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“Work is so busy”.

“I’m too tired in the evenings”.

“The kids take up all my time”.

“I just can’t think of anything to write”.

The list goes on.

Writers are society’s great procrastinators, forever finding excuses for not putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

And I’m no different.

Aside from (some claim unhealthy) daily absorption in social media, primarily Facebook, I have written little of consequence over the past eighteen months, in fact a total of twenty five posts on my blog, admittedly most of which were of considerable length.

But it is now three years since I published A Half-Forgotten Triumph with my late, lamented co-author, Martin Moseling, to some acclaim in cricketing circles. That was to be the – somewhat idiosyncratic – launch pad for a writing career that, frankly, was always going to be more likely to bring modest pleasure to a small proportion of the reading public than any riches to its author.

Based on a host of articles written on annual trips to San Francisco, I planned to follow Triumph up in 2015 with a book celebrating, from an English traveller’s perspective, the City by the Bay. By the time I’m writing this piece, I would have hoped to have published it.

Not so.

A significant chunk of Smiling on a Cloudy Day: An Englishman’s Love Affair with San Francisco is still sitting on my desk in the nicely decorated binder I bought for the express purpose. Less developed is the manuscript of High Kicks and Red Rocks: A South West Road Trip which was the next planned work.

Now, this is where, in the classic writer’s fashion, I reel out my own excuses – deteriorating health and ultimate death of my father, which took a physical and mental toll, the passing of two other close friends, including the aforementioned Martin, two major operations for myself and, during this calendar year, the need to sell two properties and purchase another fifty miles apart.

Under cross-examination, I do believe I could make a case for partly justifying my inaction in respect of some of those issues, but, ultimately, my natural indolence took control of my writing energies.

But I can no longer cite them, or any other factors for that matter, as reasons for not getting “back on the horse”.

So it is time to dust off that nicely decorated binder and get to work on Cloudy Day, and following that, High Kicks. 

And I will.

However.

(I know – procrastinating again).

A slight spanner has been thrown into the works in the past few months which has had both a positive and potentially negative impact on my writing plans.

Folkestone.

My new home on the Channel coast has given me both a source of renewed inspiration and motivation. Without it, I doubt whether I would have been able to exorcise those demons I listed above.

It has been the subject of my four most recent blog posts, the last three alone written in the two and a half months since I arrived in the town that had generated so many happy memories from half a century ago.

But the danger, of course, is that its charms might divert me from the plans I have just outlined for those two books. I suspect that there may one day be a need to make Folkestone the main protagonist of another, more substantial, piece, but, for now, it has to be the light relief, the day job if you like. Aside from the requirement to sustain interest in the upcoming San Francisco book, ever more important as completion approaches, it will continue to be the primary focus of my social media activity.

Now where did I say that nicely decorated binder was?

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If you’ve trudged your way through my previous posts – Er…………I’m a Writer and Er………..I’m a Writer Part Two, you will understand that I have struggled with acknowledging to myself, let alone others, that I am a writer and should, therefore, declare myself as such when asked that dreaded question “what do you do?”.

Well, now, rather like the ugly duckling in the Danny Kaye song, I have finally come to accept that my feathers are no longer “stubby and brown”, but rather that I am, if not a “very fine” one, at least a swan.

The particular flock of swans that opened my eyes to this fact came in the form of a writer I only discovered ten days ago.  Kristen Lamb is the author of two outstanding books, namely Not Alone  – the Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There Blog? It’s Me, Writer. I believe the titles are self-explanatory, though I need to go into a little more detail to describe their influence upon me.

I devoured the first book within three days of buying it.  On the basis of Kristen’s advice I have almost trebled the number of followers I have on Twitter in the past week.  The list now contains a number of highly successful authors, agents and publishers. This is called “building my platform” by the way.  I have also amended my profile on both Facebook and Twitter to reflect my current and future goals rather than focusing on my past.  In a word, my “brand” is becoming more “professional” with each passing day.

I have not even finished the first chapter of the second book yet, but feel compelled to share what a seismic change has been brought about in my own attitude by the first few pages alone.

Indeed, on the very first page, Kristen goes straight to the heart of my, until now, enduring dilemma:

When people ask you what you do, you need to tell them, “I’m an author” or “I am a writer”…………As long as you introduce yourself via your day job (other than writer), then you are telling your subconscious that you want to be that day job FOREVER. Don’t even try to cheat with “I am an aspiring writer”. Again, this is a subconscious cue, and twenty years later, you will still be “aspiring”.

In case you have not read my previous articles on the subject, I have described my “day job”, since I retired from the civil service, variously as “retired”, “unemployed” and “student”, sometimes taking a gulp before adding hurriedly that “I’m doing a bit of writing nowadays”.

Kristen addresses, with her customary humour, the embarassment factor that accompanies that brave declaration with:

If you want others to shut up and stop mocking you, just tell them they had better knock it off because there is a part for a nose-picking circus midget with mommy issues in your novel. Then they might agree to play nice.

And finally:

Screw aspiring. Aspiring is for pansies. Takes guts to be a writer. Yes, other people will titter and roll their eyes, but you won’t care. In the meantime, toughen up. You will need the skin of a rhino in this business. Do not look for outside approval. This is about as productive as looking for unicorns or Sasquatch.

So, in the immortal words of the great Frankie Howerd, “titter ye not” people – I AM a WRITER!

After all, what do I spend my time doing when I am not carrying out household chores, caring for my elderly father and spending quality time with my wife – and sometimes even DURING those times – yes, writing.  Blog, Twitter, Facebook, e mails, forums – all writing. This is what I do. And, in the New Year, I intend to step up several gears by entering competitions and submitting articles to relevant magazines, as well as progressing one or two more substantial projects. That doesn’t make me a plumber, interior decorator or civil engineer – it makes me a WRITER.

