and told them what had happened. I was after a virtual hug. What I got was more. I was blown away by the support online friends showed, tweeting their censure to @twitter, discussing how this was another example of a #twitterfail in which the community policies fail to protect users. Their support buoyed me.

Photo by Martin Gysler

Photo by Martin Gysler

My love for Twitter friends has snuck up on me. For me, my Facebook personal account is a place for real life family and friends. Twitter began as more of a business transaction, a place to increase my profile as a writer. It took me a while to learn the rules and rhythm of that platform. Now, it feels more authentic. A place for learning, sharing and meeting like-minded people. In comparison it seems to me now that Facebook weakens real life connections. It is an endless stream of Instagramed photos and pithy status updates. Like we are marketing our best selves. And well, for me, marketing belongs in business, not in our personal realm. Besides, with news from organisations filling our streams, and improving mechanisms for community interaction, personal updates on Facebook have begun to drop away.

My tears at the suspension of the Twitter account were an overreaction. It had been a tough week for other reasons. But I was also sad to lose my right to interact in a community I have grown comfortable with. Twitter is the base of many writing contacts, not all of whom I had other contact details for. I was not sure if a reinstated account was wiped clean. I feared losing contact with lovely people whose voices I would miss. Agents and publishers take into account the size of writer platforms when weighing up whether to offer you a deal. I had built up my account organically over a few years, and that work cannot be replicated overnight. Most of all, I felt a keen sense of unfairness that I had acted within the rules set by the community and had been punished. I questioned whether I should have reported the other account holder in the first place.

Less than a day later my account was fully reinstated. There was no apology. I was relieved to reclaim my relationships though my trust for the platform has diminished somewhat. But then, I have some issues with how much information Facebook and Google collect from me, and that doesn’t stop me from using their products. In fact, I love Google. It’s all about value. And the noise of hashtag overuse aside, Twitter brings a lot of value. Still, Twitter has a responsibility to protect its users better. Women, in particular, seem to be victims of trolling on this platform and there is no shirking Twitter’s duty to act more effectively.

If your writing success is even partially dependent on your contacts, you cannot rely on third party applications to protect your contacts. Why would you put all your eggs in one basket when the rules of social media are constantly changing, when you might fall foul of them without even realising it, or through no fault of your own? Nurture the contacts you value. Networking accounts for a lot, and you don’t want to lose access to your network.

As for me, I’ve been to-ing and fro-ing for a while about whether to upgrade to a self-hosted WordPress.org account from my WordPress.com one. I am happy with the current set up, particularly because of the automatic site back-ups WordPress.com carry out and eligibility to be considered for Freshly Pressed, which is a great signal boost. I’d also rather pay my yearly domain fee than a monthly hosting one. But with WordPress.org websites there comes more individuality, the possibility of having an online shop, and most importantly for me, better opportunities to grow your mailing list with plug-ins or email marketing solutions such as A Weber and Mailchimp. This latest experience has confirmed to me how important it is to have your own data.

I’d love to know what solutions you have considered for your websites.

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On Self-Criticism, Compassion and Progress

Photo by Alice Popkorn

Photo by Alice Popkorn

Hands up if you wrote a list of your priorities at the start of the year and if you have failed to maintain them. A new year holds such promise. Why do we set ourselves up to fail each year and end up feeling miserable? We try to give our lives meaning but what if it has none? Or what if it’s not about the grand gestures, but an accumulation of the small ones?

A few weeks ago friends came to visit us and we stayed up until the early hours. The conversation was happily disjointed. Thoughts were flung around the room and some we examined and others were left discarded with the empty chocolate boxes on the floor. We talked about how it was usual in our generation and circles for girls, as a by product of feminism, to have a dream. In many ways this is a good thing. Still, we questioned whether we were more or less happy than our mothers. Were our mothers more nuanced in their approach to happiness, less single-minded perhaps?

Serenity. For me, it is the most beautiful word in the English language. To me it says contentment and peace; not striving, just being. Have we forgotten how to find contentment in the present? It is important to set goals and live our dreams but let’s not write off the everyday moments that make us happy, the ones that keep us connected to ourselves and to others.

