How to Keep Writing After Your Degree Is Over

So I graduated a year ago this month! (All the people in the house say whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat)

Here, have a picture of me looking suitably chuffed.

(And yes, I drank all the free prosecco. No regrets).

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And I’ve been thinking a lot about being a writer after graduating and more specifically, how difficult that can be when you don’t have a nine grand license to spend your free time writing. (Ya feel?) So for any nostalgic creative writers out there, this post is for you…it’s especially for my RoHo pals cause you know I love youuuuu ❤

  1. Keep in Touch

Okay, so this depends on your university experience. If you had bad memories at university, maybe the last thing you want to do is keep in touch with old friends, professors, or the university in general. Maybe you’ve moved to Yemen. That’s cool.

But on the other hand, maybe you miss university but instead of making the most of the connections you still have there, you’re squandering precious time being nostalgic about it. Look, the reason you wrote during university was partly because you had to, and probably partly because you were surrounded by inspiration. You had to read books/plays each week, you were secretly in awe of that person in your class who had the flawless writing, or you wanted to impress that one lecturer everybody was in love with…It’s only natural that you started to slack once this inspirational environment was taken away.

So maybe it’s time to reconnect with old friends, share your writing with one another, or to attend alumni events and be inspired by the writers there.

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  1. Read what you want

Speaking of reading…take the time to read what you want. Anybody else feel slightly relieved after graduating? Anyone else think: ‘Heck yes, I can read whatever I want to now!’  only to completely forget all your reading goals?

Sometimes I feel guilty. I think: ‘I’m an adult! I should be reading Les Mis or Pride and Prejudice in my free time’. But I’m so into YA at the moment and guess what? That’s totally fine. Read what you want because it will resonate with you, and when writing resonates with you, it just might inspire you too. Go be free!

 

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  1. Start a Blog

The obvious one. I started a blog because of my wonderful friend Liling, and honestly, I’m so glad that I did. Blogging teaches you about focus and commitment, whilst also helping you to connect with readers, whilst also ensuring that you actually write in a non-pressured way. It’s non pressured because this blog is entirely mine and I have complete control over it. I write this blog for pure fun. So start a blog about whatever topic interests you – it’s worth it. It keeps you accountable.

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Speaking of which…

  1. Stay Accountable

To people. To yourself. Just do it. Find a way to keep yourself accountable, whether that’s uploading to your blog regularly or attending a writer’s group monthly. Once you have that (slight) pressure of public expectation, you’re more likely to write. Again, remember why university was so effective? It was due to the public shaming *ahem, sorry* the group feedback sessions where people would brutally *lovingly* offer constructive feedback. You probably cared at least a tiny bit, right? You didn’t want to be that person who never submitted their work for feedback…well, this is the same thing. Stay accountable. Show up and write all the words!

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  1. Set Goals

Decide what your writing goals are and try very hard to stick to them. It’ll be tough at first, TRUST ME. Or maybe it’ll be easy for you, in which case, TEACH ME YOUR WAYS. Anyway, for examples of some writing goals, see my first blog post of the year – My 2017 Writing Goals 

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  1. Join in!

There’s such a big community out there. Twitter runs ‘writing challenges’ per month. All you have to do is type in the month and add ‘writing challenge’ afterwards. i.e. ‘#JulyWritingChallenge’ or ‘#Augustwritingchallenge.’

There is also Nanowrimo and multiple ‘camps’ that run throughout the year, which are basically virtual campsites dedicated to inspire and motivate writers through healthy competition with both yourself and others.

There are writing groups on facebook, too. I also enjoy writing vlogs on youtube. In fact, in my latest video I spoke all about the joy and hardships of writing post-uni. (See below)

 

Oooooh, that segue though! 😉

 

  1. Utilise those commutes, yo

Carry a notebook. The train and the bus are great places to write. I suggest a notebook rather than relying on your phone. A phone is handy and I’ll often use it to jot down one liners that come to my mind but a notebook allows you to write in great depth and detail. Besides let’s face it, there’s just something more writerly and serious about opening your notebook and getting lost in a new world.

