Thursday, December 22, 2011

The night before the night before the night before Christmas

Twas the night before the night before the night before Christmas, and all through the Fibro, not a creature was stirring... not even me, who should be, at the very least, wrapping presents. Instead, I'm eating festive red and green M&Ms and confessing my favourite karaoke tunes on Facebook. If that's not going to give me a virtual hangover tomorrow morning, I don't know what is...

I had big plans for my last post of the year. I could have done a Four-Corners-style 'Year In Review', with a month by month overview of Life In A Pink Fibro. Could have.

I could have done a Sunrise-style montage, little vignettes of the year that was, set to some kind of heart-wrenching, soul-soaring soundtrack. Could have.

Instead, I'm just going to say thanks for hanging out in the Fibro with me this year. I love it when you pop in to say hi and drink coffee. You are my very favourite style of visitor - the ones you don't have to clean up for - and I thoroughly enjoy your company.

It's been a big year, and 2012 is shaping up to be even bigger (even if Alla Hoo Hoo has moved to Sydney). Can't wait to share it with you.

I'll be back on Sunday January 8, 2012, full of beans and blogging mojo. For sure. I hope that your Christmas and New Year festivities are wonderful and that you also get as much sleep as you need. I have about a year's worth to catch up on, so wish me luck!

In the meantime, there's only one question left to ask...

What's your favourite karaoke tune? The song you bring out every time to bring the house down (or not)? Mine (after several thousand beers) is Son of A Preacher Man by Dusty Springfield. I know. I'm nuts!

[image: via Pinterest]

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What's in a name? Quite a lot, apparently.

Every once in a while I write a story that really catches my imagination. That gives me such pleasure - nay, glee - to write that I can't believe people are actually paying me to do this job. This week, I had such a story, all about baby names, which, I have to confess is one of my favourite topics of all time.

I love names. I love the anguish that goes behind choosing a baby's name. I love seeing whether the baby grows into the name or the name grows onto the baby. I even love that illicit thrill when a friend or family member names their child - and all you can think is WTF? Seriously, you think you know a person, and then they name their children (not that I've ever had this feeling with regards to my own family and friends, I hasten to add).

The best names always belong to other people. Who name their children - true stories, for these are all examples from a lengthy conversation on the Fibro Facebook page today - Chaos, Rowdy, Epiphany, Jesus, Sunshine, Handsome, Precious, Dolly Rockstar, Jonny Wolf, H (just the letter), Shanthony, Xanadu, Bluegum, Rubella, Shame and Waynette. And that's just a selection.

In the course of my story - you can read the whole thing on Kidspot here - I spoke to social researcher Mark McCrindle, whom I would add to my next dinner party guest list in a heartbeat. We talked about why the class of 2030 will be full of children named Kate, Will and Pippa. We talked about why biblical names are making a comeback (Hepzibah, anyone?) and why the top 20 names in Australia has remained fairly much the same for the past ten years. Nay, longer. We talked about why some names rise to the top and stay there, and others are merely flashes in pans (Britney?).

We discussed the fact that chasing a 'unique name' has become a trend in itself, perhaps a backlash from people who'd endured years at school as Melinda A, Melinda B, or Melinda C, and wanted their own child to have a name that stood on its own and would never be confused with anyone else in the class. We talked about how some of those names might be difficult to live with. Particularly in an era when our name is so much a part of our identity - it's everywhere (Facebook, email, everywhere).

Eight years ago, when the Builder and I were naming Mr7 (then not even with us), we endured the agony that is choosing a child's name. We ran the gamut of options - with girls he started at Charlie and I began with Audrey, so we had some ground to cover. We had a boys' name within minutes and a girls' name pretty much with just minutes to spare before the birth. It was HARD.

Now, as a writer, I get to choose names all the time. I have three different baby books and love to check out the 'popular names' sites on Google for inspiration. The beauty of those sites is that you can find names for characters from any era. All your characters born in the 1970s? The top 10 names is at your fingertips (Michelle, Nicole and Lisa, in case you were wondering).

I also get to use up the names that I loved but didn't quite make the grade for my actual children. Not Audrey, not yet, but soon....

Did you find it difficult to name your children? Did you have 'leftover' names?

[image: from BBLLSS/etsy]

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Where do you write?

I am a creature of habit. I know this because (beyond the fact that I have written about it before) the slightest hint of change in my office throws me into a panic. Tonight, for instance, I am sitting here trying to write with my printer on my desk, the contents of my filing cabinet on the floor and a random feather duster under one elbow. Go figure.

I am also sitting to the left of my computer, not the right. With cords under my feet. And I can't write. Well, nothing useful anyway.

