Social Media for Writers: Do you need an author website?

Do you really need an author website? What's the point? I share a few thoughts in this post.
Ten years ago, this might have been a
redundant question, because of course you need an author website, of course you
need some kind of platform to communicate information and content to your
readers.
I remember when I was maybe twelve,
thirteen, and if I’d read a book I’d liked, I’d go to the author’s website to
find out if they had other books, find out any behind-the-scenes content, and
learn more about the author.
But now there are so many platforms
available for you as an author to be able to communicate with your readers that
this becomes a trickier question to deal with. And although it’s maybe not
strictly ‘social media’, I thought it was important to include in this series.
So now, I’m a lot less likely to go and search
for an author’s website if I liked their book: I’ll go look for them on Twitter
instead, and hope there’s a link in their bio if they have a blog or website I
can take a look at; but otherwise, chances are, I won’t actively go searching
for their website before I go to their social media.
Let’s start out by looking at what the
point of an author website is.
As I said right at the start of this post,
it’s a platform to communicate information and content to your readers. It’s a
place where you can put up information about your books (what books you’ve
published, their cover and blurb, where readers can buy them), and tell readers
about yourself.
And yes, you do need some kind of platform
like that as a writer. You want to be able to direct your readers and your
audience to a place where they can learn more about you and your novels.
They’ll find you on Twitter or Instagram,
sure, but it’s harder to convey all the info they’re looking for there. You’d
have posted it, but a link to your second novel might be buried under a few
dozen Tweets about editing and what show you’ve just started binge watching and
replies to other writers you’ve connected with. So yes, you want a place where
you can basically info-dump and send your readers to.
You want a site where you can showcase your
work, your books, your other projects and social media channels. You might want
to link to interviews or just post snippets and quotes from articles about you
and reviews of your book. You want an ‘About Me’ spot where readers can learn
more about you, the person behind the book. You want a point where people who
want to know who you are can go to and if they want to, find some contact
details to get in touch.
But
what about a blog
, I hear you ask. Why can’t I just use a blog instead? I’ve
already got one, do I need a website as well?
This is the tricky part of the question,
and honestly? It’s up to you. You have to decide what works for you.
A quick summary of the main points, before
I go into more depth: at the end of the day, a blog is free to set up, you’ve
got to pay to have a website, and you can use a blog for all the same sort of
things.
The main difference is that your website is
static. And that might make all the difference for you.
As you’ll have noticed even if you’ve only
just clicked onto my blog today to read this post, my blog is a blog. It’s
mostly about writing, and my life, and less about my books. I don’t even have a
link in the top to a page telling you about my books. See? I really don’t.
Maybe I should, and maybe I’ll change that, but this is primarily a place for
me to blog. This is not a place I’ll direct a reader who wants to know if I
have any other books published aside from the one they read.
A blog is not static. You can create static
pages, of course you can, but every time you add a post it’ll update the home
page on a rolling basis and push other content further back into your archive,
which can make it harder to find.
A website on the other hand has a home page
that’s static. You’ll see the same thing every time you visit it. There’s often
less content than on a blog, too, which can make it easier for your audience to
navigate.
When my writing started to become popular
on Wattpad, I set up a Tumblr blog. I added static pages to it where I wrote
about each of my works published on Wattpad, which later developed into pages
about each of my published novels.
The big reason for me that I wanted to set
up a website separate from my blog was to make things easier for my readers. My
blog was my blog. I’d talk about books I was reading, I’d run the Writing
Wednesday series, I’d answer questions from my readers. I wanted somewhere
simpler to direct them where they could just find out about me, my books, and
where to buy them – and then access my other social media platforms if they
wanted to.
Like I said, though: there’s nothing
stopping you using a blog as your ‘author website’ if you want to. Especially
if you know you won’t really be blogging or posting anything else on there.
And if it’s the pricing you’re worried
about, it’s actually not that expensive. I mean, it is, but it’s not completely
extortionate. I paid something like £300 (I think?) for ten years. That gave me
ten years of my domain name (the URL), the hosting platform for the website,
and ten email addresses. I use the email I set up with my website –
info@bethreekles.co.uk – to give out online. If I meet someone in real life,
I’m usually happier to give them my personal email, but I like to have this
‘professional’ one that keeps things safe and separate. But at the end of the
day, that was what, £30 a year? I felt like that was okay for me.
A note on the pricing, actually: you can
buy a domain name (your URL) but that doesn’t necessarily include hosting. That
means you own the URL but you don’t have a website space to build alongside
that URL. You can use the URL on blogging platforms, or you can just pay a bit
extra for the hosting (GoDaddy do this, and I think Wix do too – I’m not sure
about other providers). If you have hosting, this means you’ll be able to build
your website up there and then. The provider will create a blank space in the
internet that corresponds to your domain name and is waiting for you to add
your info and make it look pretty.
And a note on building your website: no,
you don’t have to be a coder or know much about any of that to be able to build
your website. GoDaddy (and I think Wix is similar) offer free templates or
blank templates where you can add/drag/drop text and pictures, embed a Twitter
widget or Youtube video, etc. They’re crazy easy to do.
I’ll talk more in the next post about how
to set up your author website, but I wanted to cover a couple of the main
bullet points that concerned me when I first got mine.
Look, you don’t strictly need a website website – but you do need
something that acts as your author website, and Facebook probably won’t do the
job in this case.