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  1. Continue old work

Try re-reading some of your university work. You might be surprised (in a good way) and this might inspire you to continue the story you began.

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  1. Start something new

Alternatively, re-reading your university work may inspire you to write something different completely, or at least tangential to your old project. That’s cool. Buy yourself a return ticket from Yemen and get writing!

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Love,

Nikki

Xx

8 Things to Look for in a Writing Mentor

I have a confession to make: I have never actively sought out a writing mentor. So what – I’m sure you’re thinking – am I doing writing a post advising others on writing mentors?

Well somehow, I have been blessed enough to have some great people in my life who, once I reflect upon it, are not only friends & inspirations but are actively my mentors. We’ve never sat down and had The Mentor-Mentee conversation. I’ve never specifically asked them to be my mentors, which seems counter intuitive to all the advice out there. I remember reading an article when I was younger which encouraged you to ring up an author you admired and straight out ask them. My fourteen year old self had dreams of an hour long conflab with Anthony Horowitz on the phone (landline of course – back in the day mobile data was EX-PEN-SIVE).

But honestly, I never asked anybody to be my mentor. I didn’t intend for it to happen but I’m glad it has. And anyway,  this isn’t a post on how to FIND a writing mentor (although if you’re interested, I could do a post on that); but rather a post on the key qualities you should look for in one.

First of all, let’s start with a definition of the word “mentor” shall we? This will help us to decide upon the qualities one should have.

“A wise or trusted adviser or guide” who…“gives a younger or less experienced person help and advice over a period of time.” (Source: A mash-up between dictionary.com & Cambridge dictionary)

When we put it like that, the definition of mentor in itself is not too complicated. I always thought it was. “Mentor” was this weighted word which conjured up images of Yoda or Master from Kung Fu Panda. How was I ever going to find that type of relationship? But when I looked at what a mentor truly is, it became easy to understand that I already had these figures in my life.

But whilst the definition of “mentor” is seemingly straightforward, the role itself is not. Here are some things to look out for…

 

  1. YOU ADMIRE THEM

Yep. The first step is on YOU. Sorry buddy. I know this seems obvious but it’s not. Why? Because as a young writer (or even an experienced writer seeking advice in a particular area/looking to venture into something new) it can be tempting to want advice from someone super famous just for the sake of it. But I don’t think this is a great idea. Refer to the above definition. A mentor is your guide. This means, for good or bad, you will inevitably follow in their footsteps – at least a little bit. So if they are not somebody you look up to, somebody whose work you respect and admire, then this is going to be an issue down the line.  I’m not saying you have to work in the exact same genres or move in identical circles  however, you should be able to genuinely enjoy their work, respect their advice and respect them as a person…otherwise what can you truly learn from them? And why put yourself in their hands if you don’t trust them and their work anyway?

 

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  1. THEY “GET” YOUR WORK

Even though you may not work in the exact same circles as your mentor, you’ve got to make sure that they “get” your work. By this I mean your mentor should understand what you are doing (or trying to do) regardless of their own personal preferences. If you write horror fiction and your mentor never reads horror, can’t understand your intentions and constantly advises you to write something ‘more light-hearted’ then evidently she/he is not the mentor for you. However, if you write horror and your mentor’s favourite genre is romance, yet they can still articulate what exactly is working in your writing and why, then I personally see no reason why this can’t be a set up for a successful mentor-mentee relationship.

 A good mentor shouldn’t enforce their preference – rather they should respect your goals and help you work towards them. Your work should be the starting point for their criticism. Look out for people who “get” it.

