Red Bubble Artist


Photo (or rather screenshot) credit: Me

Hitting the publish button – is there anything scarier than that?

(Realistically speaking – yes. If you’ve been told your whole life nobody would give a toss about your art – probably, but it ranks pretty high.)

I was mulling over the best way to say it – I’m here. I’m a Red Bubble artist! – but to be quite honest, it is the sort of cake that works better without the icing. (Think lemon drizzle rather than a wedding gateau.)

I can tell you about the ingredients*, but there is a reason why those are printed at the back.

I can tell you about the process*, but if people care about that, they look it up online, or in books.

I reckon that at first meeting, it’s the look and taste that matters most.

So here we go. My lovely, weird, beautiful monsters are available in all forms to buy on Red Bubble. If you’re planning your next major writing project, need some room decor, or need a new journal, why not head over and check out the wares? It’ll help pay for my therapy.


*If you do want to know about the ingredients and the process, just pop me a comment below and I’ll hop to it.

Book subscription services: Is it for you?



Blast from the past, when my mailman hailed me to give me a package after I missed him.

These days, there seems to be a subscription service for everything.

Literally. Everything.

Beauty products. Period products. Mental health support kits. Kiddie toys. General lifestyle.

Really, a book club was a natural progression, when you think about it.

Now, subscription services have been around for long enough for hype to build up, then die, then kind of plateau. Once upon a time, it was The Thing, until we realised we were paying for a bunch of samples that a company couldn’t otherwise move, and we were better off streamlining our lives, Mari Kondo style. (Which is now experiencing its own backlash. Plus ça change…) At the end of the day, it’s a question of whether it is something for you, and whether you want to spend the money on it.

So is a book subscription service for you?

First things first, as I’ve experienced it, this service doesn’t cheat the customer on price – the novels I got were brand new, in pristine condition, so they were worth as much as they would if I bought them at Waterstones. They came wonderfully wrapped within their proper mailing packaging. (As you can see, it was the Willoughby book club.) According to the website, in addition to the books and the swag, every purchase also gets a book donated to Book Aid International, which I like.

When we are thinking about the cost of this service versus something you would get on a whim on Amazon, Amazon might seem cheaper, especially if you get all three books at once so that you can qualify for their shipping. BUT! Amazon isn’t a personalised service, and thus does not incur any of the associated costs. And if you are someone who cares about sustainable buying and supporting small businesses… well, you know what I would choose.

Of course, the most obvious selling point to a book subscription is the element of surprise.  Unfortunately, that means if you hate surprises (or you’re buying a gift for somebody who hates surprises) you are better off going to a bookstore and picking out something yourself. I will say, as someone who has read quite widely, I was worried I’d get doubles. And I did – once. But the customer service was excellent and sent me a replacement within the week. And they let me keep the one I had a double of, to hand off to a friend.

I don’t know whether all services do that, but it is worth mentioning if it is a concern of yours. 

So who is this for, then?

People who want to discover new authors.

People who might want to discover a new genre.

People who want to introduce their children and teenagers to some varied literature.

People who want to give a present to somebody they know very well. (You do have to give them a hint about what to send to them.)

People who just plain like to read, anything and everything.

People who like a personalised approach.

People who like an element of surprise.

People who actually have time to read.

Aside from that double I got sent, all the books I got were new to me and I enjoyed reading them. I also got a discount off my first order, and was offered a discount for renewal within a certain date. As far as my experience goes, it was an A+++.

So why haven’t I renewed it? Moving. I’m moving again. (Makes whining noises.) And much as I would love to buy all of the books, new and old, I do actually have to read up as much of my TBR as possible and make space for my move – a slow venture as the PhD is kicking my arse. See… I believe books should be enjoyed, at their own time. And because I’m so busy, I haven’t even gotten to the last book I was sent (pictured above) which is a crying shame because it sounds awesome.

Maybe next year.

Once the dust settles down.

If I’ve captured your interest, the Willoughby Book Club has actually sent me an affiliate link, which you can use to get 10% off their site. DISCLAIMER: If you do end up buying a certain amount on their website, I get paid. If you don’t like that and don’t want to use affiliate links, here is one to the website that won’t link back to me.

(Don’t ever tell me I’m not transparent, people.)

Have you tried one of those services before? What was your experience? Share in the comments for people to know.


Supporting your artist friends (a guilt-free guide)



Source: Death to the Stock Photo

So you have an artist friend.

They’re smart. They’re talented. You’re not just saying that.

