blog, writing process

31 day writing challenge – the results

close up photo of may graphing paper
Photo by Bich Tran on Pexels.com

In May 2018 I took part in the Ninja Writers challenge to post every day. I wrote about what I hoped to achieve from the daily challenge here. My stated aims were

Consistency
Community
Confidence

So how did it work out?

Consistency

I posted every day, using a mixture of some old posts remastered, new posts, and serialised fiction. The remastered posts were interesting to revisit. They showed that my blogging has improved: tighter writing, using pull quotes and bold text so readers can skim quickly. I can edit faster than two years ago.

I saw that some content is evergreen. Even two years later it is still relevant, as long as it is updated where needed.

Community

The Ninja Writers daily post group on Facebook had a new lease of life, with new members and more prepared to post links. This had dwindled to nothing. Occasionally I would be the only person to post in the thread, which was not encouraging. I read more, being sure to check out writers new to me in the thread, clapping and commenting. We all love acknowledgment; I made it a point to give more. And my own FB group were wonderful cheerleaders.

Confidence

This is how my stats looked for April 2018. I posted four times (one each Friday) and had 263 followers. Views varied between 2 and 122 per day.

Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 23.08.13

And this is how they looked for May 2018. I posted 31 times and had 310 followers, a net gain of 47 (gained 51 and lost 4.) Views varied between 23 and 110 per day.

Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 23.07.55

Views                         +150%
Reads                         +145%
Fans                            +150%
Followers                   +18%
Number of posts       +775%

I increased visibility, partly from having more content published by publications such as The Creative Cafe, PS I love you, and The Writing Cooperative. All have large readerships.

I increased interaction by replying to or clapping on all my comments. This has led to conversations with like minded writers, and we check out each other’s work. It builds a fanbase.

I increased followers by 51, 165% of my target. And lost four along the way. But I didn’t win big with anything.

Conclusion

I met my goals, but

  • It was arduous, even with a plan and reusing old content.
  • The almost eight-fold work increase was not matched by the other metrics.
  • Short fiction was hardly read even when serialised, which was discouraging as I think this is my best work.
  • Having posted 10 new and 1 old poem, I can also call myself a poet, maybe.
  • I can’t keep up my quality and post daily.
  • I managed to let a piece go that I didn’t think was great, which was new and terrifying. On the other hand I’ve posted good pieces with less engagement.
  • I’m much better at seeing ideas for blog posts in everyday life.

The sweet spot probably lies around 2-4 posts weekly for me. I’ll try that from June onwards and hope to build on the momentum I’ve picked up. I’m still gaining followers, a few at a time.

When people post about this experiment, the numbers are always fabulously large. I guess for most of us the reality is more modest. We keep slogging away, and maybe the next post is the one that goes viral.

audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, poetry

Tell me a story

book_butterflies
Alexas_Fotos via pixabay

listen: 

Tell me a story. Give me tales of a thousand nights, warm scented breeze on my skin, sand in my shoes. Take me to the farthest pole, blue-green fire dancing in the sky, breath clouding in crisp night air.

Tell me a story. Let me taste salt sea tang while sun beats down on wooden decks. Show me dolphins, flying fish, whales breaching white-topped waves. Let me glimpse bright eyed merpeople watching deep under the surface, waiting.

Tell me a story. Carry me on red and silver rockets to vast silent space stations where the stars never go out. Show me galaxies born from cosmic dust. Bring whispers from strange aliens and stranger, once-human creatures.

Tell me a story. Lead me up the mountain, rocks skittering away under exhausted feet, lungs screaming for oxygen. Describe that joyful promised land seen only from the summit, take me there on wings of faith.

Expand my horizons. Play my emotions. Cloak mindless chatter, soothe unthinking wounds, only with words. Let me shed this skin, be someone else, somewhere else, sometime else. Give me distance, just for a while. Let me lose and maybe find myself.

Tell me a story.

 

audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, poetry

Consumed

book on fire_StockSnap
StockSnap via pixabay

He tasted her mind and realised he was starving – unknown

listen: 

Dancing girls twirl bright and golden, limbs lustred to slip through the hands in a whisper of scented oils. A brilliant array, spread out to tempt a prince mired in jaded expectation. Perfect sweetmeats, empty glossy promises on the lips.

Bright. Gold. Red. Gone.

She is silent, an insubstantial shadow in the light of her better favoured sisters. Eyes lowered, plain garbed, unremarkable, she vanishes behind another dream confected in jewelled feathers.

He rises, leaves the orgy of consumption behind him, seeks her in the forgotten labyrinth of the palace. His hand stays her flight. Understood.

And so to a perfumed chamber. Purple and maroon, silk and velvet, secrets and lies.

Apparently submissive, her hand slips into a pocket. But when she raises her head, fire blazes defiance from her eyes. He steps back, hand on sword.

I do not refuse my esteemed prince, asking only that I might read to him first.

