I’m back!

I’m back! Things have been really quiet for me on the blog for a while, but time away has confirmed just how much I love blogging and how much I missed writing regular posts, so I’m making a commitment to coming back to my little WordPress site.

This autumn marks nine years since I started university and listened to my first lecturer talk about how big blogging was going to get and how much of a tool it would be in self branding. I don’t think even he could have anticipated how spot on that was. He encouraged everyone on the course to start a blog and commit to writing as often as possible, which I did and immediately enjoyed. Over the years it put me in conversation with PR agencies interested in working with me post-graduation, companies providing me with great new products to try out, travel blogs which commissioned me to write for other sites, and everyday readers who enjoyed what I wrote, and that varied so much. One day it would be make-up tutorials, another it would be describing my favourite media campaign that week. I feel like blogging is a great outlet for me. Recently I’ve taken a bit of a break from social media after seeing how many hours a day I was caught up in it, and while I don’t miss it all that much, I have missed having somewhere to pour my inner dialogue into. Here I can make it cohesive though!

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Here’s one of the reasons I’ve been busy this year! Introducing baby Maddie.

To take my blog forward though, I need to define it. While I can loosely describe it as a lifestyle blog, I think it will be helpful to stick to certain topics. At the moment I can see those including beauty trends, media and my personal life. I love reviewing products, so I can’t wait to get back into doing that, but as I link the blog to my professional site for work, I’ll be writing about PR and advertising at times too.

If I’m totally honest, it’s seeing how much blogging has grown that makes me want to be a part of it again. Naturally that includes the evolution of vlogs too, and while I started off feeling like I was probably about five years too old to run a good YouTube channel, watching people like Brogan Tate xo build a career out of her videos, I’ve since found some amazing ones from people my age and in my situation, which only leaves me the option of being honest: I’d be too damn scared to do it. While not all YouTubers are confident and extroverts, I think I’m a way off being able to film and upload my life. At the moment I’m happy to find a work/life balance and grow my blog back to its old self while creating content I’m proud of. As always though, I want to know what my readers want, so please comment with post suggestions you’d like to see. I’m so happy to be back!
See you back here again soon x

Replace your failed New Year’s resolutions with creative aims this year

Five days into the new year should be enough for most people to recognise that their resolutions aren’t working, and more often than not it’s because they’re about giving something up. By aiming to achieve something by the end of the year instead, we’re less likely to fail and, well, frankly, more likely to remember what it was we wanted to do beyond January too.

Each year I write two lists: one with a few aims for the year, and one of the things I’m proud of over the last twelve months. The two don’t need to particularly add up, but they can keep you on track a lot longer than resolutions and let you reflect on what you want to work on next. For me, it’s about keeping a bit of creativity in my life. Freelance writing sounds creative enough to most people, but in reality when you’re working from home and slogging through your accounts, emails and other admin tasks, it can leave you wondering where the imagination behind it has gone.

Here are five suggestions of creative tasks to keep in mind for the year ahead:

64 Million Artists

64 Million Artists is a national campaign supported by BBC Get Creative. Its mission is to see people unlock their creativity in bite size chunks. Whether you want to sign up to receive suggestions of a new daily task this month, every Friday, or just browse the website for suggestions, 64MA is about putting 20 minutes aside now and again to use your artistic side and share with others what you’ve done. Participants so far have written to their 8 year old selves, tried their hands at looming, and even just danced around their living room for a few minutes!

Bullet Journalling

Bullet-Journal-12Keeping a diary is a great creative and psychological exercise, but it can be time consuming and frustrating if, like me, you can’t write at the same speed at which you think. Bullet journalling is about getting down a single thought or summary of your day, then having fun with it and decorating the page to become its own miniature artwork. This Bloglovin’ post has a suggestion for a different topic for each week of the year.

Go for a walk

I work from home most of the time, and it can be far too easy to let the kitchen be the furthest place I walk to by the end of the day. Getting out for a quick stroll around the block means you breathe some air other than what’s cycled around the room you’re in, and allows your mind the space to think freely. I often find that by the time I’m home I’ll have a new couple of ideas to help me through whatever I’m working on that day.