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Do you have an author website, or are you
thinking about setting one up? What are your thoughts on it? Let me know in the
comments!

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Writing Wednesdays: Should you make character profiles?

Character profiles can be a really useful tool - do you use them?
My last Writing Wednesdays post talked
about the fact that it’s important to make notes when you’re working on a
story; this week, I wanted to talk about character profiles.

For those of you confused by the term, I’m simply talking about a kind of fact-file on your characters. Even if, like me, you’re terrible at plotting your story when you start out with a new idea, you should still be able to pull together a character profile. It’s not intimidating, I promise.
A character profile can be as
comprehensive as you like, and they can be really helpful when you’re starting
out on a new story, to help you flesh out your characters – especially important
if your story is very character-driven. They also make for great reference points throughout the story, and they’re good for sparking inspiration if you hit a bit of a block with your story.
I’ve talked before about character development, writing relatable characters and about making notes on your characters, but this is something I want to
drive home: it’s important to know your characters.
Start out simple. Jot down their name,
their age, their key physical attributes. (Because trust me, someone will
notice if your main character’s eyes change from blue to brown after chapter
three, even if you miss it.)
Then start working on their personality
traits. Maybe they’re stubborn, or impulsive. Maybe they’re conscientious and
the mum of the group.
And fun tip, if you’re as much of a loser
as I am: try sorting them with the Pottermore quiz. If you can work out what
Hogwarts house they’re in, it’ll help you think about what kind of personality
the character has and what drives them. (Slytherin? You know they’re ambitious.
Gryffindor? Impulsive af.)
If you want to go that bit further, don’t
just think about what they look and act like, or what their favourite TV show
is. Consider some of these things to develop your character, to get you started:
  • What they’re scared of
  • What they wanted to be growing up
  • Their favourite season
  • Who they admire/who their hero is
  • Their thoughts on religion
  • What they’re good at versus what they like
  • Where they want to be in three/five years/whatever
  • What are they like when they get sick?
  • Do they use social media? Which ones? What kind of accounts do they follow?
  • If they were throwing a dinner party, what would they cook? (Getting delivery is an option.)

You don’t even have to use these things in
your story. The point of creating a character profile isn’t so that you put
everything you think up about your character into the story. It might not ever
come up that they have a crippling fear of heights or that they really hate
roses or that they never got into the Game of Thrones hype. But maybe they
never got into that hype because they don’t like fantasy or they didn’t like
reading at school or maybe it’s just that they don’t have the attention span to
bother to remember who’s who. Coming up with all these little details might spark
something about your character that you do use in the story.

Again: you can be as comprehensive with your character profile as you want. You can include anything and everything. Whatever you think might be useful and whatever you think might not be.

Character profiles are an extremely useful tool, and definitely worth knocking together for your main characters. They can be useful for any of the secondary characters in your novel too, but be careful not to get bogged down in trying to make them as detailed as possible for each and every one of your characters.

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There are tons of free online Q&As or
character questionnaires to help you out, if you need some more inspiration.


Do you use character profiles? If you’ve got some tips to share, add them in the comments!

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Writing Wednesdays: Why you need to make notes on your story

It's important to keep notes when you start a new story - but why? And what do you make notes of? I try to help answer those questions in this post.
I’ve been asked a few times about what
tools you need to be a writer (which I wrote more about here). Specifically,
one person asked if they needed a particular notebook or pen.
(For the record: no, you don’t.)
But anyway. This isn’t about tools for
writing.
This is about why you need a notebook when
you’re working on a novel. Or maybe just a Google Doc or something. Literally,
anything. You just need somewhere to be able to make notes.
Maybe it seems obvious to some, but it’s
important to make notes on your story. The bigger question might be: what
exactly do you need to make notes on?

Your characters.

Maybe you’re not that big on drawing up
character profiles when you start on a new story, but you at least need to make
notes as you go through and create your characters. Even the secondary/minor
characters. It’s no good changing someone’s eye colour halfway through, or
suddenly changing their accent or surname.

It can also help you to make notes on your
characters so that you can see everything about them laid out in front of you.
You know your characters inside out, but there’s something about seeing it all
written down in one place that makes it easier to get inspired. It’ll also help
you with any character development.

The plot.

Um, duh, you might say, but hear me out. I
suck at plotting out my entire novel before I’ve really started writing it, and
I know I’m not alone with that. So make sure you keep track of your plot and
any major developments you have made, or want to make.

Timelines are handy, too, for keeping track
of your plot, especially if it’s happening around big events like a prom or
Christmas. (Trust me on this one, okay? You’re bound to get confused about when
you are in the story at some point.)

Subplots.

Yup, track these in your notes too. Chances
are, you’ll find something in your edits you totally forgot about – a romance
subplot, or maybe someone’s family member is sick and you only ever mention it
once even though it’s kind of a big thing for that character.

Random ideas for this novel.

You might have a few lines of dialogue you
want to use, a really beautiful phrase you’ve thought up, or even want to
sketch out the framework for an entire scene. That’s great… unless you don’t
know where, or even if, it’s going to fit into your book. Make a note. Come
back to it later, maybe. But you’ll kick yourself if you get to a point where
you want to use it and you’ve forgotten the details that made your idea such a
brilliant one at the time.

Revisions.

Hoo, boy, do notes come in handy when it’s
time to make revisions. Whether you’ve made detailed notes during the writing
process that you annotate in different colours, or just jot down a few of the
main points you want to work on when you re-read your work, having it all laid out
and being able to add to the list or check things off as you go through will
help the chaos of editing a whole lot simpler.

