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Blogging Inspiration Review

Adding to my notebook addiction

28/06/2016

Hello, my name’s Carie, and I have a notebook addiction.

I also rather like pens but pens come and go and run out and get lost in the bottom of my work bag and get stolen by the children. Notebooks, they’re treasured.

Right now I have, let me see, one, two, three, four in use; my Blogtacular planner, my Blogtacular notebook from last year which I’ve nearly finished, a spiral bound one from BritMums many moons ago with a picture of the sea on the front of it, my beautiful Essie one, oh and this year’s Blogtacular notebook which makes five.

And if I count the sample planner that’s very nearly full up, and the journal planner that I dip in and out of, that makes seven. Ah. That may explain a lot.

Space for the Butterflies - Bookblock Original personalised notebook

Even with seven notebooks on the go I’ve still got a little stash, just in case of notebook emergency; the teeny tiny one I made at the Berylune craft party, a little pile of spotty ones, two gorgeous exercise books that are the perfect handbag size, and my birthday present from the girls, a little black book with rainbow pages.

So when the lovely people at Bookblock got in contact and asked whether I’d like to try one of their Bookblock Originals the answer was an easy “Oh very much yes”.

A little scoot through some of my recent pictures, I emailed off a favourite and waited for the letterbox to thump the joyful sound of exciting post.

And exciting post it was.

Space for the Butterflies - Bookblock Original personalised notebook

The only possible reaction was “Wow!”

My picture of my little trio, wrapped all the way around the cover, so that Kitty and Pip are on the front, and a giggly Elma on the back. It’s a soft matt cover, and incredibly tactile, and the colours are beautiful and vibrant.

Space for the Butterflies - Bookblock Original personalised notebook

Inside the pages are blank, which suits me perfectly, with a book mark to hold my place, and an elastic band to hold it all together when I inevitably stuff little extra bits and bobs in between the pages.

Space for the Butterflies - Bookblock Original personalised notebook

I love it. In fact the only problem is knowing that nothing I ever write in a notebook could possibly be good enough for it. In her Blogtacular talk, Kirsty of Eeh Bah Mum suggested that the best thing to do with a brand new blank notebook is to give it to your children to scribble on to get you past the hump of that perfect first page feeling but I’m not sure I can do it, not with this one.

Space for the Butterflies - Bookblock Original personalised notebook

Although, it did cross my mind that if I got a notebook with the children on every year that might encourage me to use it while they’re still roughly that age!

So while I work out how to convince H that this is a need not merely a want, let me know I’m not alone – how many notebooks do you have on the go at once, and have you ever had one too pretty to use?

Blogging

Blogtacular 2016: Be inspired, be very inspired

27/06/2016

The first year I went to Blogtacular in faith, trusting in Kat and Kat’s vision, and delighted to see it come to life. Last year I went to be filled up with inspiration and to see friends. And this year I wondered how on earth we could top it.  Oh me of little faith. Blogtacular this year was the best yet, and I don’t say that lightly.

Blogtacular 2016

If there was a theme to my Blogtacular this year it was “quality not quantity”, a lesson that felt wonderfully at odds with a lot of mainstream chatter about posting on every social media ever in quadruplicate before you’ve even finished breakfast.

Sara Tasker’s brilliant session on iPhone photography was never about how many times a day you should post to Instagram, but about finding your photography ‘dream style’. For the first time I got what ‘curating your feed’ should really look like. It’s not about always posting the same perfectly staged photos, but discovering what appeals to you in your own style, and then making sure that the photos that you share are the very best examples about what you love, and as instantly recognisable as your written voice.

We talked about capturing moments rather than simply taking photos of things, of styling, and about getting yourself into the frame, and after all of that we still had time to play with some props (including a tea towel from West Elm that I may now have to buy because blue and orange ducks are too awesome to pass up on).

image

If you don’t already follow Sara as @me_and_orla you really should; her main feed is truly beautiful – and then there is the joy that is @meandlukeskywalker which made my husband giggle until he wept – in a good way.

Blogtacular 2016

Kirsty Smith of the brilliantly named Eeh Bah Mum  ran a session on turning your ideas into content that was never about SEO, or writing the sort of posts that get you the most hits/shares/likes/whatever else there is, but about stretching your mind. It was about coming up with all the crazy and utterly useless ideas you like, because in the rough are the diamonds, and then making your mind work on them (note the “making”), so that the good ideas have time to justify themselves and expand to their full potential, and the not yet ideas and the really rubbish ideas can wait.  It’s one of those things that I can see with hindsight; some of my favourite posts have been the ones I’ve thought about for weeks and finally written down when the words just wouldn’t stay inside my head any more.