For me it is:

  • The moment of quiet when I first sink in the bath
  • The look that passes between two people when they are on the same page
  • Singing when no one is listening
  • Being present with a story, so much so that I forget myself

This year my resolution is to remember that happiness is the whole picture. It is not the small things we are critical of. It is our intentions. It is our effort. It is growth and resilience, not just a tally of failures and successes. It is all the colours of the rainbow. Happiness is not perfectionism. It is compassion for ourselves and for others. Don’t let self-critical thoughts crush your potential. Let me know the small moments that buoy you in the comments. Whether your start to the year is smooth or bumpy, you’ll get there, as will I.

Owning Your Choices in Story-Telling and in Life

I am finding it really hard to pick a novel to commit to at the moment. My hard drive is littered with the promising beginnings of half a dozen novels, each of which is clamouring for me to devote my time to them alone. Last week, I announced on my Facebook author page that I would be writing a dystopic science fiction story about a girl whose father has gone missing. I love this story. It has started to take shape in my head. I have plotted the story arc and sub-plots, one character in particular has started to take shape on the page. But I find myself retreating into other story folders, desperately bouncing between them like a woman with many lovers, unable to decide which one is her one true love.

I recognise my old enemy. Fear is creeping its way into my garden of dreams, feeding on my doubts and blocking out the sunlight. It is natural that every now and then, we come across decisions that we agonise over. We overthink our options and worry about making the wrong choice. We wonder if there was a better path that we ignored. Our hang-ups act like perpetual boomerangs and sabotage our success. We are paralysed by doubt and indecision and make excuses about our reasons for stalling.

‘I didn’t write today. There just wasn’t enough time.’

Now what I really meant to say when my husband asked me how my day went, was that I did the filing and the washing to avoid writing, because I can’t decide which project to commit to. Why is it that we get so defensive when we are called out? Is it really easier to stay within the comfort of our own boundaries than to strive for what we want? How liberating it would be if we could be honest with ourselves and each other.

If your fears have become bogeymen lurking at the edge of your consciousness, whispering doubt into your ear, call them out. Join me in writing them down, together with your goals, in stark black ink on a pristine page and maybe they won’t seem as scary in the cold light of day. Hell, let’s draw some ridiculous doodles next to them to bring them down a peg or two. A bug-eyed monster with a goofy smile perhaps, or a frenemy with her knickers round her ankles. Whatever floats our boat.

What is it that is holding me back right now, you ask? Well I think bubbling underneath the surface is indecision about whether to commit to literary or science fiction. That’s all. My head is saying: what is the clever choice? I’ve read the genre advice, and it’s better for branding to choose one direction, right? One thing is clear, finishing novels across multiple genres is definitely going to find you more readers than never finishing one.

Nobody cares as much about our choices as we do. Twenty years from now it won’t matter whether we take a small step towards success today or a large one; all that matters is that we keep moving forward. And the way to do that is to own our choices. Dressing up our decisions for the sake of external perceptions and expectations is to erode our self-determination and to fall into the trap of believing our own pretty white lies. It hinders our happiness and success.

I’m not going to stress over which novel I decide to commit to. I’m working on a short story collection at the moment, and if I find that the stubborn, plucky girl from my science fiction novel keeps intruding on my thoughts I’ll know that is the one. I forget that to be a writer is to learn infinite patience. It means to chip away at a project bit by bit until its form starts to take shape underneath our inky fingers. With writing, as with other choices, the trick is to commit to investing time and effort until the finish line. Sooner or later, my girl will have a story. And even if the novel doesn’t work as well as I want it to, I’ll have more skills and learning in my armoury to help with the next story.

Wishing you luck on your writing journey.

 

Feeling Like a Writing Fraud

It’s no secret to followers of this blog or my twitter account (@nzstelter) that I write.  I write daily.  I write reports, briefings, proposals and correspondence for my day job.  In my own time, I continue writing.  I journal, write stories or blog posts.  I invent stories for my daughter.  Writing allows me to crystallise my thoughts.  It’s always a thrill to feel the words come, to find the right expression, to capture the essence of fragile, fleeting emotion.  But here’s the thing.  I feel like a fraud.