Goals and lists.

Speaking of checking things off, you might
be the kind of person who works well and is motivated by a couple of lists. For
instance: if you’ve worked out the structure chapter by chapter, you could
cross off each chapter as you write it. Or maybe you want simpler goals to tick
off – like making a little landmark out of reaching 20,000, 50,000, 65,000
words. Everyone works differently, but if you’re motivated to work when you’ve
got a checklist to cross things off of, it can be a big boost to your morale to
see how much progress you’re making.

Rogue ideas for your next novel.

You know when you’re right in the middle of
writing a book and then suddenly – BAM! – three new story ideas come along all
at once? If you find it easy to juggle – and complete – seven or eight novels
at once, that’s great. But for those of us who want to focus on just the one
book until it’s finished, make notes of those new ideas. Trust me, you’ll
regret it later if you don’t.

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Do you keep notes when you write? What kind
of things do you jot down? Let me know in the comments!

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The Twenty-Something Series: 5 moving hacks that actually work

Moving can be pretty stressful, so here are a few hacks I found work miracles.
If you follow me on Pinterest, you’ll know
I can be pretty Pin-happy sometimes. Mostly about blogging and social media,
but over the last few months with my impending (actually, at the time of
posting this piece, NEW!) move to Durham to live on my own for the first time ever, in my first rented accommodation ever, I’ve been scouring Pinterest for
moving tips.
Some of them are a bit… Well, let’s just
say, some ‘hacks’ are kind of convoluted, or they just wouldn’t have worked for
me.
Which is why I decided to make this
Twenty-Something Series post a collection of moving hacks that actually work.
(You’re welcome.)

 1. Bin bags over hanging clothes.

OH. MY. GOD. Yes, a thousand times yes,
does this make the top of the list. 
When I moved to uni, I carefully folded all
my clothes, packed a carrier bag stuffed full of hangers, and spent a lot of
time re-hanging all the clothes I’d folded. And you’ve probably all seen that
hack, right, with the bin bag over the clothes? It’s been making the rounds a
lot lately, even though it was around a few years ago.

So I tried this one and initially, I was thoroughly
disappointed. Our bin bags back home don’t have that elastic thing around the
top with the tie that would stretch over the hangers. They’re just normal bin
bags, with a handle each side you tie together when you’re taking the bins out. 

I tried it as the hack suggested – raising the bag up over the clothes to loop
the handles around the top of the hangers, but the hangers stuck out awkwardly
and ripped the bags, and there wasn’t enough room in the bag for the clothes
after they’d bunched up at the bottom.

Easy solution: I turned the bag upside
down, poked a hole in the bottom, and put the hangers through that hole. I also
added a hair tie (I’d already packed my elastic bands away somewhere) to keep
the hangers together and stop them all falling about. It saved me so much time and a lot of fuss.

2. The ‘overnight bag’.

Know where your deodorant, moisturiser,
pyjamas, and clean pants are. Have them in a separate bag. You’ll want to be
able to get your hands on them easily. Seriously, just pack an entire overnight
bag, as if you were going to a hotel for the night. I know, I know – you’ve got
shampoo somewhere, and you’ve packed loads of knickers and bras… But where? Do
you remember? Are they at the bottom of a suitcase? Split across several
different boxes? Who knows! Trust me: pack the overnight bag.

3. Know where your ‘essentials’ are and
make sure they get to your new place first.

When I say ‘essentials’ I’m talking: bath
towel, hand towel, tea towel. I’m talking pillows and bedsheets and duvet. I’m
talking mugs, teabags, kettle and teaspoons. I’m talking loo roll, kitchen
roll, your phone charger. 

By all means, pack the bulk of your towels somewhere
else, and the ‘good bedding’ you’re keeping spare for guests, but you don’t
want to be searching the Kitchen Box for your kettle, the Utensils Box for a
teaspoon, the Bathroom Box for loo roll, and so on – when you could pack all
those things (more or less) together.

4. Pack according to room, or item type.

Sounds obvious, because it is, and because
it’ll save you a lot of stress. Try to keep kitchenware together, bathroom
items together, clothes together. Don’t throw them all in wherever it looks
like there’s space. Wait until you’ve got odds and sods that don’t belong
anywhere to do that. (Pack of cards?
Uh, shove them in with the books, maybe? And your scented candles? Well,
there’s room with your toiletries, so they might as well go there!)

5. Bags > boxes.


(Less a Pinterest hack, and more a personal find.)

Unless your boxes have good sturdy handles
that make them super easy to haul up behind you when you’re going from the car
up a couple flights of stairs to your new flat, that is.

Suitcases are all well and good, too, but
then you hit the issue of storage, just like you do if you have a plastic crate
full of kitchenware that’s… suddenly empty and you have nowhere to put. Plus,
if you’re like me, the only suitcase you own is your sturdy little
cabin-baggage sized one, and won’t fit all your stuff.

Primark do these great storage bags, kind
of like giant, boxy totes. They’re a shower-proof plastic-y kind of material
with two small canvas handles, and they fit everything. I mean, seriously. I have about eight. When you
fold them up, they take up next to no space on their own, and they will literally
hold your king-sized duvet, bedding, two pillows, and mattress protector, with
room to spare. And they’re so goddamn sturdy I’ve never worried they’ll break.
And, it’s easy to carry about two or three up the stairs – at least compared to
carrying one box of stuff, anyway.