You’ve seen them work hard on their craft and, after much deliberation, they have ventured into the big wide world trying to make money off it. You’re incredibly proud of them, and admire their work ethic. They bow their heads and mumble their thanks.

You wish there was a way to help them out.

The most obvious thing is to buy their stuff, but let’s face it – you probably have received a piece from them, as a gift, and they will do their best to sell you their wares at a discount because that’s what friends are for, and anyway, who needs a big margin. When you do the math, especially if your friend is just starting out, they won’t make much profit from one sale – not with the expenses they are mostly incurring.

And you can’t just buy off everything they ever make. For the majority of us, that is just not realistic. Some people can’t even afford the purchase – they might have kids, or ailing parents, or student loans, or they might be artists themselves.

AND even after that, the question remains: How is your friend going to get their name out there if only their nearest and dearest buy their stuff?

I am not for a second going to argue against family and friends buying my stuff – by all means, Mum, get 10 calendars to hand out to your friends in their Christmas present, I will sign them all and thank them personally if they hang it up in their house – but! There are more ways to help out your artist friends. Some of them don’t even cost you anything.

Just to clarify though – these are ways you can HELP your friend. If you believe artists are no-good layabouts who should just get a regular job and don’t deserve any support, this post (and the rest of this blog) will not be useful for you.

Consider this my merchant’s warning.

The rest of you people who believe your artist friends deserve to make a living wage, here are some ideas for you:

First and foremost, help spread the word. Got a social media account? Thought so. Does your artist friend have a business website? Or an online store? A Facebook page? Do they tweet pictures of their art or announce they’re taking commissions? Are they a writer using their blog for visibility? Have they monetised their videos/blog so that they get a little bit extra cash through clicks?

Then SHARE. THAT. You think that Google algorithms care about talent? Naw, man, it’s a series of commands to get one software to understand another software and help users find what they’re looking for quicker. (They’re not always successful.) Like attracts like, so when you share your friend’s accounts, you’re increasing their chances of being noticed.

“But… isn’t that a bit tacky?” I hear you say.

Well, guess how your friend must feel. Fact – most artists already fear they are frauds. We struggle for legitimacy in our own heads, and we HATE beating our own drum, even when it is our livelihood on the line. Can you imagine a doctor or a lawyer feeling like they can’t have their name listed on their practice website, or take patient recs, because they don’t feel good enough? No. Just the artists.

So beat their drum for them. Beat it as hard as you can bear.

Let me beat someone’s drum right now. The lady in the photo above, Kashmir Thompson, is an Atlanta-based visual artist who does some fantastic stuff, with a very distinct style. Check her out. Love her. Then go back to reading the rest of this post.

On the subject of social media, you could gently offer some direction, if the mood feels right. You know your friends best, you will be able to tell if they’re up for this kind of suggestion or not. But. If they are the type of person to sell their wares online (on Etsy,  though a copy-writing agency, Red Bubble, Society 6, etc.) you should help them build a solid social media presence that is separate from their personal accounts. (Very important. Business account. Personal account. Keep them separate and keep the latter private.)

If they are on YouTube or WordPress, or another service that allows ad revenue, it might be worth suggesting to them to monetise those channels. It isn’t a lot of money but if they do get clicks (because you routed traffic their way, and then YouTube algorithms did their magic and bumped the video up too, for example) that’s a little bit extra they can use to restock their kit or take a mental health day or get their kids a new sweater. We gotta do what we gotta do. Ads may be tacky, but they pay for all the free content online. Your friend works hard – they ought to be compensated.

Also, do they have Patreon account? Can you spare a pound? It’s a way to support them without ending up with 1000 handmade potted mugs in the process. (Unless you like potted mugs. And have sufficient space to display them, and no pets or children who can knock them down.)

Holidays and birthdays – ask them what they need. Maybe someone needs to restock their kit. Or they really want to go on a course with their favourite author. Or they want to upgrade their drawing tablet because their current one is a total piece of $%%^. Ask – then see what is doable. Maybe you can get a bunch of people and you can all chip in for something. Maybe you can get them a giftcard for a store that sells what they want.

If all else fails, we never turn down some good old-fashioned friend time. Movies. Food. Drinks, if they drink. Maybe you can offer to babysit their kids so that they can have a date night with their partner once a month – depends on where you are at and what you can afford.

Most importantly – ask them about their job, and let them offload once in a while. I know, our rants can get annoying. They can get really, really annoying. But if your friend allows you to offload about your boss, or your colleagues, or that barista in your local Starbucks that always puts skim milk in your morning Americano – you get the idea.