She opens the small volume, gold letters glowing on its spine.

And the universe cracks open and explodes before him. Questions, answers, songs for eternal ages, ancient wisdom and otherworldly beauty. His desert heart blooms, cool rivers quench parched lips. Her voice swathes him in clouds and galaxies and everything that has not yet come to be. Time sits at her feet and listens.

The prince savours thoughts, feasts on ideas, nourishes his soul, gobbling all. The moon sets; she does not stop reading. He is drunk on limerence, enthralled by wonder.

 

He wakes alone, faint afterglow of her words in his ear. How could this lyrical banquet leave him so hollow with longing? He did not know true hunger till he tasted her mind.

He had not understood.

A lifetime might not be enough. He searches still, for his hidden spirit with the phoenix burning in her eyes and dragon flames dancing on her tongue.

blog, writing process

Everyday writers, extraordinary ideas – and me

gold nugget
PIX1861 via pixabay

Kelvin Teo curated a list of his favourite quotes from Medium in April 2018. I was honoured (and surprised) to be included, with a quote from my piece Timeworn.

It’s a great feeling to get recognition for something I wrote. I already had positive comments on Timeworn, and inclusion in this list makes me happy. Also there are new writers on his list to discover. Recommendations mean a lot in the crowded online world.

So what does this mean?

I achieved my aim, of connection through words. The highlighted phrase is not my personal favourite from that piece, but it is someone else’s. Once it’s out there, we can’t control how our words are received.

I guess the takeaway lessons are

  • write it and let it go
  • submit to publications to increase potential readership
  • celebrate successes, big and small*
  • keep writing

*I think tea and cake is called for…

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Accidental soldier

helmet-armour_Baldr80
Baldr80 via pixabay

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

— GK Chesterton

 

It starts with little things. Small things that one hardly notices, a slight curl of the lip, a condescending word, interruptions borne less patiently. The fond smile becomes an irritated grimace, and before you know it a full-blown sneer. It might seem passive but it’s really not, all that hidden aggression smoothed over by an insincere smile. It usually bounces off, but it stings sometimes.

Still, it’s you and me against the world, united front, shared territory.

Next comes a subtle thickening of my skin to ward off those tiny arrows, ticks sinking little sharp mouthparts into my flesh and drinking. Absent kisses, back turned, cold disdain becomes the norm.

One sip of blood at a time adds up. I don’t feel it as much, through my sturdy hide. But I don’t feel the caresses either. Meantime the criticisms latch on, so hard to remove even with help. I don’t have the knack. I did not think to defend against an enemy within the walls.

No time to learn because bombs start to fall. Accusations and lies, silences and screams. I shout at you across a growing divide. We need to talk but here comes another missile, armed with shrapnel made of the insecurities I shared with you. I’m hit, bleeding, a serious wound but not lethal. I stretch out my hand but you’re already gone, back behind your gun emplacement. You fraternise in plain sight, covert texts and open falsehoods a carpet bomb of betrayal.

I retreat into a foxhole, lick my wounds, gasp in pain. When did it begin, this unrelenting conflict? No man’s land stretches between entrenched positions. No white flags here, just an nasty duel to the death. I want to fight for us, not against you. But you keep launching bombs.

I craft my armour and bide my time.

If I am grotesque, maddened by bloated bloodsuckers and ugly in hastily patched tin plates and makeshift helmet, know that you made this monster from a soft-bodied creature, vulnerable and foolish. That creature deserved pain for her weakness.

This soldier will not make that mistake. Our hot and fiery love burns down to cold, hard ashes. When pain forces me to dig deeper, into the molten core of my fury, I find a lava lake of rage to power my assault.

I know where you live, and all your weak spots. What we had is far behind us, forgotten ruins. What lies ahead cannot be seen through the smoke and flames of this battlefield. I care nothing for the future. There is only one mission. I will destroy you because this is war.

I will burn down the world if I must.

*******

A response to Creative Challenge 51.5; first published in The Creative Cafe on Medium, 29 November 2017

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, poetry

sky/light/deep/dark/blue

Creative Cafe Creative Challenge #48.5

man-blue-destruction_intographics
intographics via pixabay

“Depression is being color blind and constantly told how colorful the world is.”
— Atticus, Love Her Wild

 

This is a good day.

Hardly a cloud to mar a sweep of sky blue, warm winds sigh against my skin and tug at my sails. Hardly a shadow, with the sun near its zenith. Up here in the wide above, birds call and all is bright. The sea glitters blue and silver, reflecting sunbeams. Anything is possible. Viewed through the positivity telescope, the horizon beckons.

 

Another day.

Plenty of steel blue sky, but more grey clouds now, not yet weeping fat raindrops. Time to batten the hatches and haul in my sails against gusting winds and imminent storms. Water shivers in the air, cool against skin goosebumped despite my thin coat of hope. The sun hides. It is still there, I think.