A duffel bag would work just as well. If
you’ve got a big bag that folds down pretty flat, try and fill it if you’re
planning to take it with you anyway. And if you’ve got structured handbags,
don’t let that space go to waste! Even if you fill them with your stash of
carrier bags or a few books.

There you have it! My five favourite moving
hacks that are actually worth spending time doing, because they work wonders. (Okay, so maybe that’s pushing
it a little, but it’ll feel like a wonder when you haven’t spent half an hour
hanging your clothes back up or get flustered because where is the goddamn toilet roll already?)

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Do you have a favourite moving hack? Share
in the comments and let me know!

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Writing Wednesdays: The difference between editing and proofreading

Do you know the difference between editing and proof reading your novel?
When I’ve talked about editing previously,
I’ve mentioned different stages and different ways to approach it, but
something I wanted to talk about briefly is the difference between editing and
proofreading, after getting a question through my Tumblr recently.
Both are equally important stages in
getting to the final draft of your novel.
Editing is a lot more meaty. It’s more time
consuming and requires more real effort on your part. You want to fix up
storylines and plots you forgot existed in the second half of the novel. You
want to make sure you’re getting the most from your characters. You want to
make sure everything flows and works and you haven’t left any glaring issues
with the plot.
You can get bogged down in editing for a
long time. You might end up rewriting entire sections, ditching whole chapters,
scrapping a storyline. It can take a lot of energy and sometimes it might take
you longer to edit than it took you to actually write your first draft in the
first place.
Proofreading, on the other hand, is a much
more final stage.
Now in case you’re confused as to what
exactly proofreading is, here’s a quick rundown: It’s more or less where you go
through the book to dot the Is and cross the Ts. You’re looking for spelling
and grammar mistakes, anything you want to italicise (and other various
formatting – inconsistencies as well as just things you forgot to do when you
were writing the scene). It’s not the deep-clean stage, or even the tidying
stage, like editing is. It’s more like the decorative touches to finish.
In some of my other Writing Wednesdays
where I’ve talked about editing, I’ve talked about how one thing that’s worth
doing when you start to edit is to just reread the whole draft. (I mean, this
is always my go-to when I get into editing now, because then I’m familiar with
the whole thing again.) And when you reread, it’s worth keeping an eye for
typos and grammar mistakes.
But proofreading as you read through before
you edit? That’s not enough. You’ll have added things, changed things, moved
things around in the rest of the editing you did. Before you can call it
finished, go through your final draft and do your proofreading.
Again: this is where you look for small
errors in the actual typing and formatting. You’re not critiquing the story or
characters or themes at this point.
When a novel is traditionally published,
the publishing house gives you an editor, who goes through and helps you to
edit the story and make it the best it can be. But you’ve got a separate
proofreader. It’s not their job to challenge you and push you to write about
controversial topics or make more of the romance storyline or play up the
relationship between two of those characters. That’s with your editor. And once
the book gets to proof stages, then your book is most likely finished. There’s
no more actual editing to be done.

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With any luck, that’s cleared a few things up for those of you who weren’t entirely sure on the difference between editing and proofreading! Do you have any tips to share on proofreading? Share in the comments below!

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The Twenty Something Series: New job, new flat, same old me

I'm a week into my new job, a week into my new flat, and even though everything's changing, I feel like the same old me.

Last Sunday, I moved up to Durham for my
new job.
This is my first time living alone (not
counting uni, where I house-shared) and I’m now a week into my new job, too.

If you read this post on my blog back in
April, you’ll know I quit the graduate job in accounting and audit I got out of
uni because, frankly, I hated it. Not all of it, but enough of it that it
reduced me to tears a few times. And that was only in the first three months.
So, the new job: I’m on an IT graduate
scheme, which is way more up my street and in line with my career goals. (Side
note – I’d always planned to leave my old job after my three years to qualify,
and try to get into IT instead.)

I haven’t had much chance to do a lot of
actual work yet. Mostly this past week involved setting up my laptop, listening
in on some meetings, and a two-day induction. I also read a few research papers
on things like customer data hubs and omnichannels and it might sound boring as
hell, but I really enjoyed it.

I’m assuming you guys probably don’t have so much interest in that kind of stuff, though, so I won’t go into too much detail on the worky side of things, don’t worry.
Overall, the people are nice, the environment is
great, and the work sounds like it’s going to be awesome. It’s totally
different to my old job. I’m already in love. You know, as opposed to thinking,
‘Okay, just three years, I can do this.’
And as for my new flat? Also totally in
love with it. Completely settled in. I’ve even done some laundry. Oh, and I
cooked some meals in bulk. Three different meals and seventeen portions in two
and a half hours. Not too shabby, huh? (Sorry, I’m just really proud of myself. I had a hella productive Sunday between my to-do list and my kitchen.)
One drawback is that I’m kind of restricted on internet. Broadband was looking like a challenge; instead I’ve
ended up with one of those mobile wifi boxes with a monthly data allowance. It’s
great for regular browsing, but I did use up about three gigabites watching
Clue on Amazon Prime. (Which, I would totally recommend. It was utterly gripping as well as
hilarious.) Looks like Netflix binges are off the cards for a while!

Other than that, though, everything is just peachy.

Anyway. One week into the new job and the new flat,
and so far things are going well. Fingers crossed it keeps up, huh?

