Wahoo, it’s the Hull Children’s Book Awards!

Last week the Hull Children’s Book Awards took place. It’s an event I’ve attended for three years now, first as a school librarian, second as a teacher, and this time I went as a volunteer for my old school, partly because I didn’t want to miss out, and partly because I was keen to see my a piece of my freelance work in use.

The awards are organised by Hull Libraries, a dedicated team of people ready to turn preconceptions of libraries upside down with events throughout the year. They had asked me what I thought to creating a booklet for the children who attend on the day, summarising the nominated books, giving them some info about their favourite authors and generally keeping them busy with quizzes, puzzles, and interviews to read. I thought it was a great idea and agreed to write the content for it. What I didn’t expect was just how busy it kept all the students on the day! Walking into a room of hundreds of 11-15 year olds and being able to hear yourself speak because all the students are busy completing word searches was a big novelty!

Here's a snapshot of the booklet I produced.

Here’s a snapshot of the booklet I produced.

The day was a massive success, as always. Seeing so many young people get to meet the authors of the books they’ve been reading since the start of the year reminded me why I loved working in education – they’re so enthusiastic! It didn’t take long for the students to catch on that I’d created some space in their booklets to collect autographs too, and what started off as a simple reading booklet quickly became a keepsake for many of them.

When I went freelance I decided I wasn’t going to specialise in any particular area, not wanting to risk eliminating myself from appearing an all-round writer, but since doing this, and another project for Hull Libraries, I’ve decided it’s not a bad thing to play on your strengths and begin promoting myself as an educational writer.

All of my other services will remain on offer and exactly the same, but together with another project I’m working on, and with my background in education, the resources I already have mean I could create some really fun pieces of work for schools and organisations. There’s already a particularly exciting one in the pipeline. Stay tuned…

BBC collaborations and cultural debate – What Next?

By far the best thing to have come out of freelancing is the amount of people I get to meet on the local creative scene. Every meeting brings more introductions to people passionate about what they do, and even better, passionate about Hull 2017.

I’ve mentioned in my blog before now the ‘why wait’ approach that the city’s creative seem to be taking when it comes to 2017. Not only down to the sheer amount of planning that a full year of cultural activities will take, but because there is a genuine excitement in the city right now.

There are tons of initiatives, festivals and organisations growing in Hull at the moment, but the one I’ve recently become involved with is Get Creative, a collaboration between the BBC and What Next.

BBC Get CreativeBBC Get Creative is the chance to put a spotlight on the creativity which happens every day across the UK. By sharing the creative projects I’m involved with, the BBC is going to do its bit to spread the word and see others getting involved.

As part of this, I meet with the What Next Hull group to share ideas with others doing the same thing in the area, and see what we can achieve specifically for Hull as a group. What Next groups are springing up all over the country, but in Hull we decided that the group should be defined as a culturist lobbying group, strengthening the role of art in the city.

what next hull logoSince kicking off with a sold-out debate at Hull Truck Theatre, seeing the kings and queens of culture go head to head on local art issues and the future of Hull’s culture, What Next has met as part of a live BBC radio broadcast, which gave members of the public a rare chance to ask their cultural leaders about the things most important to them.

It’s a really exciting time to be freelancing at the moment. Every week seems to bring a new idea or opportunity to get involved in the local arts scene.

You can find What Next on Twitter, where I’ve live-tweeted during the BBC broadcast, and find out more about BBC Get Creative here.

8 tips for working from home

Working from home brings many positives – the proximity to the biscuit tin, setting your own hours, and swapping your suit for slippers, but it can be hard to stay on track and be constantly motivated too. Here are my top tips for stay at home success:

  1. Don’t put the TV on. If the house is simply too quiet, opt for the radio or put your iPod on in the background. For one, music is less distracting, and most employers would allow it in the office anyway, and two, you can’t give your work your full attention with Loose Women in the living room. Nobody would willingly pay you to watch TV, so it’s not fair to charge them for it.
  2. Go outside. In my first few weeks of freelancing I couldn’t work out why I was finding it so hard to fall asleep at night. In my last job I’d spend the majority of the day walking from building to building, and a lot of this time outdoors. As a result, I’ve lost pretty much all fresh air and exercise from my day, meaning I wasn’t as tired. If you’re too busy for a walk around the block part way through the day, spend twenty minutes in the garden. It’ll increase your productivity hugely, and keep your from feeling you haven’t left the house in days.
  3. Have a lunch break. Yes, you can snack all day. You can also see the bathroom scales take a sharp turn in the wrong direction. Set proper breaks for meals, just as you would at work, and keep fruit and nuts handy for snacking on. Nobody will like you if you become responsible for eating the entire local shop’s biscuit stock.
  4. Get dressed. Working in pyjamas is one of the first pros of working from home that comes to mind, and until the luxury wears off, it’s great. Once it’s gone though, you’re just the strange neighbour taking their bins back in at 6pm in their PJs, and nobody needs to become that. You don’t need to dress smartly, but getting dressed at all in the morning puts you in the right frame of mind and helps take your brain from sleep to work mode.
  5. Speak to people. By 5pm, the sound of your own voice can be a surprise if you haven’t used it all day. Try and spend a couple of afternoons a week working from a coffee shop surrounded by others, arrange meetings regularly and make social arrangements with friends to avoid feeling isolated.
  6. Don’t clean the house. Yes, it’s tempting to ‘just put the washing out’, but the more housework creeps into your day, the more your work creeps out of it. If you can’t work in a lived-in house, allow some time in the morning to tidy up, but make sure it comes before your working hours before it eats into them.
  7. Do clean the house. Yes, I know. I love contradictions, so much that I used to write both the For and Against column in my student newspaper’s opinion page. The fact is, if you’ve got work to do, but it’s just not happening, giving your brain something different to do for a few minutes can get you back on track. So yes, OK, go and put the washing out after all, but after that, return to your desk and don’t let it be the start of a six hour spring clean.
  8. Find the hours that suit you. Working while the house is empty might seem the best idea, but if mornings aren’t for you (and let’s face it, you’ve chosen to work from home, they’re probably not), then start later. But you do also need to work later. Experiment with different hours for a while until you find what suits you, and get the most out of your day according to when you’re most productive.

10 tips for writing a Valentine’s day poem

Valentine’s day. The public celebration of card manufacturers congratulating themselves on such a profitable idea. Florists and balloon guys are probably pretty happy too. But before the word ‘cynic’ leaves your mouth, know that V Day can also be a celebration of love. It just doesn’t have to leave you £50 worse off.

A homecooked meal, some candles, a backrub and a night of Netflix is certainly more romantic than tickets to see Fifty Shades, but what if you really want to do something special, without the consumerist angle?

vday

Break the mould this year and write something that will last longer than a box of sweets.

Writing a poem might seem daunting, ridiculous, or even outright mad, but I think you should give it a go anyway. Why? Because if it would be an unusual move for you, that makes it romantic, and even if it’s not Wordsworth, the effort will likely be adorable. And if it is usual for you, you probably don’t need the following advice. Maybe you should get chocolates to be different.

So, poetry. Soppy, right? Yeah, get used to it. So is Valentine’s day, and you’ve already committed yourself to the idea of that. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Poems do NOT need to rhyme. Try and be a little more original than that, and you’ll save yourself from having to think of anything that rhymes with blonde.
  2. Think of your happiest memories together. Let them create some key words and let lines form from those.
  3. Make it personal. It should be something that your partner can read and truly know it’s for them, and not just a rewrite of something you did for your ex.
  4. Don’t get caught up with embarrassment. Just say what you feel, and be natural.
  5. Don’t tape an engagement ring to the bottom. She’ll see it before she’s finished reading.
  6. Add humour. Not loads, and leave anything that happens in the bathroom in the bathroom.
  7. What’s your favourite thing about them? Add that.
  8. What’s your least favourite thing about them? Don’t add that. Really. It will not apply to no.6.
  9. Cheat. If you want to borrow a line from a real life, successful poet, why not? Just don’t pretend it’s yours. Showing you’ve done your research will add to the impressiveness.
  10. Still not sure? Go and adopt a puppy.

Have a loved up weekend, readers. Share your best lines in the comments too. I might need them.

“So what, exactly, do you do?” An interview with a freelance writer

It’s already been a month since I relaunched my freelance writing business, and as part of my set up I was asked if I could be interviewed about what I do. I thought this would be a great way of giving some advice to others looking to break away from the safety net of employment to go it alone. Here’s how it went:

What, exactly, do you do?

I’m a freelance writer. But every freelancer could give you a different answer to this. For me, it’s more than just content. I’m PR trained, so I’m finding that a lot of what my clients want is advice. For this, I do consultancy work as part of my freelancing. It means rather than writing a press release for a client, I might start off by talking to them about their current position when it comes to promoting themselves, give them some ideas of where to go next, and then execute those ideas for them.

I sum up my services by saying I offer copywriting, social media expertise, PR and events work, but the type of work I do stretches far beyond that. I have a full list of services on my website.

What made you choose to become a freelance writer?

I’ve never really known what I wanted to be. I wasn’t one of those people who woke up one day when they were eight, decided they were going to be a nurse, and stuck with the idea right through to graduating. I’ve tried different areas of work, and writing is the one I always found myself coming back to. I didn’t necessarily choose to become a freelance writer, I tried to sum up my skills and preferred way of working into a job, and this is what I came up with!

What’s your area of expertise?