Blogtacular 2016

Enid Hwang as the closing keynote put to bed once and for all the concept of overnight success.  When most of what we see on blogs and social media is the edited highlights, it’s easy to forget that you’re not seeing the whole story, and unless it’s your family or your best friend, you’re unlikely to be seeing the true beginning.  But I found there was a flip side too; in reminding us that Pinterest once came from a team of six (of which she was the sixth), working in a tiny two bedroom apartment and struggling to get software engineers to understand what it is that they were doing,she also told the story of grit, hard work and staying true to your values eventually turning into that not-very-overnight but wholly deserved success.

Blogtacular 2016

A whole hour and a half writing workshop with Laura Jane Williams of Superlatively Rude was something that would be pure indulgence in my daily life.  It wasn’t always easy, but it taught me volumes about how I edit (or don’t!), and the power in editing.  And because it was Blogtacular I wasn’t scared to swap pages with my neighbour (the lovely Sally Strawberry) and I wish I could do it more often. Being forced to go beyond the very polite English response and say why I liked her writing forced us both to analyse what it was that made things resonate and the whole thing was a huge and wonderfully stretchy learning curve.

Admittedly it was a learning curve that set me for a little spin in the world of “nothing-I-have-ever-written-is-good-enough-wow-everyone-in-that-room-could-write-beautifully-oh-my-goodness-that-post-I-wrote-in-a-hurry-what-was-I-thinking” once I got home again, but actually I’m glad of that too.  It’s been a good solid nudge to remind me that if want to write more, I need to edit more.  It’s not that I don’t like what I’ve written, it’s just that I want to keep getting better, and that means putting the hours in, and putting the thinking in.  And if two speakers in one day have told me to do the thinking, that’s probably a hint I ought to take.

Blogtacular 2016

I had no idea this photo was being taken and I love it for the laughter!

But the talk that I really needed to hear, the one that completely blew me away both in what was said, and what was not said, was Lisa Congden’s opening keynote.  As someone who came to a new career in her 30’s, and almost by chance, you’d be forgiven for thinking she would speak about believing in yourself, having courage and patience and being prepared to go the distance. But she didn’t.

Blogtacular 2016

She spoke about what truly matters, what a good life boils down to, and asked why what is actually essential (love and connection) gets trampled beneath what we are conditioned to aspire to (money and power), and the reality it leaves us in (feeling that we are never enough).  I’m a wife, a mother of three, I work full-time, I love to make things, to write, and to take photographs and I want to do it all, and do it well, and get better at it. Accepting that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything and be everything is my biggest challenge.  To have that conundrum so sharply brought into focus was oddly freeing. If it’s universal then it’s not just me.  And so I can tell myself that in everything I do today and in everything I do tomorrow, I am enough.

It doesn’t mean I’m not striving for the stars; I will always want to be the very best me I can be, but it is shouting to my subconscious that the very best me isn’t out of reach, it’s right here, right now.

Blogtacular 2016

And that’s the thing about Blogtacular.  It’s not, and it’s never been a conference about telling you how to blog.  It’s a conference about creativity, to inspire you to do you, in whatever shape or form that might take, to the very best of your ability.

Now how many days is it until next year?

Photos not of tea towels thanks to the very lovely team at Mollie Makes who sponsored them again – you’re stars!

Blogging Photography

The Renegade Photowalk {Blogtacular 2016}

22/06/2016

On Saturday I went to a writing workshop – and yet now I have no words.  Blogtacular was completely, overwhelmingly amazing and I’m still thinking my way through everything and trying to take it in.  I promise I’ll be back before too long with all the things that made it special (because it’s too good not to share), but for now I wanted to share a little snapshot in the form of what I fondly started to refer to as the renegade photowalk.

Having been on the photowalks on both previous Blogtaculars (a) I know just how much fun they are, (b) I really couldn’t complain about not making it onto any of this year’s official walks and (c) I was just a little bit gutted anyway.  So I did a crazy thing with a strong element of compulsive volunteer in it and that’s how I found myself briskly walking around Primrose Hill at 1.30 on Friday afternoon, just checking that the route I’d sussed out from 100 miles away actually worked.

It could have been an absolute disaster.  Right up until we got started my biggest fear was loosing people, and my second biggest fear was there being no one to loose.  I’d never actually been to Primrose Hill. Or even knew where it was until Kat sent me an Instagram link to pictures of Chalcot Square and with one sigh of “ooo pretty!” our fate was decided.