To your friend, the art is the job. It’s not always a fun job – even when something fulfills you and brings you joy, everyone has their bad days. I do. You do. They do. Let them offload, be there for them, and give them a hand when they need it. They have to work a different structure than you – no colleagues, no promotion opportunities, no health insurance, no pension plan. (If they have a day job, they have to juggle that with an art venture so that quality doesn’t go on either end.)

It can get stressful.

Let them get it off their chest – at least when you’re together.



On that subject: You can find my art on Red Bubble.
Also, this will be cross-posted with my art Tumblr. Follow for updates on paintings, sales, and my adventures doing Inktober 2016.

YouTube is awesome… but I won’t take its shopping advice anymore



Source: Death to the Stock Photo

There is something truly mesmerising about YouTube videos. The beauty and fashion community in particular is populated by the kinds of beautiful, awesome women my teenage self imagined might make the best of friends. I can spend hours – days even – just browsing around and getting lost in the content. (It makes some of the best background music for my painting and knitting.)

It’s inspirational. It’s aspirational.

I’m someone who bloomed pretty late (if “blooming” is even the word for it) and I didn’t really develop an interest in beauty and cosmetics until I was in my twenties – therefore, a bit too old for the “beginner” advice out there. So I turned to YouTube for guidance and support.

It started off well – I learned about why I should use moisturiser and SPF, for example – and I even started my own beauty blog. I was getting *read* beauty advice from *real* women – consumers like myself who just wanted to talk about their favourite products. I discovered some amazing things off YouTube.

But somewhere along the way, things changed.

It wasn’t just that I was hoarding stuff that, quite frankly, I didn’t need – there’s been enough ink spilled on that matter – but also, a lot of the stuff that I was getting… just wasn’t doing it for me. And I could not understand why.

These days, I’ve diversified my watchlist a bit. I’ve moved away from the Gleam Futures family and started watching people with smaller channels; older YouTubers; people who are or have been employed in the beauty industry, either on the manufacturing side or the marketing side; people with some background in chemistry or just people with loads of experience in cosmetics who actually know what they’re talking about. And I discovered that, while my favourite YouTubers are great entertainers and content-makers, they aren’t exactly knowledgeable when it comes to product recommendations.

Here are some things that I wish I’d known:

It takes more than a couple of weeks to see results from skincare.

Makeup has an expiration date.

Some people take money to do sponsored content – which is fine – but they weren’t always upfront about it. 

Some people just don’t bloody do their research beyond the press release – thus side-stepping issues like animal cruelty, exploitative employment practices, and pinkwashing. 

I am far from the most socially conscious person in the world. Sometimes I am at an emotional breaking point, I need to pull back, or else burn out. Sometimes my wallet just can’t handle the sheer cost of ethical buying, in addition to daily expenses like petrol money and food. Sometimes I just want to live my life painlessly without criticism from all the imaginary others in my head, telling me I should be a better person (thank you, anxiety.)

But I confess, there is a lot of cringing I do now, too.

I cringe when I see Asos hauls, because I have read about what is going on at their shipping centres.

I cringe when I see sponsored videos on skincare, knowing full well that this blogger wouldn’t actually be using this as part of a long-term routine.

I cringe whenever I’m told I need something in my life when both I and the person telling me this know, there is no conceivable way for me to use up ANOTHER neutral eyeshadow palette by the time it goes bad, and then I have to run the gauntlet of eye infection versus feeling like I wasted my money.

I cringe when brands “team up” with bloggers, not because I hate the products that come out of it – I don’t buy them – but because it promotes more of the same “buy, buy, buy” mentality that drives unethical manufacturing practices.

I cringe when bloggers say that this is their true opinion and they really believe in the brands they advocate for – because even when it’s true, I still don’t feel like I can trust them. “These people may act friendly,” I think, “but they don’t know me, and yet they speak to me as if they do.” It’s one thing to have ads at the start of your channel – by all means, monetise your video, earn some money – at least I know what it is and what to expect from it. But then you’re supposed to watch someone who is “just like you”…. and it is quickly apparent that this is not the case.

I love YouTube and I hate it. I love it because it helps fill the silence and keeps me afloat when I’m feeling down. But I also hate it, because it’s quickly turning into a marketing tool, and I’m sick of having products shoved down my throat. It’s good that I took up knitting recently – it keeps me from scrolling around websites.


Internet addiction: It may not be a thing, but we’re not exactly making it easy for ourselves either



Source: Death to the Stock Photo


(Found this in my archive. Not sure if I posted this here before, or anywhere else, but if I didn’t – here you go.