Social media. I was fortunate to be just the right age when platforms like Facebook and Twitter began. I was at the stage of being young enough to want to use them for fun, but old enough to try and see the business workings behind them too. I’m aware of how they come across as simple tools for business, but that a lot of people are still a bit daunted by them, or don’t know the right ways to make them work for them, so I do a lot of advising and account managing for others to get the most out of them.

Do you believe in USPs?

Definitely. But they can be hard to find. I spoke to a client recently who was convinced their unique selling point was their level of experience in their field, and had to explain to them that while that was a good thing, it certainly wasn’t unique. So a USP can be hard to pin down. Mine is the hours I work. I’ve yet to meet anyone else who offers late night social media monitoring.

Why is that important?

If you look at when users of social media are most active, it’s early evening. Especially because more people are choosing to communicate with businesses via social media, rather than a customer service helpline, because they are no opening hours online to cut them off. A lot of businesses are missing out on important conversations with customers because they work office hours too. When a customer asks you a question at 7pm, they shouldn’t have to wait until 9am for an answer. I monitor social media accounts up until 10pm to make sure this doesn’t happen, and that my clients don’t miss out on new business.

What’s your biggest tip to someone else starting out?

Don’t say yes to everything. You’ll quickly end up wasting your time in meetings that have no relevance to you, or carrying out work that isn’t in your field. It’s hard to imagine saying no before you see a steady stream of income, but hold out and become known for what you aimed to do in the first place.

What do you charge?

£25 per hour for everything except social media account managing. For that I have separate packages to suit different clients’ needs.

What does a typical day involve?

I’ll get up around 7.30 – a bit earlier than I imagined I would before I started! – and spend the first hour or two checking my accounts, emails, the news for anything relevant to my business and marketing myself, and then do something creative for a couple of hours. I do a lot of creative writing, which is another side of my business, and I’ll concentrate on that until lunch and then carry out my work for clients throughout the afternoon. I’ll try and break it up with a walk, bike ride or half an hour in the garden if I can. It’s easy to lose track of the last time you left the house sometimes!

What type of business is a typical client?

I don’t have one. I’ve worked in educational PR a lot, but I’m expanding now to take on clients across all sectors. I’ve carried out work for really small businesses, right up to working on a PR campaign for the NHS, and I love the variety. It forces you to have fresh ideas and think of each client entirely differently, which is good for both the client and my professional practice.

What’s your preferred way for a new client to get in touch with you?

They can email me at hello@laurasmithwriter.com or call me for a casual chat about what they’re looking for. I love to hear from people on Twitter too. I much prefer informal conversation generally.

Would you like to be featured in an interview? Leave a comment below or get in touch via the contact page.

Don’t tweet like a female, or like anybody at all for that matter

If you look closely at the UK list of Trending Topics on Twitter right now, you’ll see the badly spelled hashtag, #TweeLikeAFemale. I don’t recommend you spend too long trawling through the photos of nails and lipsticks on there, but it does raise a good question – is it possible to tweet like a particular gender? Or even a particular age group, race, or as though you represent a particular culture? Yes, I think is the clear answer. Tweets, or any written content for that matter can easily be identified as belonging to a particular demographic as long as harsh stereotypes are met. So instead, my question is this – should you be able to tell who is tweeting?

I’m having a conversation with a retailer at the moment via their Twitter’s customer service account, and despite being attentive, fast to respond and generally doing a lot of things right, almost every DM is being signed off with a different person’s first name. It’s a small dislike of mine personally, and something I’d never recommend professionally. Can you imagine being in a showroom, discussing the merits of buying a new car, and the sales assistant who is trying to help you make an informed decision, keeps leaving and being replaced with someone new every 30 seconds?

The people behind online accounts for brands should be invisible

The people behind online accounts for brands should be invisible

It would never leave you confident that your custom is being treated with as much care and attention that you would like, and you’d be more likely to leave and shop elsewhere than put up with it. Ask yourself why; there are several reasons: mislaid information, the need to recap conversations, and generally more effort on your part when it’s them – the retailer, that should be working to ensure your custom, so why should you do all the work?

Social media accounts belonging to large companies can’t have one person running the Twitter feed and Facebook posts all the time – they’d never get to leave work! But the company can have one singular face to them. After all, you’re not trying to talk to Karen in customer services, you’re trying to talk to the brand. If the company works well, and works hard, they should have an excellent standard of communication between staff anyway – you don’t need to be aware of it. The passing of information should come naturally, and enable the next person sitting the Twitter shift to pick up where the last person left off, mid conversation with a customer or not, providing a seamless transfer the customer isn’t aware of.

Never signing a personal name or providing details of myself instead of the company is something I always make sure of when managing social media accounts for clients. It’s a small detail, but it makes the biggest difference to customers’ experiences, and makes a huge contribution to the overall image of your brand.

For more tips on how to be great at social media, you can sign up to my newsletter here. Be sure to visit my website for a full list of the services I offer too.