But the sun shone, the skies were mostly blue and mostly clear, and our little band of intrepid explorers met at Chalk Farm tube station ready and willing to become the Blogtacular Photowalk North.  There were fifteen of us in number, which turned out to be the perfect size both to be slightly silly without feeling too silly about it, and to really get the chance to chat to everyone else and get to know each other before the big day itself.  Most, if not all of the group were new to Blogtacular and the official sort of photowalks, and I think that it takes a certain type of confidence to decide to go unofficially photowalking around North London with someone who isn’t a big name blogger or photographer and is basically just a friendly looking stranger on the internet.  But it’s why I suspect everyone was really keen to throw themselves into it, and why we had such a blast.

If you’re after a nice gentle photowalk route, from Chalk Farm tube we headed over the railway bridge (snapping the very cool grafitti and persuading a very kind passerby to capture the first of our group shots), then wandered down Gloucester Avenue (past blue houses and purple alliums), around the corner onto Fitzroy Road, then right again onto Chalcot Road and up into Chalcot Square; home of a blue plaque for Sylvia Plath (currently covered by a building site), and a pink house with sunshine yellow front door and pom poms in the windows that we all fell in love with.

It was the perfect place to break out all of our umbrellas, as props and sunshades rather than because we actually needed them, and the Mary Poppins impersonations got even sillier in the best possible way.  There were houses in colours to match any outfit, a rainbow of front doors, and if we learnt nothing else, we all now know what colour we want to paint our own houses. Some day.

From Chalcot Square we headed down Chalcot Crescent (more pretty ice cream coloured houses with gorgeous window boxes) to Primrose Hill itself, and one steep climb later we were up on top of London, looking down to the zoo and out over to the city’s skyline.  It’s a beautiful spot, made even more dramatic by the slatey clouds building in the distance, and caught our breath and spent a bit of time drinking it all in before heading back to the station (with quick detour for swing off the lampposts (more umbrellas and Singing in the Rain style posing) and a group photo made possible by timer app, mobile tripod, and a small suitcase).

And only as we crossed back over the railway line did the first drops fall.

(All of these pictures are from the walk – and there are even more over on Instagram under #blogtacularphotowalknorth if you want to see pictures of me impersonating a graffiti yoga pose among others!)

Blogging Pause for Thought

On blogging: the possibilities are endless

01/06/2016

Space for the Butterflies - on the mummy blogging preconception

I have to whisper because I think I’m about to commit blogger blasphemy, but here’s the secret: I don’t want to become a pro blogger.

I spent three years at university, one year at law school and then another two doing my training contract before I qualified into my day job, and in the nearly 12 years I’ve worked in the profession since I think I’ve achieved a reasonable measure of success. It goes against everything English and everything female to admit it, but I’m good at my job, and I enjoy it.

I’ve also very much enjoyed making a little money through my blog, because it’s always nice to have a self funding hobby, but right now I have no intention of making it my full time career.

But it means that whenever I’ve gone to something like BritMums or BlogCamp there’s always been a moment during the day, no matter how much I’ve really really enjoyed the rest of it, when I feel I’m on the outside looking in.  There seems to be an assumption that we all dream of giving up the day job to work from home writing advertorial for brands and squeezing in a bit of affiliate marketing, and I know I don’t fit that mold.

If it is your dream, that’s wonderful – go for it. But when did it become the accepted collective dream? And a collective dream for a particular niche of bloggers too; there doesn’t seem to be the same ambition assumed about knitting bloggers, or any other craft for that matter.

The beauty of blogging is its versatility. Over the years I have got so much out of blogging, a little money yes, but also some very dear friends, some amazing experiences, a record of the beginning of our life as a family in a way that my memory will never be able to compete with long term, and the impetus and excuse to write.  It’s paid unexpected dividends too – the ability to write to a deadline and in a readable style has proved very useful in my day job, as has a working knowledge of social media. I wouldn’t swap it for the world.

But blogging can also be the mainstay of your income, give you the chance to be a stay at home mum to your small children and make that an affordable choice, or launch you in directions you might never have imagined.

You only have to look around to see where blogging can take you if you dream big enough – Alice’s Telegraph column is touching and funny and a brilliant read; Katie has just finished writing Hurrah for Gin the book which I cannot wait to read; and in a couple of weeks I’m going to have one of my favourite days out of the whole year thanks to Kat dreaming up Blogtacular and making it a reality. All amazing things achieved by wonderful women who had blogging as the first step on the way to making their dreams a reality.