 

Days go by.

I crouch in my frail boat, tossed on angry swell, shipping cold uncaring wet. The sky touches the sea and all is grey, colour washed away. Torn clouds shed raindrops to mingle with tears on my chilly face. And when the giant wave finally snatches me into pitiless ocean, I am not surprised. It was always coming.

 

Time passes.

I drift endlessly. No map or compass, no lifebelt. Helpless to fight the long slow slide, sinking deeper into the blue, I lose the last vestiges of light. Down, and down. Eyes blinded, nothing to see. Marble skin, numb to feeling. I could shout at the void, but there will be no reply. The blue darkens still more. It is the black shadow that has chased me every day of my journey.

 

Swallowed in nothingness, I lie resigned on unyielding ocean floor, a certainty of sorts.

Help isn’t coming.


first published in The Creative Cafe on Medium, 8 November 2017

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes

When you feel you can’t go on

10 steps to let your body carry your mind

seascape_HypnoArt
HypnoArt via pixabay

What doesn’t kill you, doesn’t always make you stronger.

Sometimes God or the universe sends you more than you can bear, piling one pain atop another. It doesn’t kill you, but you want it to end. Your spirit bends, quivers, threatens to shatter under an immense load of bad thoughts, feelings, or events. The room is locked from the outside, and you can’t even find a door because the light flickers and fades. It’s dark and frightening.

Your strength is gone. What to do now?

This mind, with all its anguish and desire for oblivion, is housed in a body that only knows one thing. Even when broken, at the extremes of pain and suffering, the body strives to go on.

No matter how many people surround you, depression is a lonely, solitary place filled with funhouse mirrors. Your world is twisted and distorted, pain reflected back from every direction.

The body can help.

While the mind searches for solutions, focus on your body for a while. Often we neglect it, for various reasons. We lack motivation, we are at war with a body that does not work or look how we want it to. We’re preoccupied with fighting whatever battle is consuming our lives. Acknowledge that and set it aside. This is not the time to address those issues.

First we must survive, body and mind together. And it is strange but true; the mind comes to rest in a body that is usefully occupied.

First things first

  1. Get clean; shower, wash hair, brush teeth. Make your bed. These will give you a sense of achievement, early in the day.
  2. Fresh clothes, something soft against the skin, according to the temperature. Socks if it is cold.
  3. Drink water. Cold, hot with lemon, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, whatever appeals. Then, drink more water through the day.
  4. Eat something. Toast, cereal, fruit, yogurt, noodles, whatever is available and easy.
  5. Put on some music to distract you from the internal thoughts that constantly whisper negative things. Turn up the volume if it helps.
  6. Some, or maybe all of your environment is out of control, mirroring your internal state. Pick a room where you spend a lot of time. Start in one corner, and begin clearing up. Wash dirty dishes, put on laundry, fill bags with trash and take them out.
  7. When feelings arise about the process, note them and keep going. Remember this is practical, not emotional.
  8. If someone has offered their support and you feel able, ask them to keep you company and/or help you. Sometimes we don’t need someone to hold our hand, as much as we need someone to tidy the kitchen we can’t face any more.
  9. Go outside. Breathe fresh air, turn your face to the sun, stand barefoot on the grass and connect. If weather or other issues prevent this, open a window for a few minutes. Bodies need oxygen and sunlight.
  10. If you are able, a simple repetitive task will further occupy your body. Cleaning windows, ironing, digging a garden, painting a fence, mopping floors, pulling weeds, walking. Sing along with your music. Count your steps, left, right, left.
  11. You will be distracted by the pain. Tell yourself you will come back to it later, and concentrate on the task at hand. (You know it will still be there.) Mindfulness is not emptying your mind of thoughts, that’s impossible. It is about noting the thoughts, letting them go, and returning to the one point of focus. Counting breaths or steps, reciting prayers or mantras, all help to occupy the body and still the mind.
  12. Helping others can be very therapeutic. But we cannot give what we don’t have. Put on your own oxygen mask first.
  13. Remember we are all different, and YMMV. Try different things and see what works for you. Return to it when life gets tough, before things spiral too far downwards. Sometimes we sink deeper, and it takes more effort to climb out of the hole. Get to know your early warning signs, and act on them.
  14. Ideal outcome: your body is comforted and nourished; your environment improved; your sense of control enhanced; your mind rested. A break from pain frees up mental energy that can now be used to address the underlying issues, with professional help if needed.

I hope you find something here that helps you feel better. But if you don’t, if you really feel you can’t go on and ceasing to exist seems like the only way out, please stop and reach out. Help is available here (in many countries) and there is always another solution.

The bravest thing I ever did was continuing my life when I wanted to die.
Juliette Lewis

Sometimes, just surviving another day is the victory. Let your body carry your mind until it feels better.

(first published in Invisible Illness on Medium, 18th June 2017)