(Also, I’ve moved my art to Tumblr. Come give me a follow and get updates on sales and new products.)

Wherever I turn to these days, either reading about social media culture or participating in it, the words “Internet Addiction” get thrown around more often than peanuts in a party. And I’m fed up with it.

And I’m fed up with it.
Let’s set aside mainstream media and its tendency to sensationalise events for the sake of getting more views. Let’s also set aside that relative who just discovered online messaging boards (there is one for every family) and must tell you about this friend of a friend whose daughter or son had to go to the hospital because they couldn’t stop texting and developed insomnia. Let’s talk instead about the difference between habit and addiction, and dealing with the pressure to post if you’re not really a social media person.

First things first, the word “addiction” can be used in not one, but three ways (source: – biological addiction, which is what happens when the body becomes dependent on something (usually drugs or alcohol); psychological addiction, where there is not physical need for the drugs or alcohol, but you still feel a draw to them; and then there’s compulsive behaviour, whereas you turn to the drugs or alcohol (or gambling) as a means of coping with stressors in your life. (If you want a more descriptive account, I highly recommend Marian Keyes’ “Rachel’s Holiday”. It’s also a great book to procrastinate with during exam period.)

When talking about “Internet addiction”, the feeling that I get from other people is that they mean the kind of compulsive, mindless browsing that we’re all prone to doing when we’re bored, stressed, procrastinating, (or, in my case, haven’t had our first coffee of the day and daaaaaaaaaamn, roomie, how long are you going to hog the kitchen for?) That… doesn’t sound like addiction. It sounds like a habit.

And while we can use ‘habit’ to describe drug-related behaviour, isn’t necessarily the same thing as full-on addiction.

My own social media habit reached its peak around September-time when I read a lot of Jaron Lanier and danah boyd and compulsively read articles on, ironically, “Spending Less Time on the Internet.” As any good acolyte of well-being culture, I eventually understood the message my subconscious was sending, and I acknowledged it by disabling my Twitter and Facebook accounts.

How did that go?

Well, I did NOT experience withdrawal symptoms, and while I was slightly more bored with myself than I was previously (perils of doing a Ph.D.) I eventually got around that. If anything, not being on social media helped me let go of some anxieties I had about my “friends” there, and how I felt obligated to maintain the connection, even if they were not good for me.

And then, about two months later, I got right back on it.

Not for any epic reason, mind you – but my sports team was gearing up to go to a competition, and Facebook was where the organising happened. I had to be there, or else I’d be left out of the loop completely. I eventually worked up the courage to sever any ties with people I didn’t like, but it took a while, and it was hard.

Which brings me to my final point: even if Internet/social media addiction isn’t a thing (in the most literal sense of the word) we are collectively acting like there is no other way. It’s convenient, and hey, it works for so many of us, so why change a good thing? Why waste time to prove the alarmists wrong? Luddites gonna Luddite, amirite?
Fair enough.

If it works for you, it works for you. If it’s good for your group, it’s good for your group. I’m not going to bore you with the politics of social media and the economics of Facebook because quite frankly, Jaron Lanier was there first and I’m out of space for recapping his arguments. And I know that for every frustrated person looking for better connections online, there is a socially anxious one who has a strong network precisely thanks to the Internet; or, there is someone struggling with disease, addiction, or trauma, who finds solace in anonymous support. Everyone’s experience is valid, and you do what works for you.

However, not everyone is a social media person, just like not everyone is a cat person, or a sports person. If we have come to accept that not everyone likes cats, can we not make some allowances for people who don’t enjoy the Internet in the same way we do?  (Of course, these days, it might be worth calling dibs on your name, just in case… more on that in another blogpost, but let’s just say, a digital trust fund isn’t just for newborns anymore.)

If you are not happy with your social media usage, if you think it’s a waste of time, if you’re uncomfortable with the pressure to upload and share and revisit old memories, if you’re sick of native advertising and 10-point lists of “how-to-become-less-anxious”, if you get unbelievably angry with people claiming all Millennials have an “Internet addiction”, here is an experiment for you:

Don’t get off the social networks. But try to get together outside of them more. Meet your bestie from home for coffee next time you’re in town. Don’t tweet or share pics immediately from your night out/social/really boring lecture, but let them sit on your phone for a few days and then pick out the ones that you wouldn’t mind seeing again. Go through your contacts and block/hide/delete the people you really don’t see yourself talking with at all, and whose posts have been irritating you for months. Don’t use Facebook to organise study groups. Try to make more face-to-face meetings. (Unless the matter can really be resolved in an email or text message.) Write longer emails. Ask questions. Listen to the answers.