You see, what I like to write most of all are stories.   I have been getting more down on paper since being more honest with myself and others about my fiction writing goals as described in my post on writerly arrogance. But I have something to tell you.  I have yet to finish a story.  There, I said it.  My writing folder is full of unfinished manuscripts.   I thought it would make me feel better admitting that out loud: ‘Hi.  My name is Nillu and I am addicted to unfinished manuscripts.’  No.  Not better at all.

Self-sabotage

It’s that persistent foe, fear, of course.  If I finish a manuscript, it would mean that it was ready for judging, not by my husband, but by an uninvested beta reader in the first instance, someone able to give real criticism.  And then, after drafts 2, 3, 4, 5, it would be crunch time.  Would the manuscript be sellable or will I end up with a drawer full of dreams?  So, I guess what I have (sub)consciously been doing for a long while now is not finishing stories.  Coward.  Yes, you.  You in the mirror.

Being the best version of yourself

A wise friend said to me recently that she believes we can actively create who we want to be.  We can let go of the parts of us we don’t want anymore, and take on new characteristics, new skills.  You say that this is compromising our authentic selves?  I think it is determining who we want to be, keeping or adding elements until we are the best possible version of ourselves.  The key is to keep moving forward.

parachutingEmbracing risky behaviour (within reason!)

Staying in a safe place is not always in our best interests.  Sometimes we are chaining our potential and living half lives.  So how do we embrace risks and move past fear?  This is what I have found:

  • Naming your fears and writing them down is the first step to beating them.
  • Take small steps forward into the future you want to live and you will get there sooner than you thought.  Try not to lose momentum.
  • Accept that you can’t control everything and that failure teaches us how to be better.
  • Don’t overthink.  Trust that you will find the right tools, skills and support to face whatever comes your way.
  • It is unhelpful to compare yourself to other people’s journeys.
  • You are never too old/silly/fat/thin/gray to try something new.  Push past your comfort zone.

For me, there’s only one thing for it, and that is to bite the bullet.   I will be a braver fiction writer by the end of next week. Next week’s post, I have decided, will be the completed first draft of a short story I have been working on.  No going back now.  Have you ever felt like a fraud?  What small improvements can you make to get closer to your goals?

‘When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.’ Maya Angelou

‘Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity.’ T. S. Eliot 

Arrogance: the Making and Breaking of Writers

The importance of being modest

If you’ve ever seen an old-school Bollywood movie, you’ll know that the heroine often hides behind her sari when faced with her true love.  In India, as in many other cultures, brash and brazen behaviour, is viewed as unseemly; modesty is celebrated, especially in women.  My family is originally from India.  My maternal grandfather came to the UK with nothing and worked hard to reestablish himself.  The achievement was staggering given his starting point.  When Nana died a few years ago, he left behind my gran, six children and nine grandchildren, all of whom share one characteristic: humility.  That, more than anything else for me, is my grandfather’s legacy.  He believed that regardless of success or good fortune, it is important to be humble.

The flipside of humility

This week, I’ve been thinking about the flip side of humility, that is, arrogance.  According to the Oxford Dictionary, arrogance is defined as ‘having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.’  But it seems to me that arrogance isn’t always a bad thing.  It can have a marked impact on success.  For example, research indicates that when looking for a new job, women generally put themselves forward if they meet a high percentage of the required criteria.  Men, on the other hand, are more likely to go for the job even if they fall short of the person specification, contributing to gender inequality at the highest levels.  So in this way, their exaggerated sense of their own worth contributes to their success.

PeacockArrogance vs confidence 

Of course, there is a difference between arrogance and confidence.  A confident person is aware of their value but articulates her achievements only if the situation requires it.  In a job interview, say, or in the dating game.  Or as a daily mantra – whatever.  The fact is that she isn’t as ostentatious and unpleasant as Mr Arrogant; Ms Confident knows when to broadcast her abilities, and when just to get on with her life.  Still, the differences between arrogance and confidence can be so subtle that they are sometimes confused with each other.  A pinch of too much confidence and the scales are tipped into arrogance.