I once wrote the opening to a crime novel. Being heavily inspired by Karin Slaughter, I knew I wanted my book to have a really entertaining plotline but also very in-depth character development and truthful relationships. I sat down and thought, ‘Okay girl, your goal is to somehow show all the relationships between these characters within the first two chapters WITHOUT negatively impacting the pacing. Somehow the gruesome murders need to happen alongside stunning character development. Even if no one picks up on that, that’s YOUR personal goal.’

So that’s what I worked towards. And when I received my feedback and mark for the story, my tutor at the time had written something along the lines of:

“You’ve done a great job of maintaining the needed pace of a crime novel whilst developing all the characters and letting us understand their relationships.”

I remember being quite shocked – at no point did I think that was something anybody would notice; it was simply a personal goal. But it felt really nice that someone had noticed.

I remember sitting and thinking, “Okay so…he gets it.”

 

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  1. THEY GENUINELY WANT YOU TO SUCCEED

So the writers who I look up to/have and are helping me out in terms of my writing are people who genuinely and I quote, want me “to succeed.” You don’t need them to verbally express this or get their well wishes in writing;  it should be evident in the way they act around you and the sort of things they offer to help you out with.

There’s a little girl who I mentor. She’s amazing and I CANNOT express how much I love that kid and will help her to succeed. I offer to read so much of her work & point her to new authors. I am so happy about all her achievements!

I recently met with this amazing playwright who, without me asking, told me to send her my writing and any applications to competitions I might be considering; in other words, she was invested in my work and wanted to actually help me achieve my goals.

I have another mentor who read about five drafts of my Masters application, helped me out by writing my reference, and even invited me round to her place for a cup of tea and a chat about my future. She also points me to people who can help me out and offers advice and a listening ear. You just don’t do that if you’re not an amazing person who cares about the mentee’s future.

(This goes both ways, I should add. You should be so completely 100% invested in your mentor, which shouldn’t be difficult if you’ve already nailed point number one. I once had a mentor tentatively ask if I would edit his book for him. He was tentative because he knew I was super busy. But OF COURSE I was super happy to do it. It should work both ways when possible!)

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  1. THEY CONSIDER YOU WHEN THEY DON’T HAVE TO

I have a super nice mentor who sends me links to writing competitions which I qualify for. Often times, I didn’t even know that the competition existed. He doesn’t have to do that. Not only is that nice but that’s like…awesome mentor material right there (y)
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  1. THEY CAN ARTICULATE WHAT ISN’T WORKING

Sometimes when I’m writing I can sense something is wrong even if I don’t quite know what it is yet. I once approached my old lecturer with my play and explained to her what it was about. Without even reading it herself, within ten minutes she had NAILED exactly what my issues with it were. (HOW?! I kid you not when I say that all I did was very vaguely explain the plot).

In other words, you’re looking for intelligence, understanding, patience and articulation.

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  1. THEY HAVE EXPERIENCE IN THE DEPARTMENTS YOU DON’T

This step also requires *you* because if, unlike me, you are going out to find a mentor INTENTIONALLY, I reckon this is pretty important: decide what exactly you need from a mentor. Make sense? Do you suck at character description? Well then get somebody who is awesome at character description. Do you suck at marketing? Well find someone who is so good at it their middle name might as well be “Brand.” Is your only goal to be published? Well then, you should probably find somebody who has been through the process of getting published.

People on your level are not mentors – they are buddies. Writing buddies. Which are great. But again, look at the definition of mentor and you will see that “experience” is a necessary part of it. So make sure they have experience in the departments YOU personally want to learn more about.

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  1. THEY KNOW WHEN TO PUSH YOU

So I like to think of myself as a pretty hardworking person but there have been LOADS of times where I have simply slacked off when it comes to writing. I remember once moaning to someone I now consider to be my mentor and excusing my lack of writing by saying, “What I’ve written isn’t good enough to hand in to you yet. It just isn’t.”

I think I was lowkey expecting some sort of sympathy.

I kid you not, this guy just looked at me, all deadpan and went:

“Then make it good.”