So thank you Kristen for giving me both the reassurance and confidence to proclaim this to the world.

Her hugely informative and entertaining blog can be found at http://www.warriorwriters.wordpress.com/ .  Whether you are “just” interested in improving how you build and develop your relationships on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, or believe you too could produce an interesting and valuable blog, this is the place to go.  And don’t forget to read the books as well – they have been my inspiration.

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In the past two years, I have re-established contact with a series of people from my past whom I had not seen for a total of more than 130 years – a schoolfriend from 38 years ago, a good friend from university (36 years), a group of work colleagues (nearly 30 years), a couple with whom my wife and I had previously enjoyed a great relationship  (18 years) and an ex-boss (12 years).  And I suspect that many other people have similar tales to tell about rediscovering, if not recapturing (which I doubt is ever possible), some of the more enjoyable periods in our lives.

So, what are the motives for doing this?  Is it because I need to recapture a past that was much better than the present? (it was certainly simpler, but today’s comforts – including the ability to communicate my thoughts in the way I’m doing now – make it difficult to counter that argument).  Or is it just safer to “live in the past” in order to escape from a present that is complicated, stressful, even frightening?  Short of becoming a hermit I just don’t see how such an escape could be effected. Or is it because in most instances I was considerably younger, healthier and fitter then?    Well, that is undeniable, but life on a personal level is “all good” as my Californian friends would say.

Or, maybe, for me at least, it is purely because I have more time (far too much, some might say) on my hands now that I am no longer a wage slave.  There may be something in that, but these matters had concerned me before that, but I did not, or chose not, to articulate them in this public fashion.  And, finally, and on a shallower level, is it mere vanity, a means whereby I can induce more people to say how well I have aged and how young I look?  I would hope not, though I can’t deny, nor could you I suspect, that it is nice to told that from time to time!

It may, at least in part, be an intimation of mortality, an understandable symptom of the ageing process, even possibly a need to “make my peace” with those people; to confirm that, when we do part again, as we will surely do, we do so on unequivocally good terms.  But that presupposes that the people I am back in touch with, I had fallen out with in the first place – which is palpably untrue.   It is a fact that the pace and demands of modern living can, sometimes unaccountably, disconnect us  from people we have long regarded as good friends, leaving the embers of Christmas cards and the occasional e mail – and, perhaps, your displacement by other people from their past!

Whilst there is some truth in all of the above, I suppose the simple answer to the question is “because I can” – four  of the five reunions have been triggered or facilitated by social networking, with the other the result of the reporting of a major life event.  In none of these cases have I pursued or sought out those people because I needed to – in fact, in the majority of instances, it has been the other party that has contacted me, though the experience of resuming contact, once the approach had been made, has been a wholly positive one.

Indeed, regardless of either the route taken to the reunion or the current state of play between the parties, the relationship has enriched my life now, as it had done in the past when we took it more for granted.  And not just because it’s “nice” to see “so and so” again.  I believe that  revisiting some of the good times in our past with people we still value, though we had been long separated, prompts us to think about how we behaved and reacted to experiences then, and how we might learn lessons from that that would enable us to lead more caring, inclusive and uncomplicated lives now in what is unquestionably a more sophisticated and dangerous world.

Psychobabble?  Old hippie drivel?  Perhaps, but if you find that you too are investing an increasing amount of your time in re-engaging with the scenes and characters in your past, consider how that has affected how you live your life now, and whether it has reacquainted you with values that you may have, on occasion, lost sight of.     

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Current estimates are that there are 200 million people with a Twitter account, a mere third of the number of registered Facebook users.  I count myself a member of both communities, but it is the value of Twitter that I want to consider here.

Until recently I had used it essentially as a vehicle for providing me with breaking news on subjects that interest me whilst I am on the move.  And it is simple – just identify the information you want, select the accounts you need to follow to enable you to obtain that information, and away you go.  I just leave my mobile logged into Twitter and I can follow the rolling news as it happens. I can even programme it to provide instant text alerts, something, however, that I would not recommend unless you want to wake up, as in my case, to more than a hundred alerts detailing, literally, the blow by blow account of a baseball game played six thousand miles away whilst you were asleep.  

A more recent and useful example was when I was able to read over by over updates on Kent’s T20 cricket match against Glamorgan whilst dining in an Indian restaurant.  Unlike the chicken dansak, sag paneer and Tiger beer, it didn’t go down too well with the other diners, including my wife, but learning of Kent’s spectacular victory, grasped from the jaws of defeat, made my evening!

I am now taking a more active role in the exchange of information, and it is very satisfying when your contribution is valued sufficiently that your  tweets are responded to, particularly by people in the public eye (be assured, however, that these are artists and sportsmen and women, not “celebrities”!).  Moreover, the number of people following my tweets has been gradually expanding.

There is the added benefit, as many established authors increasingly claim, of using Twitter both to hone your writing skills by creating pithy, relevant tweets of no more than 140 characters and marketing yourself to prospective readers and agents by adding links to your work. 

But it is a double edged sword.  The pace at which news spews into my inbox, some of which compels me to respond to (I am a writer after all (keep telling yourself Tony)), takes up time that could, and should, be expended on “proper” writing i.e. drafting more serious and substantial pieces.  There has been a clear ratio between the increased time I have spent on social networking sites and the lack of blog activity in recent weeks.  The balance needs to be restored, and if it takes this analysis of my relationship to Twitter to help me to understand that, then I am half way to achieving that.

There is still an important place for Twitter in keeping me engaged in issues that interest me, including sport, travel, writing and current affairs, provided it is not allowed to divert me from “real” writing.

However, if, like most of my acquaintances, you haven’t tried it, give it a go and see for yourself.  Be warned though – you may get addicted!

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