A tool for success

But if your aim is not to be nice but to be more successful, is arrogance preferable to modesty?  If you are blind to your talents and do not celebrate them, why should anyone else?  In all walks of life, self-doubt is a game killer.  To give of ourselves, maybe we need to have a little self-love first, to be aware of our strengths and to acknowledge that we have unique talents that make us special.  Now, I can hear what you are thinking right now.  What is wrong with just being confident of my abilities?  Why do I need to be arrogant?

Arrogance – the making and breaking of writers

This is just for my writer friends, especially the ones who are just starting out and are still finding their voice.  As a new writer, there is an innate arrogance in assuming not only that you have something worthwhile to say but that you can express it in a way that readers will appreciate.  Writing can be lonely.  It involves long stretches of time without feedback and the road to finding readers can be a long one.  Without a touch of arrogance (new writers are unproven after all, how can you be so sure of your worth?), you may find that the path of the writer is too strewn with difficulties for you to persevere.  It is your self-belief, your arrogance, that propels you forward, that drives you to your computer, keeping your writing dreams afloat.  So, you see, arrogance is the making of emerging writers, but it can also be the breaking of you.  If your arrogance blinds you to the fact that all first drafts need editing, you will find yourself on the pulp pile.  Even geniuses need a helping hand.

Strange bedfellows: arrogance and courage

I’ll let you in on a secret.  I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a child, but I’ve always been afraid to give voice to my dream or call myself a writer.  Even now, when writing fiction has long become part of my daily practice, I still struggle with sharing that part of myself with those close to me.  Writers for me have so much power, they are god-like. It seemed arrogant to align myself with them.  But I grew tired of hiding.  I began to speak more of writing to those I trust and to make it a larger part of my life.  Strange things have happened since taking ownership of my writing ambitions.  I have been getting more words down on paper.  I feel more free to explore my creativity.  I am happier.  And if a little bit of arrogance is what has made this happen, sorry Nana, then it’s here to stay.

‘I’m an ambitious person. I never consider myself in competition with anyone, and I’m not saying that from an arrogant standpoint, it’s just that my journey started so, so long ago, and I’m still on it and I won’t stand still.’ Idris Elba 

‘The French have the reputation of being arrogant. I don’t think it’s arrogance but a certain authenticity.’ Simon Baker 

 

Leaving Fear Behind

sunsetAfter I published my first proper blog post yesterday I tweeted about it and sent the link to half a dozen family and friends.  The chosen few, as it were: those who have been supportive of my writing dream or at least know about it.   Not everyone does.  I didn’t share the post on Facebook.  My Facebook account is full of people, who have known me my entire life and that was a risk too far.

The courage to risk failure

This morning one of my trusted circle asked me why I had decided to blog.  She hadn’t seen my website or the piece yet.  The answer I gave surprised me because it differed from the reasons I give on my About Me pages.  The truth is, it takes bravery to reveal your true self and to admit to your dreams.  You risk criticism, or worse, indifference. You risk public failure.

Trust: seeing strangers as friends

The reasons I gave for starting this blog are still valid: said friend who shall remain nameless was a pivotal point, I would like to champion fiction and share my own.  But I wasn’t being wholly honest.  I hadn’t taken a quiet moment to look inside myself and really search for the true answer.  A better technique on my first attempt would have been to write down my reasoning thinking of you, my readers, as friends.  Instead, I saw a sea of strangers and that scared me.  I’ll tell you now what I told Lindsay.

The whole truth

I decided to blog because one day I want to be a novelist, but at the end of that process I don’t want to find myself too fearful to share my manuscript with you.  This blog is an exercise in risk-taking and vulnerability, a way to share my ideas and writing in baby-steps, to find commonality with readers and writers.  It is an exercise in understanding myself better and finding my way beyond your superficial layers too.  We all have them.  Post by post, this is my way of overcoming fear and building trust.  So I say again:  Welcome.  Nice to meet you.  Be honest.  Be yourself.

‘Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.’ Thomas A. Edison

‘A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.’ John Burroughs