At the risk of jinxing everything, it really feels like things are going in the right direction for me.

Or maybe that’s just the hype from ticking off about a million things on my to-do list talking. 

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I thought I’d theme the next few posts in
The Twenty-Something Series around moving. Excited as I was to move out and
start being independent, I spent a lot of time this summer on Pinterest looking at how to
move out, tips for moving into a new place, and so on. If there’s something
more specific you’d like to see me writing about, let me know via Tweet or in
the comments!

Oh, in other news – you guys might notice some ads cropping up on my blog from now on. I purchased my own domain and linked it to this blog and my AdSense account. If you notice the ads are making any of the blog posts hard to read because they’re not placed properly on mobile or whatever, please drop me a comment and let me know! I’d really appreciate the feedback.

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The Twenty-Something Series: The reality of my dream flat

I've recently started renting a flat I was absolutely in love with when I first saw it. In this post, I talk about the reality of my ideal flat and a few not-so-dreamy qualities it has.
If you guys have seen my recent blog posts
in this series, you’ll know that I’ve rented my first flat. I took the first
flat I viewed because it was the nicest I’d seen in online photos and it ticked
all the boxes (a good price, car parking space, fully furnished…) – and now
I’ve moved in.
Well, not completely moved in. I’m not living there until next week. But my
parents and I drove up for the weekend last week to make sure the flat was
kitted out with everything I’d need and take up most of my things (you know –
clothes, some books, toiletries and mugs).
But my dream flat?
Still had a couple of less-than-dreamy
things.
When I started writing this post, it was
going to be more along the lines of things I was disillusioned about, things
that I should’ve checked before, lessons learned and wisdom gained. But to be
honest… there’s not so much of that.
Sure, yes, okay, there were a few things
that weren’t so great. Here’s an exhaustive list:
  • The landlord had left some kitchenware. An
    odd collection of plates and bowls, tiny china teacups and fifteen-ish
    champagne glasses, to name a new. It was kind of annoying to try and fit it all
    into a single kitchen cupboard so it didn’t take up the space I need for food
    and my own plates.
  • The landlord had also left bedding. Lots of
    bedding. I was bringing my own bedding, duvet and pillows included, and their
    bedding smelled a little musty. But the bed in the second bedroom is an
    ottoman, so all the bedding they’d left there is now in big IKEA bags and
    tucked neatly out of the way.
  • The skirting boards and tops of cabinets
    were pretty dusty. (Alright, really dusty. But these were all out-of-sight
    places, mostly. I only cleaned there because I wanted to know it was clean.)
  • The shelves in the fridge were kind of
    grim. Sticky and gross. It took a while washing them up and scrubbing them
    clean, but at least the rest of the kitchen was clean.
  • The flowers.*

*Oh, God, the flowers.
Now when my mum and I went to look at the
flat for the first time, it was full of decorative vases. Some of them were
big, two-foot tall, heavy things. It made the place look really cute and homey
when we viewed it, but in reality they were dust traps and kind of awkward.
(They’re also not a problem anymore, because
thanks to the hella big storage cupboard in the hallway, I’ve managed to put
them safely out of the way where I don’t have to worry about them.)
And that’s it. That’s literally everything
nit-picky that I scrunched my nose up at in my dream flat. All easily dealt
with, all tiny problems. The water pressure is fine, the water is hot, and the
power outlets work. There’s tons of storage space, the stove works just fine,
and all the furniture is in great condition.

 
So the reality of moving into my dream
flat? On the whole, still pretty dreamy.

Oh, okay. I forgot the one thing. This is
literally the only bit that’s been awkward about the flat, and it’s not even
really to do with the flat. It’s just that I can’t set up broadband until I’m
there, because they need to deliver stuff for it, so I have to manage with
mobile data for a little while. Quelle
horreur
, right?
I’m moving in for reals next week. I literally cannot wait. I’ve got a couple
more things to toss in the car to drive up with, and then I’ll start work the
next day in my new job.
It’s like, three hundred miles from home,
and I won’t really have any mates in the city to start with, but I’m excited.
New adventures and experiences and all that jazz.

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These last few posts about renting and
moving out have been pretty popular on my blog, so I’m going to post another
one (or few) shortly about decluttering and moving out and moving in. If there’s
something more specific you’d like me to talk about, let me know in the
comments, or Tweet me @Reekles!

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via IFTTT

The Twenty-Something Series: The reality of my dream flat

I've recently started renting a flat I was absolutely in love with when I first saw it. In this post, I talk about the reality of my ideal flat and a few not-so-dreamy qualities it has.
If you guys have seen my recent blog posts
in this series, you’ll know that I’ve rented my first flat. I took the first
flat I viewed because it was the nicest I’d seen in online photos and it ticked
all the boxes (a good price, car parking space, fully furnished…) – and now
I’ve moved in.
Well, not completely moved in. I’m not living there until next week. But my
parents and I drove up for the weekend last week to make sure the flat was
kitted out with everything I’d need and take up most of my things (you know –
clothes, some books, toiletries and mugs).
But my dream flat?
Still had a couple of less-than-dreamy
things.
When I started writing this post, it was
going to be more along the lines of things I was disillusioned about, things
that I should’ve checked before, lessons learned and wisdom gained. But to be
honest… there’s not so much of that.
Sure, yes, okay, there were a few things
that weren’t so great. Here’s an exhaustive list:
  • The landlord had left some kitchenware. An
    odd collection of plates and bowls, tiny china teacups and fifteen-ish
    champagne glasses, to name a new. It was kind of annoying to try and fit it all
    into a single kitchen cupboard so it didn’t take up the space I need for food
    and my own plates.
  • The landlord had also left bedding. Lots of
    bedding. I was bringing my own bedding, duvet and pillows included, and their
    bedding smelled a little musty. But the bed in the second bedroom is an
    ottoman, so all the bedding they’d left there is now in big IKEA bags and
    tucked neatly out of the way.
  • The skirting boards and tops of cabinets
    were pretty dusty. (Alright, really dusty. But these were all out-of-sight
    places, mostly. I only cleaned there because I wanted to know it was clean.)
  • The shelves in the fridge were kind of
    grim. Sticky and gross. It took a while washing them up and scrubbing them
    clean, but at least the rest of the kitchen was clean.
  • The flowers.*