Call dibs on your name on the big platforms and make your acconts private just in case. You can always go back and do some selective sharing if you’re worried employers might be looking at it.
But. Most importantly, stay curious. Figure out what works for you and for your friends. Don’t feel pressured to join every hot new platform because that’s where all the professionals hang out, or you think it will impact your chances of getting a job/placement/summer internship. There are other ways. There are always other ways.

Honest responses to advice I’m sick of hearing

If you are a young person, you probably have been on the receiving end of more advice than you can shake a stick at. It isn’t all unsolicited-I am guilty as much as the next person of clicking on too many ‘how to’ articles and getting incensed at the blatant abuse of the imperative tense. It is generally good manners to smile and accept the advice for face value and only take on board what you feel comfortable with, but lately, I’ve found myself getting more and more annoyed with some particular pieces of  conventional wisdom. So here is my (somewhat) comedic and very exasperated take on some of the common pieces of advice out there:

1. Be proactive

Gee, you mean I won’t become rich and successful by sitting on  my arse?  Colour me surprised. And here I was thinking that the networking events and career training days and the ton of unpaid work I do writing for blogs and all the submissions I put in for contests and magazine pitches would cut the mustard. I was clearly being an eejit.

Honestly, though. I’m sick of the stereotyping of Millennials as lazy and entitled when the job market is a mess, the economy is in the trenches, and education just keeps getting more and more expensive. When our parents worked hard, they did so in private. When we work hard,  it is in a world where you can go online and find someone who looks like they work even harder and better than you. Comparison is rampant, and any work can be outsourced for cheaper. No wonder a lot of young people these days are depressed.

So don’t assume someone isn’t being proactive if they weren’t as successful as you were at their age. You won’t know how you’d fare in today’s workplace either.

2. Make A PLAN

Or strategise. Or Have Your Priorities Straight.

Sometimes I feel like people giving this kind of advice are living in another dimension. A dimension where you can work the same job for 30 years and career advancement is as simple as playing your cards right. There is no such thing as sudden company collapse (a la Mode Media) or downsizing because the manager decided to move half the operations in another country. There is no such thing as Brexit and uncertainty about whether this big multinational company you are employed at won’t pack up in two years’ time.

I get it – it’s good to have goals, and it’s good to know what you have to do to achieve those goals. But bizarrely you also need to Be Flexible these days, which these days can mean anything – from revising your 5-year plan as you go along, to accepting any kind of horrible job that comes your way because you have loans to pay for and you are subsisting on baked beans and toast.

3. Wait for feedback

This one’s to all the aspiring creatives out there who send out your novels and portfolios to agents and then wait with baited breath for a response. Personally, I love it when my rejection slip comes back with something more personal than “not for us”, but just like everyone else, agents and editors are suffering the consequences of accessibility, and they don’t have the time or the spoons to give everyone guidance on how to make their work better. (In fact, they are probably better off keeping their rejections impersonal and to-the-point, lest someone get ideas and start sending them revisions.)

Also, how subjective is feedback these days? Even in industries where there is standardized benchmarking for work performance, HR is supposed to take into account the individual characteristic of an employee – where do you think that leaves art, which is more or less in the eye of the beholder? Finding trustworthy feedback takes time, and some of us don’t have that luxury.

So the next time you think about berating someone for sending out mass submissions and not waiting to hear from an agent, bear in mind, most of us don’t expect a response. Hoping for it is exhausting enough.

4. Rule social media

Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn. Pinterest. Instagram. Snapchat. YouTube. Vine. Periscope. Tumblr. WordPress. Blogger, if you’re old school like that. And then there are the other 8 billion specialised social networking platforms that we need to take on if we want to reach our niche audience. We’re supposed to have a PUBLIC profile on at least a couple of those social networking websites, and we’re supposed to make our content sharable and interesting and cohesive.

Umm… how about no?

A public profile is a lot more work than people think it is. You have to be careful what you say, how you interact with others. There is less room for mistakes and error. A slip of the tongue or an ill-considered remark can become a monster that haunts you for the rest of your online life, and that is just the best case scenario. And what if you just don’t get many followers, and all the time and effort you put in are for naught, which, let’s be honest, is more likely than not? If you approach social media like work, you find yourself competing against every other person who is out there, and there is always someone who is more energetic, more interesting, more entertaining then you are.