What bothers me about the “sponsored posts and affiliate marketing” model is not that it doesn’t apply to me, or even that there are sessions at blogging conferences where I’m not the target market, because that would be spectacularly arrogant. It’s the idea that that’s the natural end point in blogging, the aim rather than simply an option.

As a collective group, and, as much as I hate to admit it, as women and as mothers, it’s all too easy for our hard work to be somehow diminished, in this as in so many other things; for those who work long and hard at pro-blogging to have it written off as a quaint little hobby, for those of us who write just because we love it to be told we’re only in it to review free lunch boxes.

If we present just one model as being the status quo then I think we run the risk of colluding in that perception, of keeping ourselves small by presenting a limited ambition.  And yet now is exactly the time we should be shouting from the rooftops that there is nothing that you can’t achieve.

I wish there was a magic wand I could wave and say, “and this is how we do just that! – onwards and upwards” but life is never that simple. We can’t individually turn a tide of public opinion, and inaccurate though it may be, as a label “mummy blogger” does come with a certain stereotype attached.  But perhaps the starting point is simply in acknowledging it ourselves, and by our words and actions making sure that that stereotype is exactly that – farcical and a million miles from the truth.

The truth is that blogging is the stepping stone and the rest is only limited by your imagination and the number of hours in the day, and that’s a message I think we can all get behind – even if all you want to do with your blog is practice your writing and have a little nudge to take nice photos of your children.

Blogging Photography

Snippets from Blog Camp

24/05/2016

1. If you had to get to Blog Camp through the back of a wardrobe it would make perfect sense. Even though I spent half the train ride reminding myself that I wasn’t going to work, even though The Studio is somewhere I walk past every day, even though it spent half the day softly raining in a very pedestrian sort of way, even then there is a certain magic in being in the company of a lot of other bloggers.

2. The most fascinating thing about hearing from a panel of four bloggers who all contribute to or run collective blogs is how different they all are. Whether it was the set up, the decision making process, or the long term plan, no one was doing it the same. There are always many different routes to success and it was fun seeing them laid out like that.

Space for the Butterflies - Snippets from Blog Camp
3. I love creative writing workshops. To the point that if someone ever ran a conference that was all writing workshops for bloggers I would be there in a flash (if they do and I don’t know about it, I beg you tell me!). Challenged to describe a moment by focusing in on the sounds, right down to the sounds that you can’t really hear, was a great way to break away from the way that I usually write, and having to write fast means that you can’t really stop to overthink it – something I’m probably guilty of more times than is ever a good idea.

4. Top tip from the writing session: Edit. Read back through your writing and take out not only every sentence that doesn’t advance the story, but every word. You just don’t need to know that I was writing notes with a purple pen on Saturday because when I got to the station I realised that the children had ransacked my bag and I didn’t have one. Although if I’m being very facetious I’d say it adds colour!

Space for the Butterflies - Snippets from Blog Camp
5. For the first time in just about forever I didn’t take my big camera. I did however, go to two photography sessions; which makes me wonder whether there’s a correlation there. It made me think about what I can do with my iPhone if I actually think about a shot rather than just snap, and it made me volunteer to be the subject in a practice session.  Now I do sometimes let other people take pictures on my camera, and I do dash into the shot every month for Me and Mine, and I did once have to have some professional headshots taken for work, but I promise you, if you have ever thought yourself self-conscious in front of a camera, it is nothing to when you have half a dozen being pointed at you. My goodness was that an exercise in being vulnerable. And as we all kept talking while everyone was shooting I can only imagine how many pictures now exist of me looking like a guppy fish.

6. But I did learn a top tip that I wish I’d known years ago: If you wear glasses, tilt them down at the bridge or just push the arms gently up off your ears so that they angle down slightly; that way the camera doesn’t pick up a glare from your glasses and can look straight through to focus on your eyes.

Space for the Butterflies - Snippets from Blog Camp

7. When you look across the Tots and the Hibs and the Tripps and see the thousands of blogs that make up those communities it’s astonishing to see the breadth of blogs that are out there. There are blogs out there that I’ll admit I find baffling, where just about everything they do is the polar opposite of me and my little corner of the internet, and yet at the core there is one common thread running through us all; that bit when we press publish.  And that’s where the magic truly lies; in connection.  From giggling in photography workshops with people I’ve only previously known from within a little square on Instagram, to stealing moments to catch up with Rachel and Jenny and Claire and Caro and Molly, some of the loveliest people you’ve ever met in real life as well as on screen, the absolute highlight of the day was, as always, the people.