I have writer friends who can write anywhere. They blithely sit outside with their laptops. Or take them to cafes. Or libraries. Or on planes. And they make progress. I don't. I am easily distracted and if it's all not just 'so' it doesn't work. Mind you, just 'so' simply means just 'my desk', which is usually messy and ugly and all kinds of wrong. But I have, after many years of freelance writing, trained into my body a Pavlovian response. I sit at this computer and I write. That's what I do (albeit sometimes via Twitter and Facebook). When people talk about 'The Zone', this is it.

Which is good from a focus perspective, but kind of boring from a 'where I write' perspective. I'd like to be able to say that I sit in the garden, with the scent of orange blossom in my nostrils. But the truth is that I would be hot, and there would be glare, and the words simply would not flow.

Much like tonight. With a printer cramping my style (and my ergonomics). So I'll manage a blog post, and that will be it. Hopefully by tomorrow I'll have adapted to my new surroundings and a new habit will quickly form. Hopefully.

Where do you write?

[image: my desk looks nothing like this one from]

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Do you have a signature style?

A friend of mine confessed via Facebook today that she'd had a perm. A perm. Seriously? First, I laughed and put a sarky comment on her status update. Then I posted a status update on the Fibro page, asking Friends of Fibro to share their own perm stories.

But even that wasn't enough. And so I'm blogging about it. Partly, I think, because I am in awe.

I am the most boring person on the planet when it comes to hair. I've had essentially the same hair for 20 years. Long, red, curly (okay, frizzy unless drenched in 1001 lotions and potions).

Prior to that, I had ... the same hair. Oh it was shorter when my Mum was in charge (because I wouldn't have wanted to deal with my mop either). There was a fringe. There was a moment of asymmetric madness in the late 1980s (all the better to show off my button earrings). A bob.

That's it.

I've never gone blonde, or brown, or black, or pink. I've had it straightened once or twice and it was nice for the 20 minutes it lasted but, really, not worth the effort to do every day. I wear it up every day and wear it long and curly when I go out. I colour it now to cover the greys, but I've finally found a colourist who can make it look close to what it looked like naturally about five years ago.

As I said, the most boring person when it comes to hair.

I put some of it down to being a redhead. The colour was pretty good, why muck about with it? The rest I just put down to me being boring.

The big problem, of course, is what happens next. It's probably time to cut it off. But if I cut it off, it's harder to deal with (much curlier and frizzier - no perm required). I'll continue to colour but at what point do I decide that I can't be a redhead any more?

Who knew that a lack-of-signature style would throw up such conundrums?

What's your hair history? Have you ever had a perm?

[image: if all else fails, I'm getting me one of these Rapunzel hats from Evermicha/Etsy]

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

So, I have some news

On my way home from the Big Smoke yesterday, I found myself consigned to the vestibule area of the train. Me and five silver-haired gentlemen of indeterminate age. We all settled in with our books and our blank stares as the trained rocked and rolled its way toward Fibrotown. All of a sudden, the man sitting next to me announced loudly that Australia had nine wickets down and 29 runs to make to win the second test with New Zealand. It took me a few moments to realise he was wearing headphones (hence the loud voice) and was plugged into the game.

We all smiled and nodded and went back to our books and blank stares.

Several minutes later, he announced loudly that someone or other might be LBW and a decision was pending. Silence. "No, it's all right," he said. We all smiled and nodded, though, little by little, we were being drawn into the game.

We got a ball by ball rundown over the next five or ten minutes, much smiling and nodding, before Australia's last batsman was consigned to the dressing rooms and it was all over. The man next to me turned off his radio, wound up his headphones and no more was said from that point on.

He'd related his news. We'd all politely shared in it. There was no more to be said.

I relay this tale because I have some news. Up there with the most exciting news I've ever had.

My first novel will be published by Pan Macmillan in 2013. Title to be confirmed. Date to be confirmed.

But it's happening. And, yes, I am beside myself.

I hope that you are all smiling and nodding along with me.

I'll be sure to share updates (loudly) as they come to hand.

[image: via weheartit]

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Room service of one's own

By the time you read this, I will be luxuriating in a hotel room with fresh white sheets, room service and a TV with a remote control that I will not have to share with anyone. No-one.

For, you see, I will be all by myself.

I'm off to the Big Smoke to do 'Coffee', among other things, and this time, rather than cramming myself into my friend A's son's bottom bunk (my usual level of accommodation when I head to the Big Smoke), I've gone to and booked myself some solitude.

I'm a little bit excited. I will miss my boys, of course, but it has been a long time between Do Not Disturb signs. Catch you on Wednesday!

When was the last time you checked into a hotel by yourself?

[image: not where I'm staying, but the fabulous Charlotte Street Hotel, London, via]

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What's your best-kept secret?

Mr4 has had another big week. He can now click his fingers and whistle. Even at the same time. It is at once incredibly endearing and unbelievably annoying. He is so very proud of his achievements. And wishes to practise them all the time.

All. The. Time.