Colouring in

Adult colouring books filled the stockings of everyone I know this year, and with good reason. I used to work with vulnerable children and I’d often use colouring as a chill out activity and find myself grabbing a sheet and joining in too. There’s no amount of rage or frustration that can’t be ebbed away with half an hour in a quiet room and a box of crayons. Sure, it’s a bit silly, but as long as this trend stays within the walls of our homes and doesn’t become the next coffee shop activity I think it’s a great use of time.

Adult education courses

maxresdefaultIf you’ve got a bit more time to play with, and a spare £50 or so, have a look at the evening courses offered by your local council. These are often packaged as courses to upskill under qualified adults, but there are usually plenty of creative courses on offer too. I’ve attended a dress making course a few times now and have some great homemade clothes as a result. This year I’m thinking of trying acrylic painting or clay sculpting for something different.

Whatever you do, and for however little time you do it, being creative is about using a different part of your brain. In turn, you’ll rest other parts, leaving you feeling refreshed and ready to work again after a quick break. Think of it as mental yoga if you like.
Leave your own creative suggestions in the comments and let me know what you plan to get up to.

Come to Hull, it’s not shit anymore

Yesterday the news broke that my hometown, formerly top of crappiest places to live in the UK, was now in the top ten of world cities to visit in 2016, according to Rough Guides.

Puzzled? Yes. Proud? Undoubtedly. This is a city in which you can actually buy t-shirts branded with the phrase, “Come to Hull, it’s not shit anymore”, and what’s more – they speak the truth.

Hull city centreYes, there was a time in which Hull was crap. I’m not sure it was so crap it deserved to be listed as one of the worst places to live, but for sure, as a university student in 2007 I was keen to see the back of the place each time my train pulled out of the station. Now, I have friends that visit from elsewhere in the world and I actually enjoy showing them around, albeit selectively.

There’s no doubting the fact that Hull has improved. No, not improved. Transformed. Completely. We’ve gone from a city not even deserving of a Starbucks to one hosting regular cultural events, world-famous festivals and theatre linked with the biggest industry names in London. And we’ve barely started. Next year sees our City of Culture status kick off, with 365 days of tourist-inviting programmes planned, incorporating everything from dance, drama and spoken word to the most unusual of artforms. But does that mean we’re really one of the best cities to visit in the world?

hullAt first I was dubious. I heard the news, read the article and considered the other big names. There’s no mention of Sydney, New York, Tokyo or any other places which frequently top tourist travel lists. What we have is a list of cities deserving of new attention. And that’s what travel is about. Go to any backpacking hostel in the world and you’ll find people in search of the true taste of a place, ready to discover hidden gems and authentic experiences. Can Hull offer that? Damn right it can. The article mentions the atmospheric pubs and the cobbled streets of the Old Town, and quite honestly, I can imagine being a stranger not only to Hull, but to the UK, and sitting with a pint in a unique little pub, feeling like I’d found somewhere really pretty cool. Hull really does offer that feeling so many backpackers seek out in their travels. Not all travelling is about ticking off world famous sites. Much more of it is down to chatting with locals, seeing where they spend their evenings and sampling the local beer, plus a good portion of fish and chips while you’re here. You wouldn’t have to spend long in Hull before a resident offered you their life story, and you wouldn’t have to travel far to hear the stories behind the city’s heritage. Plus, you’ll get more change from a tenner at a bar than you will anywhere else in the country, and cost of visiting is one of the most considered aspects of travelling for most Rough Guide readers.

So if you read that article and felt like the Rough Guides writers had gone slightly mad, take a second look. Compare Hull to Amsterdam (which you can conveniently get the ferry to from Hull’s port), Nashville and Wroclaw, and ask whether it still doesn’t make any sense. Of course, the only way to really judge a place is to go there, so come and see for yourself. There’ll be plenty of people happy to show you around.