It’s a good job he said that too. It was a kind of “tough love” statement that kicked me into the right gear and I finally finished that work I had been procrastinated for weeks in just a couple of days.

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BONUS;

  1. THEY IMPROVE YOU AS A PERSON

I guess they don’t have to do this but if you find someone who improves you PERSONALLY, then that’s awesome. Example?

I once had a teacher tell me I was far too shy about my faith and that I should own it. (I had written a book which was, for all intents and purposes, a Biblical allegory). Not only was it really cool to have somebody who – as far as I was aware – was non-religious, tell me to be proud of my Christianity, but this comment fundamentally changed how I approach my writing and improved my own confidence and artistic practice as a whole. And of course, this wasn’t a comment on style, structure or even the story itself. However I needed to hear that and it ended up being such an integral comment to my practice.

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So that’s it. Let me know if you have any questions xx

You are Precious

Yesterday I worshipped the Lord God Almighty. I was listening to a song whose lyrics state “I sing for joy at the works of your hands”. (Shout to the Lord – Chris TomlinMy heart was filled with such joy as I raised my hands and considered the works of His hands – I thought about the beauty of nature, the miracle of trees and birds and our planet. And then suddenly God’s voice told me, “You are the work of my hands.”

That hit me. That was something else. When I listen to music praising God’s creation, I often think of nature, of the miracle of our solar system, of the grass, of mountain peaks and valleys. But God reminded me that am His creation. And if I am His creation, then I am Precious. There is no shame in singing for joy because I exist.

After this, I read Psalm 49, the title of which in my Bible was “Trusting Money is Foolish.” I therefore was expecting to read a Psalm all about loving God, rather than money. And while this Psalm had a message for both the rich and the poor, verse 7 says,

‘No one can buy back the life of another.

No one can pay God for his own life,

because the price of a life is high.

No payment is ever enough.’

Again, this really opened my ees. No one can buy back the life of another? Really?! Yes, because our lives are worth more than one hundred trillion pounds or dollars. Our lives are worth more than any amount of money. The cynical part of me kicked in. How could this be true? How could this flesh and bone be worth more than all the gold in the world? Of course, it sounds nice to think of a human as worth more than all the money in the world, but how true is that?

As I sat and pondered about how that could possibly ever be trrue, God encouraged me to break down the verse a little. I am precious, yes. But more precious than a million pounds? Okay, but how?

‘What are you?’ God asked me.

‘Made by you,’ I replied.

‘What is money?’ God asked me.

‘Made by men,’ I realised.

And that’s when it hit me. We are more precious than money in God’s eyes, because we are more precious than anything man-made. We are not man-made, we are God-made and God sees us as precious. And if the maker of the universe sees us as such, then we are.

Believe you are precious. So precious the God of the world loves you and wants to know you.

You are precious.

 

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=shout+to+the+Lord+

 

 

 

 

Hey Booktube – Speak Up!

Something has been bothering me about Booktube lately, and no, it’s not the fact that every single booktuber and their mother seems to be in the process of writing their own book. (I think writing a book is awesome and the recent controversy surrounding this topic is understandable, yet not really necessary. But anyway!)

I initially shied away from this topic because I was unsure how to articulate my thoughts. I also didn’t want to be harping on about diversity again but you know what?! Until things are truly diverse (a.k.a. until we reach a point in life whereby ‘diverse’ in itself is an outdated word) I’ll be harping on about it.

This article is in no way intended to demonise Booktubers, and nor is it hard fact. It is rather my opinion (as a hardcore Booktube fangirl) and an attempt to disseminate a rather disturbing trend happening across Booktube right now.

For those of you who don’t know, Booktube is a growing reading community on the Youtube platform. Booktubers are famous for posting videos such as ‘book hauls’ (in which they share the books they have just bought), ‘book reviews’ and silly/fun  ‘book tags.’  Booktube has also been stereotyped as only being a platform to discuss YA books (very often YA Fantasy) and contemporary novels. It is also worth mentioning that I am personally inspired by many Booktubers.