His new talents have led to the uncovering of one of my best-kept secrets. I cannot whistle. Not well. Not very well at all. I get kind of a thin, reedy, tuneless squeak. Full of air. Signifying nothing. It is one of my great regrets in life. I've always wanted to be one of those girls who casually puts two fingers in her mouth and lets out an ear-piercing wolf whistle. All I end up with is saliva all over my fingers and a red face.

Mr4 is most perturbed about my inability to whistle a happy tune. He is trying to teach me.

"You just make your lips into a circle and blow," he says, demonstrating. He makes a small noise.

I follow his lead. I make a much smaller noise and do not look near as cute with my lips in the regulation cat's bum position.

Mr7, who can whistle Christmas carols in tune, looks at us both indulgently. "Just keep practising," he tells us. "You'll get there one day."


Can you whistle? Do you have a 'best-kept secret' - one of those things that everyone else in the world seems to be able to do... and you can't? (I won't tell a soul, promise.) 

[image: I need one of these bird whistles from BKYStudios/Etsy]

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fibro Q&A: How to write a better blog (tips from a Problogger)

Back in the early days of this blog, when I was still faffing about, thinking that blogging was writing on the internet, I happened to win a book in a giveaway. It was called 'Problogger: Secrets for blogging your way to a six-figure income'. "Yeah, right," I thought, tossing the book on the dining table (repository for all things Fibro) when it arrived and thinking no more of it. A few days later, on a slow news day, I picked up the book and read it from start to finish. By the end of it, I was not making a six-figure income, but I had some very good ideas about what I wanted to do with my blog - and what I didn't.

Darren Rowse is Problogger (@problogger on Twitter to be exact). He started his first blog in 2002. He now has several blogs, several books (if you're a new blogger, do not miss his 31 Days to Build A Better Blog Workbook), and a brilliant career extolling the virtues of blogging to the wider world. If you want to know how to make money on your blog, or off your blog, he's your man. He's also the go-to guy for tips on creating blog communities, using social media, and building your blog into a force to be reckoned with.

But I didn't want to talk to him about any of that. Oh no. I wanted to ask him all about the art of writing for blogs. So I invited him to the Fibro and, oh joy, he popped in for a (virtual) cuppa and a chat.

Settle back, this is good.

Do you believe that writing for blogs is different from writing for other forms of media? Why/why not?
Darren Rowse: "Tough question. I'll say yes... but with a small disclaimer! In general, I think blogs can do well with a more personal and playful voice than perhaps writers in other forms of media could get away with. This informal and personal style is something that blogs had a lot of success with in the early days and, from what I can see, is still often important in building an audience and relationship with readers.

"Having said that, my disclaimer - it does depend a little upon the style of the blogger and the goals of the blog. Some blogs do really well being written in a more formal and less personal voice. I am also increasingly seeing the more personal style appearing in other forms of media."

I've seen the line 'content is king' over and over - do you think that comes down to what you say or how you say it?
DR: "I think it's both. What you say is of vital importance - it needs to be useful to people in some way. I find that the best content is content that solves a need that somebody has. That need might be a big or important one like 'I need to know how to raise my child'. Or it could be something a little more frivolous, like 'I'm bored - entertain me'.

"How you say it is just as important though - in some ways, I think it is often what lifts good content to being great content. Your style or voice as a blogger is something that for most people comes over time and is hard to teach. Some bloggers just seem to be born with  it (Mojo), while for others it develops as they experiment with different approaches to writing and see how others respond to it."

Do personal bloggers need to worry about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)? How can they incorporate it without losing the rhythm of their writing?
DR: "My philosophy with SEO is pretty simple:

"1. Search engines are some of the biggest referrers of traffic going around. When someone wants to find information, it is more often than not a search engine that they head to.

"2. So if you want people to read your content (whether that content be 'personal' or something else), it makes a lot of sense to me to pay some attention to SEO and maximising your chances of being found in search engine results.

"3. So I advise learning the basics of SEO. Having a good understanding of how search engines rank sites and what you can do to optimise your blog is something that can be the difference between having a blog that is read - or not.

"4. However - I don't personally obsess about SEO. I know the basics and find that knowing them and practising them a little will, in time, bring changes to the way that you blog, that will lead to a natural SEO as you blog. For example - knowing that the keywords you use in the title of your post is important in SEO means you start to think about keywords more and, in time, develop better-optimised titles.

"5. Google is in the business of ranking the best and most authoritative content highest. So one of the best things you can do with SEO is to write high-quality content and build trust, credibility and authority in your niche through networking. While there are things you can tweak in your content to improve your SEO, the best thing you can do is write quality content that people share around.

So, learn the basics, implement them, don't obsess about SEO and build something of high quality."