If social media is your job, that’s one thing. But if you have to take it on in addition to everything else you’re doing – writing a book, working in corporate – then it’s exhausting. Not everyone has the luxury of punching the clock at the end of the day and then sitting down with their laptop to build a social media empire throughout the night.

5. Be flexible / Don’t be picky

Trust me, Millennials aren’t picky. We are the furthest thing from picky, at least when it comes to our work. We put up with zero-hour contracts and we accept the possibility of having to uproot our entire lives to work in a country where we might not even know the language. We are not picky. We are desperate.

That is not to say that flexibility is a bad thing or that we should be rigid in our demands, or that we must stick to our coveted Plan at any cost. But what being flexible means more often than not in this day and age is to settle for less than what you are worth. It means taking shit when you don’t have to. It means keeping your head down and not asking for a promotion or more job security because your employers might kick you out in favour of someone who has a little less self-esteem. It means letting your government plan to leave the European Union without first guaranteeing that worker’s rights will be protected.

Before you come along and tell someone to be more flexible with their work, ask yourself if their work is something that is worth being flexible for? Are they given protection or are they simply being exploited? And can you empower them in some way so that they won’t have to compromise their health and well-being while looking for more security in the workplace.

6. Be positive / Don’t be cynical

If young people these days strike you as negative or cynical, let me tell you a little something – it’s damn hard to be happy all the time. It takes energy and perseverence. It also requires you to actually believe in the future, which, I might have to add, isn’t exactly looking rosy right now.

Sometimes cynicism is a natural response to a situation. A coping mechanism to help the mind deal with a lot of shit. And young people deal with a lot of shit. Depression rates are on the rise. So are university fees and unemployment. A great many of us still live at home because even renting a property is too much. Job interviews and assessment days can resemble the Hunger Games. For some of us, just popping pour antidepressants and getting through the day is all we can manage. Don’t judge and berate us for not having the energy to put on a happy face, too.

7. Just pay the price of admission… even when you can’t afford it

Writing academies. Writing retreats. Creative consultancies. Art conferences. All of it costs money and all of it is said to be worth the price of admission. And if you have that money, great. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told to just go for it (getting an MS critiqued for a fee, for example) after I’ve explicitly said that my budget is quite tight and the fees for an agent-ran course would be a strain on my finances.

I get it – we all have to make a living. But there is absolutely no guarantee that this investment will pay back for itself, and when you have to make the choice on whether to decimate your savings or not, it is goddamn depressing.

That’s not a problem that is exclusive to artists, either. University student loans, for example, are widely considered to be a worthy price of admission, when most jobs require a Bachelor’s degree to even consider you. But the fees keep rising, maintenance loans are cut, interest rates are adjusted for inflation and the government isn’t bending over backwards to make more jobs for young people, or offer more security to employees. More and more often it starts to feel like you are being told to enlist in a pyramid scheme, and maybe, just maybe, you will rise to the top… by standing on the shoulders of those below you.

I’m sorry. Some admissions are not worth that price.

It gets worse!

The Research Whisperer

This post is co-authored by Karina Luzia and Kate Bowles of CASA, and Jonathan O’Donnell of The Research Whisperer. It has been cross-posted to both blogs. 

It Gets Better’ is a great program, hosted in the United States, that aims to tell…

“…lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth around the world that it gets better, and to create and inspire the changes needed to make it better for them.”

The message is a simple one: Growing up is hard. School is crap, but don’t despair. It gets better.

This is a really effective campaign because it has found a way to tell the truth and help the people who need it.

It Gets Worse! We need a similar campaign for our hourly, adjunct, casual, sessional (HACS) academics, and for PhD students who dream of becoming professors one day.

The problem is that while we would love to be able…

View original post 1,460 more words

Writing a first draft in 3 weeks

Eagle-eyed readers of this site might have noticed I went quiet (more so than usual) over the summer. There was a combination of factors going on – not least trying to put together a pilot project for my doctorate – but another one was the one cited above.

I was writing.

A new book.

And I completed the first draft in 3 weeks’ time.

And no, I can’t believe it either. I’m kind of afraid to look at the printed copy and finding out a bunch of blank pages.

If you are as well-versed as I am in the field of writerly productivity tips, you will know that this isn’t really that much of a feat. Quite a lot of people complete their NaNoWriMo in half the time offered them, and there is even an article on how to write a novel over a long weekend which I had bookmarked on my phone from the day I got it (the phone, I mean) to the day the battery died completely. It’s a very attractive dream – not least because the feeling of “flow” is fantastic.

Some might even call it addictive. I certainly do.