*Oh, God, the flowers.
Now when my mum and I went to look at the
flat for the first time, it was full of decorative vases. Some of them were
big, two-foot tall, heavy things. It made the place look really cute and homey
when we viewed it, but in reality they were dust traps and kind of awkward.
(They’re also not a problem anymore, because
thanks to the hella big storage cupboard in the hallway, I’ve managed to put
them safely out of the way where I don’t have to worry about them.)
And that’s it. That’s literally everything
nit-picky that I scrunched my nose up at in my dream flat. All easily dealt
with, all tiny problems. The water pressure is fine, the water is hot, and the
power outlets work. There’s tons of storage space, the stove works just fine,
and all the furniture is in great condition.

 
So the reality of moving into my dream
flat? On the whole, still pretty dreamy.

Oh, okay. I forgot the one thing. This is
literally the only bit that’s been awkward about the flat, and it’s not even
really to do with the flat. It’s just that I can’t set up broadband until I’m
there, because they need to deliver stuff for it, so I have to manage with
mobile data for a little while. Quelle
horreur
, right?
I’m moving in for reals next week. I literally cannot wait. I’ve got a couple
more things to toss in the car to drive up with, and then I’ll start work the
next day in my new job.
It’s like, three hundred miles from home,
and I won’t really have any mates in the city to start with, but I’m excited.
New adventures and experiences and all that jazz.

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These last few posts about renting and
moving out have been pretty popular on my blog, so I’m going to post another
one (or few) shortly about decluttering and moving out and moving in. If there’s
something more specific you’d like me to talk about, let me know in the
comments, or Tweet me @Reekles!

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via IFTTT

The Twenty-Something Series: Costs I didn’t expect as a first-time renter

Renting for the first time is pretty nerve-wracking, and there are a lot of costs I didn't expect. In this post, I share a few things you have to think about when you start renting.
Renting, on the face of it, seems pretty
straight forward. You pay a certain amount per month for the pleasure of
renting a place to live, and you most likely budget to pay bills on top of that.
Right?
Oh, God, there are so many things to budget
for. I mean, the good news is that a lot of them can be paid upfront if you’ve
got the savings, so you can get them sorted and not need to worry about them
every month.
The bad news is: there are so many things
to pay for on top of rent and bills.
I rented at uni, sure. With seven other
people. We put about sixty quid into a joint account almost every month to pay
for water and electrics, internet, loo rolls and group meals out. There wasn’t
a lot else to worry about.
But as a first-time renter now I’m moving
away from home to Durham for six months, it’s been a little hard to keep track
of all the things to organise that need to be paid for. Which is why I thought
I’d put together a little kind-of-checklist for all you other first-time renters as
part of The Twenty-Something Series.

Administration Fees & Bond: 

The estate agency don’t just want to take
rent off you every month. I paid £200 in administration fees when I sorted out
my flat in Durham – this included all the referencing work that needed to be
done, too.
There’s also a bond (deposit) to pay.
For me, this was the same as the first month’s rent. I paid both the bond and
first month’s rent bout two weeks before I got the keys.

Council Tax: 

Apparently, this is a thing. Apparently you
also get a 25% discount as a single person though, so yay! That’s always nice!
How to sort out council tax: Find out which
county the property you’re renting is in and visit the council’s website. A few
clicks around that – or a Google search, like ‘how to pay council tax in
[COUNTY]’ should get you there. I phoned up the council a couple of weeks
before moving in to say, ‘I’m moving into this property soon and want to know
how to sort out my council tax.’ They put me in the system and mailed me a
letter with further instructions, and there’s a separate form on the website to
fill in for the single person’s discount.

Also, because I’ll have to cancel this after my six-month placement is up, I’ll get a refund on the rest of the year. Always nice to know.

Contents Insurance: 

Okay, this wasn’t exactly ‘unexpected’, but
I’m still adding this to the list. I added in legal cover, cover for my things
away from home, etc., but didn’t feel like it was completely extortionate. I think
it’s a little cheaper when you only want to cover your stuff, and not the
building itself. I did spring for the super accidental cover thing, though. So
I’m covered if I spill red wine on my rented sofa, or something.
I’m also pretty sure that I can get a
partial refund if I cancel when I move out fo my flat in Durham – minus an
admin fee.

Travel Insurance: 

Not unexpected for me as I’ve been off the family policy for over a year, but I figured I’d add it to the list. If you’re still on a household policy with your parents, that’s gonna end when you move out, so start looking for travel insurance if you’re planning to go abroad somewhere.