For me, blogging is about voice. Stand-out bloggers have stand-out voices. Would you agree? Any tips to help bloggers develop their voices?
DR: "Voice is one of those elusive things that I wish I could bottle and hand out to bloggers. It's difficult to teach - some bloggers seem to be born with it, others find it develops in time and for others, it just seems to elude them.

"The main tips I could give:

*Practise - it takes time to develop your voice. The first 5000 posts are the hardest!

*Experiment - part of practising is experimenting with writing in different styles and voices. Set yourself tasks to write different types of posts. Experiment with different lengths, with formal and informal writing, with humour, with writing in the third person, with writing lists posts, case studies, question/discussion-based posts.

*Pay particular attention to how your posts are received - watch for sparks of energy and resonance from your readers. As you experiment, you'll find that some posts just seem to click with others, while others flop. This gives you hints as to what types of posts to keep experimenting with."

If you were a writer trying to build a community and a profile through a blog, what would you focus on? Is it enough to just write good stuff?
DR: "There are other factors that I think are important in building a good blog. Content is part of it, but I always try to add two other elements:

*Community: Engagement from readers (and among readers) is where the magic often happens. Ask readers questions, get them interacting with you and each other, give them homework, make them know that they're valued, build a culture of inclusivity. All of this helps make your blog more useful, but it also builds social proof and makes it easier to grow, because when new visitors come they will be more attracted to a site that is obviously active and inclusive - rather than one that simply has good content.

*Get off your blog: A 'build it and they will come' mentality doesn't really work with blogging. Just focusing all your energy on building a great blog is part of what you need to be doing, but also important is getting off your blog and interacting with other people's spaces. Identify who you want to read your blog and where they are already hanging out online - then go and interact (and be useful) in those spaces. In doing so, you'll start to build yourself a profile, credibility and, hopefully, in doing so, find readers for your own blog."

For everything you ever wanted to know about blogging, visit Darren at the Problogger website, or go say hello on Facebook. If nothing else, tell him how much you like his glasses.

**And don't forget the first-ever Fibro Facebook chat about freelance writing is on tomorrow night (Wednesday) at 8.30pm (AEDST). Hope to see you there!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Less is sometimes more

When I first dropped my blog-post-a-day habit, I was twitchy. At 10pm every night (my usual blogging time), I'd be antsy. On the off days, I'd feel like something was missing. You know that feeling you have when you know you should be doing something but you're not quite sure what?

That feeling.

But I got busy with other things and before I knew it, I was finding myself trying to remember if a day was a blog day or not. It doesn't take long.

What I have noticed, however, is feeling more pressure than I ever did when I was cranking out a post a night. Now that I've offloaded my quantity issues, I'm struggling with quality issues. I feel as though every post must earn its place. I'm tossing ideas around in my head wondering if they're worthy enough to throw out there. Before, I'd be grabbing at every passing thought trying to extrapolate 500 words from it. Now, I'm discarding more posts than I'm writing - before they're even written.

The jury is out as to whether this is a good thing or not. On one hand, I do have an ongoing document on my computer that contains a whole lot of snippets - ideas, thoughts, fragments. Most of it will never see the light of day on this blog, but some of it may turn up in other forms (heavily fictionalised, for instance) down the track.

On the other hand, I spent a considerable amount  of time the other night fitting the names of my favourite blogs into the tune of the Twelve Days of Christmas before trashing the whole thing as ludicrous. (Despite 'Frills - In - The - Hills' being gobsmackingly perfect for the 'Five Gold Rings' line.)

Quality versus quantity. Sometimes less is more pressure.

How often do you blog? Has your pattern changed since you started blogging?

[image: hautegreenhutch/etsy]

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Raising boys: Kid in the kitchen

Mr7 and I did some cooking tonight. Usually 'cooking' involves both boys eating their bodyweight in chocolate chips whilst waiting to stir the cookie mixture. Or swiping at the cake mix with a wooden spoon before racing off to lick the batter off it.

Tonight, he decided he wanted to help me make dinner. Chilli con Carne (sans Chilli for him and Mr4). So I showed him how to cut an onion - which he then wanted to attempt with a butter knife, before I dissuaded him. And he helped me put the spices in with the meat - by standing halfway across the kitchen and flinging cumin in the general direction of the pot. "You can go closer," I said, watching bemused as the cumin snow hit the ground. But no, he didn't want to burn himself.

When he attempted to open a can of tomatoes with a bottle opener, not being able to recognise a can opener out of the drawer, I realised it's definitely time to overcome my anxiety about him chopping off a finger or setting fire to his hair and actually teach him to cook. I have always sworn that I would never raise boys who could not fend for themselves.

Time to start putting my money where my mouth is.

Do you cook with your kids? What kinds of things are you cooking (and how old are they?)? And are those coloured knives on Junior Masterchef more kid-friendly than other knives?

[image: decal by tweetheartwallart/etsy]
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