Flow is amazing because flow is when stuff gets done. Finally, the words and images that have been plaguing you for months are out of your head and into the page; finally, you can tweet your wordcount and bask in people’s baffled adoration; finally, you feel like you are productive. But flow has another great benefit – it allows you to leave the self-consciousness at the door and write with abandon. It’s basically what any writing instructor – Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldman, Anne Lamott – will encourage their students to do. “I’m going to write a short, bad book,” is what Dani Shapiro’s friend reportedly says before she starts on a new project, and my God, this mantra was what I had in mind when I was trying to lay down the draft.

I could bring us all down to the group by pointing out that, once the short, bad book got written, I am faced with the task of deciding whether it’s viable. I could point out that those 3 weeks and 75K words might be worth nothing other than the enjoyment they brought me. I could say that I have set myself up for failure because no writing project after this could possibly go as good.

But if you’re like me, you clicked on this post to find out How I Did It. So, for what it’s worth, this is How I Did It.

I actually started this book one year ago. I had doodled the concept on a train journey and then ended up chatting about it with my then-supervisor who expressed very enthusiastic interest. Then I wrote snippets while on holiday – not actual structure or story, but random scenes that popped into my head as I went about my business. It was promising.

Then I got back from holiday and forgot the project even existed. It happens. Work piles up and life isn’t very far behind and I actually had another book I set my hopes on and worked hard on making as good as it could be. Naturally, when that proved to be Not Good Enough, I had to do something to take my mind off going into Waste Spirals*.

Oh, lookie, I had just the thing. Years of being unable to write made me approach the project warily. I expected nothing to happen, for words to just freeze up. But I was feeling restless and unhappy, so I set my old notebook out one night, then when I woke up, I got my laptop and told myself that I’ll be writing a short, bad book. I set myself a target, and, because my friend had tagged me to do the #22Kill challenge, I used that as an incentive for me to write 2200 words each day.

At first I flew by the seat of my pants. I had a bunch of ideas and backstory to lay down, plus I had a bunch of pre-written scenes that helped jog my memory, even if they themselves didn’t end up in the actual document. I was still pretty sure it would not go anywhere, and waited for the day when I would just dry up.

After I passed 10K words, though, I had to admit that I was stuck in this thing, so I might as well go all out. And I used the Snowflake Method to outline the rest of the novel. It took me a lot less time than it said it would – one evening – but that’s because I skipped on a bunch of steps and also, the idea had been in my head for a while, so I wasn’t exactly starting from scratch.  Once I had a scene list and a better understading of the character, stuff just kicked into high gear.

I’m sorry if this is vague, but the way I see it, writing is like trying to lay down a puzzle with only a partial idea of what the final picture looks like. You know the dimensions, you know the colour scheme, but you also find a lot of fine detail along the way. You need to find patterns and make leaps to connect plots and characters. The Snowflake Method really helps with that, but you also have to be ready to look for the things too.

It helped that I had a lot of time on my hands. I will never say that I am not privileged that my work schedule allows me a lot of free time on the summer to write. It also allowed me to exceed my word limit.

And, of course, having the ending in mind was really useful. I think with this one, I had the ending in my head almost as early as the beginning, which is great. Not every project is the same, though. And there’s no guarantee that it won’t change in subsequent drafts.

In fact, my job now is to figure out what it is that I wrote. What it’s all about, and whether it’s worth pursuing further. 

I will keep you updated.


*Waste Spiral: the constant reminiscing of the time, effort and resources spent on trying to make a thing work, and it did not pay off. Often found in creative people, as well as anybody why spent money on a gadget that did not perform to task. Could end causing excessive amounts of stress and rage.

Ringing Ears



Source: Death to the Stock Photo (because, duh!)

Headphones: what do these mean for you?

Travel. Escape. Safe haven. Nuisance. Gym. Excitement. Relaxation. Music. Podcasts. Movies. Happy place.

How about pain? Or fear?

My last two writing projects have been about people who cannot use one of their senses. One is mute-by-choice. The other is partially deaf. I’ve had people signing and writing and reading lips, body language has taken centre stage during dialogue, and the irony meter is hitting astronomical levels because my ears have been ringing for a while now.


To be clear, my ears ring a few times a year, and then it lets out. I try not to freak. The doctors make soothing noises. (They always make soothing noises.)


I’ve only been using headphones extensively since I went to uni. It is a considerate roommate thing to do, in shared halls and thin walls. There was a learning curve, to be sure, but by the end of the year, I had a habit set.

I also use my headphones extensively when I’m walking out and about. Street harassment does that to you – once or twice is all it takes. You want to make yourself small. You want to close your senses. Even if it hurts you.