 

Like this post? I’m offering 50% off all copywriting throughout January. 

Email me at hello@laurasmithwriter.com or visit my Facebook page for more details.

Some brutal honesty for those lacking motivation

Here at Laura Smith Writer HQ things have reached a bit of a slump lately. I’m sure every piece of start-up and business advice would go against admitting that. Business owners are meant to be upbeat, positive and busy all of the time, if not to be successful then at least to appear to be. Nobody wants to hire anyone who doesn’t fall into those categories, right?

But the truth is, business is hard. It’s an uphill struggle when you’re an independent freelancer working from your study at home, competing against big name companies which can afford to woo new clients with champagne and fancy lunches. So it’s time to stop pretending, and to acknowledge that fact. But here’s the important bit – I’m carrying on regardless.

When I gave up my job to return to freelance writing nearly 12 months ago, amongst the congrats and the ‘you go, girl!’ support from my friends and peers, were some that thought beyond the business realm and questioned the social aspect: “Won’t you miss working with other people? I’d go crazy not speaking to anyone all day!” That kind of thing. And no, this didn’t bother me, not at first. I had an exciting business idea in one hand, and the motivation to see it through in the other. Then about nine months in the doubt popped up.

solitary-tree_webThings had gone well – my business advisor told me I was seeing more success than 75% of start-ups locally. Only now I was feeling the need for that reassurance we can only get from people we work with. And who do I work with? Me. After fumbling around inside my own head for a while and considering going back to the safety net of employment, things came to a bit of a standstill. I was no longer as busy as I was in the early days and new clients seemed harder to reach. But with all down periods come a small glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel, and here mine was, shining ever so slightly through the grey sky outside.

Sometimes you have to rely on something else to prompt this, and other times a stern word in your own ear can do the trick. Here’s my advice on pulling yourself together, and getting your business back on track:

  • Don’t work in the present. Today might be a slow day, but think about the future. The project you set out to focus on has still to happen and its success can only lay in the coming days, weeks and months. Think about any evidence you have to support the fact that this can and will still happen.
  • Look through your emails. Remind yourself of some really encouraging conversations and begin some more.
  • Don’t assume everyone has heard of you. You might have heard of them, but that’s not to say they know who you are. Introduce yourself, reintroduce yourself and meet new people. New contacts are new opportunities.
  • Remember why you started: this point can be found in pretty much every motivational blog post ever written, but it’s there for a reason. How much did you really hate your job? Would you honestly want it back? How excited were you over your idea? What sort of lifestyle are you trying to achieve for yourself and your family through your own means?
  • Picture the future. Whatever that lifestyle is that you want – imagine it being here. Sitting on a tropical beach every summer, or having the flexibility to spend time with your kids might be a dream right now, but you have to drag it into reality at some point. There’s no time like the present.

For anyone struggling to motivate themselves right now, please don’t give up. There’s nothing like being your own boss (however isolating it can be) which tells us we’re doing the right thing. Picture the worst job you ever had, or think of someone who hates what they do. Would you trade places? Of course not. You love what you do. You’re just having a bad day and that’s allowed. Now make a cup of tea, and bloody get on with it.

*Please say hello if this post has resonated at any point. As I say, freelancing can be isolating, and it’s nice to hear from others sometimes.*

New cultural opportunities in Hull City of Culture

Dance, visual art, photography, theatre, film, music, poetry and more. If you’re in the creative industries in Hull I want to hear from you!

Hull City of Culture 2017What Next Generation Hull is a brand new group being set up to reflect the work of the national What Next movement. The aim of the group is to reach out to young people in the city and enlighten them to the possibilities of a life in the arts. By introducing professionals in the cultural sector to 13-21 year olds locally, through workshops, mentoring and events, What Next Generation Hull wants to turn talent and passion into real life career choices, and nurture the next generation of artists in the run up to 2017.

avatar_cbcb02197545_128I’m looking for cultural professionals willing to volunteer a small amount of time in the next 18 months to the mentoring programme, during which you will be paired with a small group of young people to guide them through the process of developing their own artistic project in your field. Involvement can range from occasional email contact, to fully fledged support at regular group meetings – it’s totally up to you!