Car Insurance: 

Again, I’ll grant you, not unexpected, but
the sheer cost of this one was unexpected. On a multicar policy, my insurance
worked out at a few hundred pounds. On my own? Over a grand. A GRAND. And that was the
cheapest I could get it, by the time I’d added legal cover and courtesy cars.
I’ve ended up deciding to get contents and car
insurance with the same provider, though, because I got a discount on the
second policy. Whoohoo! Discounts!

TV License: 

On the upside, if you cancel it within the
first nine months, you get a refund on the time you don’t use! This is great
for me, since I’ll only want it for about seven months total. Also, sorry to break it to you, but you need one of these even if you’re just watching on demand on your laptop.

Changes to your driving license:

Unexpected in that THERE WASN’T A COST!
Imagine my shock! Quelle bloody surprise! You need to change your address on your
license when you move, but this is free to do. Hallelujah!

Line Rental:

This became the bane of my life within
about eight minutes of browsing around for broadband deals. Broadband, that wasn’t a surprise. That was an obvious thing to throw into the budget. 

But it’s practically
impossible to get broadband without the provider wanting to throw in line
rental as well. And as I’m only in Durham for six months, I don’t want a
twelve-month contract for my broadband. (And no, I can’t just cancel after six
months – a Google search reckons they’ll make you pay the whole twelve months’ worth of
service even if you cancel early. Joy.)
This means I’m going for Now TV as it’s the
only provider I can find with a rolling contract, which isn’t so bad actually.
They’ve got a great package deal with broadband, Now TV – and, of course, line
rental – that works out about £30 a month. Plus the installation charge. Which
is £44. But given that the line rental would be £17.99 a month on it’s own, I
can live with this one. Plus, I get Sky Atlantic. That’s a pretty good deal as far as I’m concerned.

So. Many. Costs.

I’m pretty sure I’ll have forgotten
something, and missed a few things off this list, just as I’m sure I’ll find a
few more costs I didn’t expect to have to pay when renting over the next couple
of months.

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Are there any you think I’ve missed? Let me
know in the comments!

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The Twenty-Something Series: How to rent for the first time – in 13 steps

Renting for the first time is terrifying. If you're confused about where to start, check out this post, where I share a few tips on how I managed to find my dream flat.
I rented at uni. I rented an old Victorian
townhouse-style building with seven other students, and we stayed there for two
years. In first year, two of us went down to the student letting agencies,
picked up brochures, and we booked a few viewings before picking a place. It
was actually really stress-free, given that we were finding a house for eight
people.
But finding a place for just me, for six
months? Not so easy.
I felt like I was going in blind. My mum
helped me out a lot with the whole
thing, but I spent several evenings scrolling Pinterest for advice posts,
although most weren’t applicable to the UK.
And yet – I found what I’d happily consider my dream flat.

Since this series is all about being a
twenty-something, what better to talk about than how to rent for the first
time?

1. Work out what kind of property you want to
look for.

I’m moving a six-hour drive up north, so I
knew I wanted two bedrooms: if my family or friends come to visit, they need
somewhere to stay. I also knew I wanted somewhere furnished. My second
placement, after six months in this new job I’m due to start, is abroad.
Ideally, I didn’t want to have to buy a bunch of furniture and then pay to
store it for three months before paying to ship it to wherever my third
placement is. I knew I wanted a parking space that was off-road, too. (Gotta
think about that car insurance cost.)

 
2. And work out what you don’t want. 

I didn’t mind so much if I ended up with a
house or a flat, but I knew I didn’t really want a mid-terrace house where
parking would be a bitch, a ground-floor flat, so that helped narrow my search.

3. Work out what you can afford.

Let’s say your salary works out, post-tax,
about £1,500 per month. You don’t want to spend £1,000 of that on rent: you
need to pay so many bills (including things like council tax, which I’ll talk
about in another post soon), buy food, petrol… And you probably want to spend
some of that on yourself. Spend some time working out exactly what you can
afford. Get an idea of how much bills might cost you, include things like your
Netflix subscription and phone bill, and estimate what kind of rent you can
afford to pay.

4. Rightmove is a pretty good place to
start.

Of course there’s nothing to stop you going
to estate agencies and collecting brochures and browsing their websites, but
Rightmove was actually really great, since it collects properties from a huge
range of estate agencies. You can filter by location, property type, bedrooms,
price, and things like parking space. I also really liked that you can login
and like properties, so you can go back and view all the properties you’ve
liked.

5. Look at the commuting distance and local
amenities.
 

Google Maps is great at allowing you to put
in your directions between two locations and choosing what time, so I could see
what my commute time would be for the kind of time I’d be leaving for work. I
didn’t want to commute more than about twenty minutes – especially after my
last job ended up with about an hour’s commute each way, which was pretty
exhausting, actually – so that meant I narrowed the area I was looking at.
It’s also worth looking for supermarkets
and shopping centres around the properties you’re looking at. Is there a corner
shop two minutes’ walk down the road? A Tesco a ten-minute drive away? Or do
you have to drive forty minutes out of your way to get to a Sainsbury’s Local
just for bread and milk?
Oh, and take a look at the surrounding area
for the property you’re looking at on Google Street View, just to get an idea.