And now I am to break that habit? How?


Working from home helps.

Even if the silence presses down on me all the time, even if it’s difficult to just put on the music like regular people do, being alone helps because I’m less self-conscious.

Then there is all the driving I’ve been doing lately, and though that comes with stressors of its own (why is it that people turn into massive dicks when they see a woman driving? why?) I’m finding it really helpful for my music habit.

I don’t know how long it will take for me to just walk out without headphones in my ears. How long until I have the confidence to just take up space in the world.

How to write a book (an ongoing project)

Please note that the following is written and intended as a comedic piece and should not under any circumstances be taken as a definitive guide to writing a book.

Also, please note that this is the comedic guide to writing A book. For the guide on writing bestsellers, please refer to the literary magazine that you consider your personal bible and/or the diety of your choice.



Right, the first thing you need is an IDEA.

You can get those by drinking unicorn tears by the full moon. Alternatively, read as many books as you can and then write as many practice stories as you can by copying the plot and changing the names of the characters, while also writing tons and  tons of fanfiction.

Bonus points if you play with genders of characters in fanfiction.

Extra bonus points if you write crack pairings.

Once you have developed your idea muscle by rote-learning ALL OF THE PLOTS (or you drank your magical unicorn tears, which by the way taste like boiled broccoli) it’s time to diversify. Read ALL of the books you can get your hands on in your chosen genre (what, you thought you were done reading? Dream on, sucker!) and then find out what is missing from it.

Bonus points if you write snarky reviews for these books online. Points deducted if you send the author a link to the negative reviews because really? Not cool.

Having identified what is missing from the genre of your choice, you have the building blocks to write your book. For the actual writing, there are several schools of thought that fall into the broad categories of plotter or pantser. In Internet update terms, the plotters are the ones who always have a new chapter of their fanfic up on Tuesday. Pantsers are those who give you radio silence for a month and then come back with ten million chapters, thus clogging up your inbox with automatic notifications. Don’t sweat too much about which camp you fall into though. Everyone deals with huge amounts of guilt and unreasonable expectations of their writing.

If someone tells you they don’t use coffee to get through the day, they’re either lying or they are a zen master and it is your duty to learn their ways because caffeine shakes and long periods of writing do not mix.

Sufficient experience in writing fanfiction might have preppe d you to write your book, but you will quickly discover that it’s quite different to go through a plot without the sweet, sweet carrot that are chapterly reviews. You might find it helpful to sign up for NaNoWriMo, if only to meet other hopeful novelists who will be your betas. (You will find that good beta reading is a lot more different from leaving a comment to someone’s lemony slashfic, but the principle of giving what you hope of receiving holds.)

The process of your first draft has been detailed by the good people of the Office of Letters and Light (aka the NaNoWriMo team) so I won’t get into it here. You may find it worthwhile to come back for a repeat experience. Just bear in mind that if your NaNo project gets published, everyone will want to be your friend.

Editing also falls into a number of camps, although the differences in that case boil down to how much time will you leave between drafts, and what colour pen you will use to make edits. The answer to both questions is generally found through trial and error and reading a lot of published people’s blogs. (It’s not procrastination. It’s apprenticeship.

The point between your first and second draft is usually spent in daydreaming about literary fame, fortune, and researching agents. Such planning is expected and encouraged, but it is adviseable that you put off actually contacting agents and editors until you have at least read through your book. December is a particularly undesirable time to submit, since this is when NaNo usually finishes.

As you edit your book (and editing really is about reading and thinking critically about what you’ve done) you might experience a condition referred to as are-we-there-yet syndrome. Commonly found in toddlers and authors at various stages of a new project, this is a condition symptomised by:

  • teeth grinding
  • obsessive reading of authors’ blogs (this really is procrastination)
  • reading mean online reviews
  • practicing your Carnegie Medal acceptance speech
  • counting down the days until you’re done
  • depressive episodes when you fall short of schedule
  • binge-watching your boxset of choice and then working in a reference to the show within the manuscript

To calculate your actual finishing time, you will need to take however long it took you to write the first draft, multiply by 2 to take into account the possible redrafts that you will make unprompted, multiply that by the number of beta readers you have, add six-months when you query every agent under the sun, another six months where you make another vital edit, and then apply a Lying Weasel Factor of 2 which will account for depressive episodes, having to take time off writing because you have to work or study, and waiting for the cast to come off your hand because you gave yourself Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Then query again.

If you think about what an imposter you are… well, you might be getting there.