Want to be even more involved? What Next Generation Hull is also looking for a Vice Chair for the chapter. This will involve attending national meetings with other Chapter Chairs and taking Hull’s story to others.

If either of these opportunities sound like something you’re interested in, email me at hello@laurasmithwriter.com for more info.

What makes art, art?

As I write this I’m sat in a café looking at some local art on the wall priced for sale at £220. It’s approximately the size of two A3 sheets of paper (in fact, it may be two A3 sheets of paper as there’s a suspicious seam down the middle), and pretty as it is, it’s reminding me of an art critic book someone once told me about called ‘Why your five year old couldn’t have done that’.

Art is about original ideas, and while I look at this picture, and think about how I could make something similar myself, I have to remind myself that I wouldn’t ever have done so, mainly because I’d have never had that precise idea for a picture, or anything similar. Does that make it art? I suppose it does. Not quite content with this, I carried on thinking.

What had the best art I’d come across done to stay in my mind? Two pieces of art come to mind. First is a series of photographs displayed a while ago at the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull, where I live. The series involved large single images of women photographed nude an hour, a day and a week after childbirth against a white backdrop. Each photo involved a different woman, a distinct lack of a smile and the stark presentation of their bodies. Babies or childbirth wasn’t particularly a subject on my mind at the time, so the fact that it resonated so effectively with me made me appreciate the value of the art. The women stared emptily into the camera, in various stages of physical distress after a traumatic event. Were the photos pretty to look at? No, but they had a shock value, layered over after thoughts on the subject.

Secondly, a local poet I know performed a set in which he began with such an emotive and sudden start that it startled me into wondering whether it was part of the performance or not. It was, and it was one of the best introductions to poetry I’ve ever seen.

What do both of these things have in common? Two things: first, the ability to shock, and second, the fact that they stayed with me afterwards for a long time.

Would I want those photographs in my living room, or a recording of the poetry on a CD? Probably not, so that makes me wonder if real, true art is not something which cannot or shouldn’t be consumed, but experienced and appreciated at first contact with it. What we choose to decorate our homes with is art too, but a different kind of art, and something that almost needs a different word altogether.

What I would do if I were on Cameron’s PR team

Crisis management can be one of the most challenging aspects of PR, but challenging turns into outright brutal when you bring certain things into the situation. Say, for example, a pig’s head, a major political figure and rumours of photographic evidence. The news about David Cameron’s university rituals today are going to make hard work for the very best of PRs, but here’s how I’d handle it:

  • Sorry, Cameron. Make that your last sausage roll.

    Sorry, Cameron. Make that your last sausage roll.

    Find out exactly how bad the situation is. Does the photo exist? Who is likely to have it? How likely is it that someone may be waiting to use it against him?

  • Ask him if it’s true. I mean, it sounds pointless. Of course it’s true, why else would Downing St have missed the chance to give an outright denial? But sit down with the man and find out, in excruciating detail, just how bad things got and prepare for those details to make the news too.
  • Fill his diary with high agenda stuff. Nothing concerning meeting the public until the whole thing has died down, and absolutely avoid any direct contact with the press. I’d make sure Cameron was so busy doing his job this week – the really serious stuff – that any attention given to a pig’s head seems immediately trivial.
  • Release press releases about said high agenda stuff. The whole story will die down quicker if there is something coming from Downing St rather than nothing, even if those news stories have nothing to do with what the journalists are after.
  • Do not let him eat bacon, sausage rolls, ham, or anything remotely pork-like in public. Ever.
  • Avoid all future photo opportunities around animals. Especially farmyard animals.
  • Finally, thank every possible higher being that Jeremy Corbyn has vowed not to get caught up in ‘tell tale politics’. This might be the only time in history the PM’s direct opposition is not likely to make this worse for him.