Now, for a few Booktubers with thousands of followers, Booktube has become a job. Some publishers work in partnership with booktubers and send them ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) of books in exchange for a review on their channel.  Sometimes booktubers will receive books months in advance, and will speak about these ARCs on their channel, giving their honest opinions on things such as the book’s blurb and cover.

Now herein lies the problem. I won’t name names but some of the biggest (and my favourite) booktubers – the crème-de-la-creme of Booktube, shall we say – really lead the community. If they create a tag, sooner or later, you’ll see other booktubers creating similar tags. If they ramble on about a book, sooner or later, the entire community is obsessed. The biggest booktubers instigate major excitement regarding ARCs, set up book discussions, and attend some of the biggest book conferences and meet-ups in the Western world. They are the first to be on any sort of book hype and the first to know about a release…

So why are they so alarmingly quiet when it comes to diversity?

Now we all know that Booktube in general has diversity issues (namely that the big booktubers with very few exceptions, tend to be white) and that this is not an issue exclusive to Booktube. BUT ALL OF THAT ASIDE, why are the biggest Booktubers so quiet when it comes to Diversathon for example? Diversathon, in case you are unaware, is a large booktube initiative to encourage readers to read more diverse books, whether these books are diverse in terms of race, sexuality, and so forth. So why do I see Diversathon featured on BAME Booktube channels but not on the FOREFRONT leading channels? It’s beyond disappointing to see people you support, people who are vocal on pretty much everything else for a living, clam up when it comes to supporting the community as a whole. Arguably, these big platforms, these white youtubers, cannot help being in their privileged position, but I have a real problem when said privileged position isn’t used to help others.

I’m writing this because I’ve noticed how shockingly quiet these big youtubers have been around Angie Thomas’ book The Hate U Give, which was birthed out of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and explores deeply moving topics regarding race in society.

Everywhere I looked (left, right, centre) I saw ARC copies of The Hate U Give being spoken about on Booktube. This was very inspiring until I noticed that Thomas’ novel was *mostly* being championed by black Booktubers. This is crazy! The Hate U Give is a BIG BOOK. Everyone was talking about it.  John Green called it ‘a classic of our time’ for goodness sake! And if there’s one thing we know about much of Booktube, it’s how much we LOVE John Green and LOVE to take authors’ opinions into account when deciding what to read next. Logically, The Hate U Give spelled B-o-o-k-t-u-b-e with a capital “B.” This is the kind of book that Booktubers die to get their hands on, that the major booktubers won’t stop talking about months before its release date.

Except it wasn’t. This book with a black protagonist about super important political issues, wasn’t being spoken about. It got to the point where frankly, it was embarrassing, awkward, and strikingly obvious that big booktubers were blatantly refraining from even mentioning the largest trending book in the contemporary youtube sphere (heck, in the YA publishing industry as a whole). And yes, the big Booktubers are finally mentioning this book now & yes, saying some lovely things about it (some of them, anyway) but we have to ask ourselves- if big booktubers always instigate a trend, how could it have missed their radar? Short answer: It didn’t. So why did it take so long? The biggest booktubers get the news first. That’s just how it works. They certainly don’t get the news months after smaller channels.

Now, we could say it’s down to the publishers. Maybe the publishers deliberately sent ARCs to black and minority ethnic booktubers, knowing it was a YA book which may resonate with certain ethnicities more? But I really am grasping at straws here because no matter what, publishing is a business, and regardless of race, a publishing house will send out ARCs to the channels with the biggest followers.

What seems more likely? That publishers who have great working relationships with all these big youtubers suddenly decided, ‘hey, let’s just not send them our book’ or that these youtubers at the top of the food chain were staying silent for another reason?