6. Spreadsheets are your friend, even if
they seem like a pain in the ass right now.
 

Once you’ve exhausted your property search,
go through all of the ones you like the look of and put them into a
spreadsheet. I listed things like: the price, number of bedrooms, did it have
parking, was it furnished, the commute time, and the estate agent – and,
crucially, a link to the property on Rightmove. This made it easy to look at
and think, ‘Okay, let’s filter and just look at furnished properties with
parking. Which do I like best?’
I also colour-coded the properties and
ranked them using my colour code. (Shut up, I’m not a loser, you are.)

7. Book your viewings. 

The spreadsheet I put together actually
made it really easy to go through and decide which properties I wanted to book
viewings for. For example, if three of my top ten properties were with the same
agency, I tried to book all three of them one after the other. I also booked
the one I liked most first, because, duh. It’s worth booking as many viewings
as you can, in case you end up not liking properties or someone else takes them
first. You can always cancel them!
Also, when you ring the estate agent,
explain what you’re looking for and what your price range is: they might have a
few other properties you missed online available that they think you’d like to
see.

8. Visit the area (and no, I don’t mean
sightseeing).
 

I was heading to Durham for an entire week
with my mum. We went up on the weekend and had a few days in a hotel in Durham
to view properties during the week, starting on the Monday morning. We spent
the weekend driving around the properties, doing the commute from each one,
taking a look at any nearby supermarkets.
Now this is something I probably wouldn’t
have thought to do, but my parents did immediately, and I’m glad they did. The
area is as important to the property as the interior is. I was put off a few
properties I’d liked the look of online after we drove to take a look at the
building and the estate it was on, and ended up cancelling the viewings as soon
as the agencies were open on Monday morning.

9. Don’t forget to consider the practical
things.
 

If you’re on a third-floor flat that needs
to be furnished, is there a lift for you to bring up things like a bed or a
sofa or a dining table? Is there a storage cupboard for a hoover and clothes
airer? Is your designated parking spot near the door or ten minutes down the
street? Do you have a burglar alarm, a smoke alarm, locks on the windows? Is
there a washing machine, or at least plumbing for one? Is there mould anywhere?
Central heating?

10. You’ll know.

The sensible thing to do would have been to
see several properties before telling the agency I’d take one. But I knew.
There was one flat I just loved the look of right from the start. It ticked all
the boxes. It was five minutes away from a retail park, and maybe twenty
minutes from work. It was the first property I’d booked to view.
We got through the door and I was like,
‘Mum, I want this place.’ And she knew too. It was perfect. We’d both fallen
completely in love with the flat, which we told the guy showing us around. He
let us know someone else was viewing it that afternoon, but I was already
decided. We rang the agency as soon as we left to say we were coming to sort
out taking it, and then on the way there I cancelled all my other viewings.
The other smart thing to do would’ve been
to follow the advice I’d seen via Pinterest: check a plug socket, check the
water pressure. But our shower at home is shite, so the water pressure can’t
possibly be worse. And the fridge was running, so the electricity must’ve worked.
So, ya know. I think I was so enamoured by it that I totally forgot to do those
things.
 

11. Picked a place? Get back to the estate
agent.
 

I rang the agency first to let them know I
loved the property and wanted to take it, and they asked when I’d be able to
come in to sort out the paperwork and so on. I was able to go straight in to
see them and it was incredibly straightforward.
Go prepared, with your passport, a recent
bank statement showing your address, and proof of earnings. I took a copy of my
contract for the job I’m due to start as well as a copy of some royalties,
since right now I’m just a self-employed author and not on a salary until the
job starts in September. When you book your viewings, check what the agent
would want you to bring if you do decide to take a property with them.
Also go prepared with enough funds for the
admin fees. My agency wanted it as a cash payment, which meant a quick dash to
the nearest ATM.
After the initial paperwork was sorted, a
third-party company got in touch to sort out my referencing. I filled out a big
form online with my information, including my job and my salary and so on, and
then got in touch with anyone I’d used as a reference to let them know this
company would probably be getting in touch. It was sorted out within three
days, which was shockingly quick.

12. Next step: start researching. 

Oh, yeah. It’s not over yet.
You’ll need a TV license, contents
insurance. You’ll need to change your address on your driving license. You’ll
want internet. Start looking at providers. Actually, Money Supermarket is a
great place to start – it’ll even recommend you which comparison sites to start
with, depending on whether you’re a ‘young professional’ or whatever.
My next post in this series is going to be
all about unexpected costs like I’ve just mentioned, so keep an eye out for
that!

13. Think about moving out. 

I’m living at home, so once I’d secured a
property to rent I started going through all of my drawers and clothes to bin
and donate things I didn’t want or need anymore. My mum and I looked through
the Next summer sale for bedding. I started picking up things like a frying pan
that was on sale, or fridge magnets. If you’re going to need to buy furniture,
get yourself a Pinterest board for Ikea, Argos, and all the rest, even if
you’re not actually buying anything for a couple of weeks yet. You’ll want to
save money where you can.
If there’s anything you can box up, buy, or
move into the property before you actually move out of wherever you are now,
might as well make a head start!

But there you have it: Thirteen steps to
renting your first property. 

It’s terrifying and exciting and totally freaking
weird, but you’ll get there. Ask your parents or friends who’ve already gone
through it for advice, and don’t be afraid to ask questions of estate agents
either.

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mso-para-margin:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:12.0pt;
font-family:”Times New Roman”,serif;}

Do you have any major tips on how to rent a
property for the first time? Share in the comments!

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