Now this other reason could be fear of discussing race. This makes a little more sense when discussing readathons such as ‘Diversathon’ (but actually, don’t get me started on the silence surrounding Diversathon because I might get angry), but how does it makes sense in relation to simply SHOWING a book and saying ‘I’m excited to read this’ which booktubers do with Every. Other. Book? Often in a book haul,  it is acceptable to mention a book for just a few seconds. Title. Author Name. Publishing House who sent it. Blurb/Vague Idea of What It Might be About. Moving on! So really, I’m not sure fear is the culprit.

Again, I’m not demonising the community. No community is perfect and Booktube is such a big inspiration for me. Whilst I don’t consider myself a Booktuber, my interest in creating content for Youtube has, in part, stemmed from my interest in Booktube.

So Booktubers,

don’t be scared to discuss diversity (if you are). You are in a unique position. Do not think your viewers don’t notice when you stay quiet on topics. Staying quiet does not mean being neutral. It means contributing to issues. Get your act together. You are at the forefront of an important community and helping the readers of tomorrow. And in a community where you are the leaders, the instigators at the very forefront of every discussion and championing new releases, it really is unacceptable to remain quiet for so long on books as pivotal as The Hate U Give.

If you have any thoughts regarding the silence surrounding certain topics on Booktube, give me a shout! I would be very interested in hearing another explanation for this lack of discussion around race.

My 5 Biggest Writing Distractions & How I (Should) Deal With Them

We all know I’m writing this for myself rather than anyone else. However, if the shoe fits…

Here are my current five top writing distractions and some solutions I/we should use to combat them.

  1. PHONE

I’ve put this at the top of the list because my phone is THE number one time killer. Recently I’ve been using my phone to scroll (and rescroll) through Twitter, or to check my emails repeatedly. I commute a lot but instead of using that commute profitably, I’ve been on my phone. No more, I say, no more! From now on, my train journeys shall also involve writing. Phew. I said it. Now I’ve got to live up to it. Waaaaa.

  1. BUSY LIFESTYLE

This is a genuine reason. But authenticity doesn’t make it okay. Yes I am busy, but you know what? If writing is something I care about, I’ve GOT to make time for it, otherwise what’s the point? Writing is something that makes me truly happy, so how dare I not make it a priority in my life? When you start thinking about the things you’re good at, it’ll be a whole lot harder to justify not doing it, because every day you spend not doing what you love, is another day wasted. I only have approximately one or two free hours in a day, and I’m usually so tired that I spend that hour chilling, but guess what – maybe I should, um, do things I care about?!

  1. YOUTUBE

Now here comes the real obsession. I just love Youtube, okay?! I’m not as bad as I used to be, but I could easily waste an hour or two on there watching vlogs and comedy videos and discussion videos and blah blah blah. As a youtuber, occasionally I’ll watch videos for research but this is very rare. Mostly I watch them because I enjoy them. So really, I’ve got to cut down on that youtube time. But hooooow?!!! I really, really love it.  I guess it ultimately comes down to prioritising certain videos. Yes, ten new videos may have popped up in my subscription box, but realistically, I could just watch three, not six.

  1. NOT KNOWING WHAT TO WRITE

Aye, there’s the rub. Let’s not lie; I’m no longer being forced to write short stories as part of my degree. Back in the days of Royal Holloway, if I had a short story to hand in on Friday and I had no inspiration, sure, I might procrastinate a little, but at the end of the day, I would MAKE SURE I had that short story finished (and to good quality!) because I had to. I’m very good at being responsible to others, but now, I WILL BE RESPONSIBLE TO MYSELF.

  1. WANTING TO WRITE ON PAPER

Recently, I keep cringing at the thought of using electronic means to write. I *know* that the creative juices will get flowing once I start writing on paper. So um…this one is easily fixable. Find the mode that works for you (right now I’m craving paper) and…uh…just do it.

(Why does EVERY blog post I write justify the Shia LeBeouf meme, seriously?!)

So, as I said, this is just an article berating myself. Join me and find some time-wasting devices you’re clinging onto and let’s carve some extra time from our schedules together!

Nikki